Losing Pitches Often Lack Empathy

Bob Wiesner | January 22, 2019

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When you’re not winning a ton of new business, you’ll naturally take a look at your final pitch presentations. And many of you will be stumped. “Our pitch was fine,” you’ll conclude. “Can’t understand why we lost.”

Well, what did you you think was so fine about it?

Here are answers I often get:

  • We did a great job presenting our capabilities.
  • We answered all the questions posed in the RFP.
  • Our solution was thorough and unique.
  • We gave them plenty of options to choose from.
  • The deck looked great.
  • We had really clever pitch tactics.


To me there’s one glaring omissions. And it might’ve cost you the business:

You didn’t show a whole lot of empathy for the prospect’s decision-makers.

Empathy is the secret sauce of a winning pitch

Looking internally, nothing is more important to motivating a team than empathy. Why in the world would a team member or direct report give you their best thinking and incremental effort if they didn’t feel that you understood what’s important to them? Effort, creativity, innovations, going the extra mile, accuracy, accountability: These are all limited resources. So we offer them only to bosses who we feel legitimately understand what’s important to us, and will help us achieve it.

Nothing is more true in new business pursuits.

Your prospects have a limited supply of critical resources to disperse to providers. Not just business, brands, money. But the time, effort, energy that’ll be required to work with a new firm or team. So, of course a critical decision-making factor will be this:

I’ll go with the team that did the best job of showing that they REALLY understand us.

Start with empathy. End with empathy

You gotta establish your empathy for their situation at the very start. And empathy isn’t established by parroting back the RFP objectives or requirements. It comes from showing that you know as well as they do – or even better – what the challenges are that they face, the downsides of failure, the upsides of success.

And close the loop at the end of the pitch. A compelling story or case or fact that reminds them that you really get what’s important to them.

I’m a strong believer in the value of pitch tactics. Something memorable that differentiates the pitching firm apart from the solution. And, without exception, the best ones are those with the purpose of building empathy.


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