You might be asking, “What the heck does debating have to do with pitching prospects?”

A lot, actually.

Winning new business for your agency comes down to developing a logical, watertight pitch that combines data and emotion, resists opposition, and impresses your prospects.

Winning a debate hinges on those same things. Subscribe to HubSpot's Agency newsletter today.

We’ve compiled a list of five debate tips you can steal to turn out a stellar pitch. Check them out below to make your next pitch a winner. 

5 Debate Techniques for Better Pitches

1) Decide on a single resolution, and stick to it.

Resolved: This agency can make your business more money.

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If you ever took a debate class while in school, you might be familiar with the format of the above statement. Resolutions are positive statements used to focus the main subject of the debate. One side argues for the resolution, and one side argues against.

When your team is developing a pitch, try to establish a resolution statement that directly reflects your prospective client’s priorities and goals. If you’re unsure where to start, interview your prospect to gain a greater understanding of what they’re seeking in an agency, and tailor your resolution statement to their business needs.

One of the biggest mistakes agencies and freelancers make when pitching prospects is trying to prove too much without proper support. Using a resolution statement can help focus your ideas and evidence into a single, straightforward premise, e.g.: “Our agency can get you more leads,” or “Our agency can expand your social reach.”

If you channel all your energy into proving one strong statement — rather than a series of disjointed statements — it will be easier for your prospect to see the substantive value in your proposal. 

2) Develop structured arguments, not just claims.

The best debaters know that a sound argument is made up of three main components: the claim, the data, and the warrant.

The claim is the central idea you’re asserting. It usually takes the form of a specific statement that directly supports your main resolution, e.g.: “Conversion optimizing your website will bring in more leads for your business.” When presented on its own, the claim is essentially worthless to your argument. It doesn’t prove anything, it’s just a statement. 

The data is the evidence that supports your claim. Think of yourself like a lawyer stating your case: Without the right facts to back up your claims, your case is pretty much meaningless.

Data doesn’t have to mean hard statistics. Draw from your previous client success stories, case studies, or even industry trends to beef up your case.

The warrant is the bridge that connects your data to your claim, e.g.: “Because many other companies in your industry have found success with conversion optimization, we believe that conversion optimizing your website will bring in more leads for your business.” The “because” statement explains why exactly the data backs up the claim.

Before your pitch, plan out your main arguments by identifying the claim, data, and warrant for each point. This system can help you identify weak spots in your presentation. If you can’t adequately support one of your claims, it’s a good sign you need to dig in deeper or scrap it completely.

3) Anticipate opposition, and consider how to counter it.

Your prospects aren’t exactly the opposition (you want to end up working with them, after all), but they will be looking for places in your presentation that seem weak or opposed to their goals. And the best way to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of questions is to think like your very worst critic.

There are two fundamental kinds of opposition you’re likely to face. The first is a rebuttal, which is data or evidence that disagrees with one of your claims.

For example, if you presented the claim that conversion optimizing your prospect’s website will get them more leads, a rebuttal to this claim would be an anecdote about a business that conversion optimized their website and didn’t generate more leads. This evidence is in direct opposition to your claim.

The second kind of opposition you might face is a counterclaim. While a rebuttal refutes a claim you presented with new evidence, a counterclaim brings up a new claim that directly opposes your own.

For example, if you presented the claim that conversion optimizing your prospect’s website is the smartest way to yield more leads, a counterclaim would be that SEO is in fact the better strategy

How can you prepare for rebuttals and counterclaims? Comb through your presentation with a ruthless eye and create your own list of opposing points. Then practice how you would address them before the pitch. This will ensure you aren’t forced to think on your feet when the stakes are high.

4) Address all questions head-on.

In debate, if you fail to fully address an argument from the opposing team, it’s taken as a concession. It’s essentially the same thing as admitting their argument is correct. This is called a drop, as in: You completely dropped the ball.

During your pitch, it’s easy to become so focused on crushing your presentation that you stumble when the prospective client expresses concerns or raises questions you hadn’t considered. It’s important that you give a complete, honest answer to each of their questions, even if the answer is, “I’m not sure right now, but I will find out and get back to you.”

Glossing over a concern or not fully answering a question will look far worse to the prospect than attempting to answer to the best of your ability and stumbling a bit. At least it lets the prospect know that you heard them, you understand where they’re coming from, and you’re interested in getting them the right information.

5) Remember that your “judges” are human.

Although forming logical arguments is central to debates, logic isn’t the whole picture. At the end of the day, you have to impress the judges, and that means delivering your statements with an acute awareness of your audience’s emotions.  

Pitches are similar. Your prospects will be impressed by sound arguments that prove your resolution, but they also need to be wooed a little. There needs to be an emotional element that draws them in and makes them truly believe in your proposal.

This doesn’t mean you need a flashy gimmick, however, it just means you need to present your pitch in a compelling, human way. If you start to sound robotic, ask yourself: How would I explain this idea to a friend? Stepping back and reevaluating your narrative is key to developing an accessible pitch.

How does your agency prep for a big pitch? Let us know in the comments. 


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