Those that I work with know my general feelings about capabilities presentations. We wind up doing them a lot in advertising, and while I wouldn’t say they are a waste of time, I often feel they should be done with a different focus and objective.
For those that don’t know, a capabilities presentation, or, “capes,” as they are often called, is a presentation, sometimes delivered live, and sometimes sent via email, to tell a potential client a little about yourself and your experience. Often the client will spell out very specific requirements for what a capes should contain, and it’s a good indication the client is casting a wide net. Capes is about getting to the next round when you will be presenting more of your thinking, and bringing solutions to the table. For now, it’s a bit like a coffee date. You don’t know if you actually want to go out with this person, but you’ll consider it enough to grab coffee.
First of all, NEVER present capes blind. (At least, hardly ever)
Blind capes are when you are being asked to present your capabilities, but aren’t told much of anything about the project you are pitching for. It’s like throwing darts with a blindfold on. If they are doing this, they most likely aren’t at all serious about you, and are not just wasting your time but their own as well. If they value you as a potential partner, they’ll give you a sense of what it’s all about – preferably in some detail – so that you can present information that’s relevant to them. Pitching blind capes makes you look desperate, and it’s a cattle call in many instances. Be very careful about this before you devote any resources to such a pitch, and if you do it, have a good reason.
Pitching to win is all about solutions
I probably sound like a broken record about this one, but it’s the core of what we do. To present to win, you need to bring solutions to your client. The core problem with capes presentations is that too often it’s kind of just about you, not your solutions for them.
Capes are actually about 2 fundamental questions
QUESTION NUMBER 1: “Are you qualified?” Do you have the capability to do this sort of thing?
This is about letting the client check off boxes. Being considered qualified only gets you to the next round. Be professional about it, and get through this part quickly. You can’t out-credential your competition. Spend less time qualifying yourself, and more time on question number 2…
QUESTION NUMBER 2: “Are you someone we can work with?”
This is the more important question, and it’s what they are asking themselves through the entire process. Remember that winning business isn’t about being the most qualified. Usually your clients couldn’t even tell you who was the most qualified. It’s rarely the focus of their decision-making process. Ask yourself: who would you rather work with; a genius that you don’t click with, or someone that’s qualified, but also a true partner? Being easy to work with is only part of it. To present yourself as someone they can work with, you need show them that you are an ideal partner with a deep understanding of their needs, penetrating insights, and the ability to deliver solutions. This is where you want to steer your capes presentation!
Here is where talking to them is going to do you the most good. If you are not presenting your capes live (as sometimes is the case), consider doing a webex so you can at least have a conversation with them. Just doing this one thing can up your win rate. Just sending them the electronic file is sometimes necessary, but avoid it if you can.
Too often capabilities presentations are about your capabilities and not much more. You wind up just standing around talking about yourself the whole time. It’s true that they want to know what you’ve done and what you’re able to do, but to answer question number 2, you have to make your capabilities presentation be a dialog, not a monologue; and make your time with them be more about them than about you. Many capes presentations are presenter-centric, not audience-centric. And when you’re telling them all about you, you are missing the opportunity to learn more about them. Listening and learning is how you set yourself up to win.
Set yourself up to win. Got it. So how do we do that?
First of all, be clear on what your opportunity is in capes. Your goal is to help them check off the boxes that say you are qualified, then move on to building a partnership and gaining insights into their project, product or brand. This kind of learning not only helps you when you go to do your actual pitch, the dialog itself helps demonstrate that you are someone they can work with. Better solutions come from deeper understanding.
Make the most of your case studies
Most capes presentations have case studies. After all, at this phase you aren’t (usually) presenting your solutions for their project. But case studies are a tricky needle to thread. Case studies are only truly relevant to the client if they happen to be about a situation similar to what the client faces. In a commodity business, this is more likely. But in advertising, for example, it’s a bit trickier. So first of all, chose cases that are as close and relevant as possible. Then tweak them a bit to focus on challenges that share common ground with the client’s project.
Next, make sure you are structuring the cases in a way that focuses on solutions and partnership. Here’s the winning formula:
- Briefly describe the challenge/opportunity/need/problem
- Talk a little about the deeper insight or outside the box thinking you gained
- Show them the solution and relate it to the challenges and insights you gained in steps 1 and 2
- Demonstrate how the solution exceeded expectations.
If your solution didn’t exceed expectations, don’t show it. People don’t want you to solve the problem; they want you to solve their problem better than they thought possible. The company that exceeds its client’s expectations will never want for clients.
Lastly, get your focus and your beliefs in the right place
Make your time with them be a dialog. It shouldn’t take you a long time to tell them about your company and what you can do. The choice to bring you to the pitch – and to award you the business should be simple and obvious. If you’re spending too long proving these points, you’ve lost already.
And make sure that you put yourself in their shoes. Think about what they know about you, and what will make them say yes to the next pitch round, and ultimately, yes to giving you the business. If you were in their shoes, what would make you want to work the problem together, and make you believe that these people have ideas that you just have to hear. What kinds of information and what kind of approach makes you seem not only qualified, but an ideal partner? Make as much of your presentation as possible be about that. It’s your road map. Obviously you have to answer whatever questions they provide, but as much as possible, focus on question number 2: Are you someone they’ll want to work with?
And believe in yourself. Prepare with the assumption that you’ll go to the formal pitch round, and that you’ll win. If you believe that you are the logical and obvious choice, they’ll pick up on that and your partnership can begin right from the start.