Pitch perfect: two critical thinking skills you can use to ace procurement
Sitting in on pitches is one of the most exciting tasks in business. As well as stimulating your creativity, hearing a diverse range of ideas brings you to solutions you could never have arrived at otherwise.
But with great excitement comes great responsibility: making informed choices and choosing the option that is best for your company. It can be a daunting prospect: what if the partner you pick turns out to be understaffed and unable to deliver? What if they don’t take the security of your data and secret sauce seriously? What if they can’t deliver the quality they promise? What if they misjudge costs and your budget balloons out of control?
Whether you’re procuring services from a marketing agency or choosing a potential new business partner, picking the wrong pitch has the potential to hamper your career progression and impact on your organization’s bottom line. Avoiding these risks means developing the ability to make safer, more secure decisions that root your procurement strategy in what is real. This guide walks you through the application of two critical thinking skills – analysis and evaluation – that can help you pick the right pitch every time.
Analyze and evaluate your business problem
Getting to grips with your business problem is the only way to understand how it can best be solved. So the first thing you have to do is analyze the problem you face, and then evaluate your options.
You might think this is obvious – but companies rarely do it successfully. Say, for example, your perfume product sales need to be improved and you need to find an ad agency that can come up with a creative campaign to boost them.
By using evaluation skills to judge the relevance and adequacy of the arguments, you’ll quickly see that poor sales is not the problem you’re trying to solve. The actual problem is why those sales are poor. Your current ads could be targeting the wrong audience, through the wrong marketing channel. Or you could be on the right channel, but have the tone of your advertising all wrong – you’re not speaking in your audience’s language, so they are not responding to your messaging.
Once you understand why the sales are poor, you can then move on to finding the people who specialize in solving that particular problem.
Analyze the market – Who is doing the best work?
Now you know the problem you have to solve, it’s time to begin researching the market to see which agency or other business is solving it best. Draw up a list of 5-10 agencies or companies whose work really stands out. You can measure their work in many ways:
Subjectively. An initial subjective appraisal of the options is a great way to start building your initial pitch list. If you’re selling a product, put yourself in the mind of your consumers, and think about what kinds of things they would respond to.
Comparatively. Who are your competitors working with? If you’re outsourcing recruitment, think of the companies that appear to have great hiring strategies and find out which agency they’re partnering with. Which suppliers are winning at the big award ceremonies? What work did they win for?
Results. Now, these aren’t always easy to find. Concrete statistics that prove how your competitors have solved the same types of problem that you face are rarely the kinds of things most companies share publically. So use your business network to glean information and hard stats that you can rely on as evidence a particular approach was able to deliver. ROI should always be the most important metric you look for.
Analyze the pitch
People with poor analytical minds often misunderstand what is being argued for. Pitches are complex, and it’s easy to get excited about one component without realising it’s not the most important part of a solution. By developing your analytical ability you put yourself in a strong position to spot and avoid these red herrings.
Again, this isn’t always obvious. Imagine you’re an investor looking for the next big social media start-up to pour your money into. What links your potential business partners is that they are developing a new social networking tool – but that is not the central idea they should be pitching to you. Instead, they should pitch their USP: a revolutionary brand that taps into the millennial market, or a game-changing algorithm that makes other social news feeds obsolete. It’s down to you to use analysis to focus on these central ideas and then evaluation to work out which fits your needs best.
Anyone can understand the strengths and weaknesses of a pitch, but if you want to beat your competition and procure the best option, you’ll need a deeper understanding of a pitch’s structure – and the central idea that it is really proposing.
Don’t worry about ‘perfect’
The problem with analysis and evaluation is exactly that – they lay problems bare without providing you with the tools you need to solve them.
Deep questioning of a pitch can make you feel like it’s impossible to find the Goldilocks solution to your procurement problem – the pitch that offers a solution that is just right. But as the great statistician George Box wisely said, “All models are wrong – but some of them are useful.”
Unlocking the optimum procurement option is not about finding the perfect pitch. It’s about finding the best one, understanding it and being able to take action from there. Once you have evaluated your options and selected the option that suits you best, advise your new partner about the changes they need to initiate to make the partnership really work for both parties.
If you can do that, you’ll have found yourself a professional, trustworthy partner who you can go on to develop a strong, long-term relationship with – all thanks to analysis and evaluation.
Analysis and evaluation are two of six core PACIER skills that you can use to significantly improve the performance of both your organization and yourself. Find out more about Critical Thinking here.