The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, by Blair Enns, is a powerful business book that goes against conventional wisdom. Enns is aiming his message at agencies and entrepreneurs who have long assumed that the only way to win over clients was with a strong pitch. At first glance, it may seem not only contrarian but impossible to attract customers without pitching them. Enns, however, makes a strong case that this is actually the best approach.
What is a Pitch?
Since Enns is offering alternatives to pitching, a good place to start is to determine exactly what a pitch is. Pitches are a selling technique that summarizes the benefits of a product, service, or offer. The concept of “elevator pitch” has gotten very popular, accentuating the idea that you should be able to provide a brief yet convincing argument for your idea. Enns himself defines a pitch as an “attempt to sell or win approval for one’s ideas by giving them away for free, usually within a competitive, buyer-driven process.” Here are some situations where pitches are typically used:
- Startups trying to get funding from investors (such as Shark Tank).
- Screenwriters pitching a movie idea to producers.
- Agencies and other service-based businesses pitching prospects to convince them to sign up.
Enns is focusing on the latter here, questioning the conventional wisdom that an agency must constantly pitch in order to attract new clients.
What is Wrong With Pitches?
What does Enns have against pitches? One concise quote that sums up a great deal of his philosophy is: “Speak softly and people lean toward you; speak loudly and they lean away.” A pitch is almost always an aggressive and loud attempt to win over your prospect. In a world where people are inundated with ads and promotional gimmicks all day, hearing yet another pitch from you is likely to get them to “lean away.”
One of the main reasons Enns doesn’t like pitching is that, for agencies, the pitch usually comes with an offer of a free consultation or a free trial of their services. For Enns, this practice immediately places the agency at a disadvantage and lowers its value. When you give away your services, you are using up your valuable time, sharing your expertise, and lowering your value. While agencies still can obtain clients this way, Enns sees this as an outdated and ultimately counterproductive method. Most importantly, he considers it an ineffective way to build your brand and authority.
Top Principles of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto
In his book, Enns shares 12 proclamations that serve as recommendations for agencies that are seeking a more successful strategy. The following are some that I found most interesting and persuasive.
We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid
As Enns defines giving away your services in his definition of a pitch, this is a key principle. He breaks away from the usual practice of providing a free consultation, where you analyze your potential client’s problems before they even hire you. Enns explicitly advocates not providing any diagnosis or advice before getting paid.
We Will Build Expertise Rapidly
Another core principle is “Expertise is the only valid basis for differentiating ourselves from the competition. Not personality. Not process. Not price.” For Enns, building expertise in areas such as problem-solving, advising, writing, and creative work is what allows you to negotiate from a position of authority rather than having to resort to traditional pitching and giving your services away.
We Will Charge More
Another contrarian position in Enns’ manifesto is that charging more strengthens your position and makes you more appealing to quality clients. This goes hand-in-hand with not giving away your services. Too many agencies are so eager to obtain and retain clients that they try to undersell the competition. Enns recommends positioning yourself as an authority and charging premium rates.
Enns is also an advocate of what he calls value-based pricing and a vocal critic of hourly billing. Enns has even written an entire book on the topic, Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
We Will Be Selective
Enns advocates building your business with a small number of high-quality clients. You want clients who are the right fit for your services and who truly appreciate the value you deliver.
We Will Replace Presentations With Conversations
This principle directly addresses the reader’s natural question, “If I don’t pitch prospects, what should I do instead?” Ennis considers presentations to be on a par with pitches as both involve sharing information and advice before you’ve been hired. He sums up his feelings about this by saying “Practitioners do not present. Stars do not audition.”
A conversation, on the other hand, is an exchange between parties of equal value. He suggests discussing the client’s needs in a manner similar to the way a doctor or lawyer would. Expert practitioners don’t need to make pitches or presentations. They establish themselves as experts who are trying to find out if the potential client is a good fit.
Why I Recommend This Book
The Win Without Pitching Manifesto is a book that can change your entire outlook and the way you approach growing your business. Enns helps you transform your perspective and develop greater confidence in your abilities and services. Pitching is something many of us learned as a basic, unavoidable aspect of selling and acquiring clients. Enns turns this assumption on its head and offers some practical alternatives.
While this book is, on the surface, a criticism of the traditional idea of pitching, it’s actually much more than that. It gets into some important issues that relate to psychology and business strategy. It’s not just that typical pitching turns off many prospects. What’s more relevant is that pitching reflects a view of yourself and your business where the client has all the power and you are in a position of subservience. Enns teaches you to position yourself as an expert (as well as actually becoming a real expert if you’re not already) so you’re on equal footing with clients.
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