How to Tap Into Your Inner Don Draper to Win Your Next Sales Pitch

Rohan Juneja
Rohan Juneja




This post originally appeared on HubSpot's Agency blog. For more content like this, subscribe to Agency.

When it comes to delivering a powerful pitch, few fictional characters inspire as much as Mad Men’s Don Draper. You may not be over six feet tall or have his chiseled jawline, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pitch like him.

A presentation that wows the audience often means the difference between a great idea being squashed in the conference room and seeing it on billboards across America.

Here’s how you can tap into your inner Don Draper to land the client feedback you want to hear: “Where do I sign?”

1) Be a team player.

Be very clear you represent an agency and, thereby, a collective opinion.

It’s best to practice using the pronoun “we,” even when discussing an idea you came up with. This engenders a positive response from both the client and your teammates. Being inclusive is the start to being liked -- and if you’re not liked, your idea won’t be, either. 

2) Know your stuff.

Be a creative who understands strategy, demographics, and business models. Know about the markets you intend to sell to, the competitive scenario, and the unique selling points of the product.

You also need to understand the brand’s history. A client once listened to me pitch for 30 minutes, only to politely inform me that his company did the same campaign two years prior. Needless to say, it was embarrassing for me and the agency I represented.

Effective creative work is based on human awareness, but great creative work is going the extra mile to mine a unique insight. Look at Don Draper’s Kodak pitch; he found a rare angle that not only resonated with the room but also defined the product better than the clients imagined. By knowing the ins and outs of the company, you can find a distinct perception that will craft a killer idea.

3) Warm up the audience.

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. I like to read the room before I become the center of attention, so I study cues like age, style, body language, and even handshakes to understand who I’m trying to resonate with.

To a potential client who’s been in the industry for three decades, pitches can blur together. If you’re lucky, you’ll have 30% of his attention -- with the rest on bills and a baseball game. Use personal anecdotes to transform that 30% into 100. Watch Don Draper inject his marital life into this Cool Whip pitch for an inspiring example.

A dirty little secret in this industry is that almost no one likes meetings. They’re long and usually only result in agreeing on another meeting. However, you can be someone who makes meetings enlightening and fun.

A few years ago, I pitched for a government client who told us its protocol was to “not laugh or smile” during presentations. Fifteen minutes in, I dropped a bawdy one-liner into my spiel that cracked their steely resolve. We beat six other agencies for the account.

4) Develop a style.

The only way to stand out from other silver-tongued persuaders is to form a style that sticks with potential clients in the boardroom and beyond. 

To get started, find people to emulate. In addition to Don Draper, it could be Jack Nicholson’s argument in A Few Good Men, Al Pacino’s plea in Scent of a Woman, or even that panhandler in the subway who compelled you to give him a dollar. 

My personal style has become an amalgamation of decades of stolen nuance. Keep experimenting with your cadence until you find a technique that sticks.

5) Exude confidence.

Mustering up your confidence is the best way to put a potential client at ease with not only you but also your ideas.

If you don’t sound like you believe in the campaign, no one else will, either. Remember not to rush through your pitch. You’re not wasting anyone’s time by sharing a great idea.

When you present confidently, the client will see you’re sincerely having a great time -- sincerity makes people more relaxed and receptive to ideas. Use your body language to encourage the audience to have fun.

Delivering a killer pitch is exhilarating for both you and the audience. It’s the chance to have your message resonate long after they leave that boardroom.

After wrapping up a pitch once, the senior client at the table addressed me personally, commenting that it had been a while since he’d enjoyed hearing a presentation. Moments like this affirm you’re doing the right thing and shifting closer to the nirvana of pitching creative like a “Don.”

Yuriy Boykiv co-wrote this piece. He is the co-founder and CEO of Gravity, a full-service advertising agency that helps brands connect with cultural and international consumers. Connect with Yuriy on Twitter.

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Topics: Sales Strategy

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