By: Oded Ben-Joseph, Ph.D., MBA & Thomas Busby, MBA
For most, the idea of CEOs “pitching” their company evokes images of detailed PowerPoint presentations and exuberant speeches. And CEOs play into this notion by approaching meetings with potential investors or buyers with just that mindset – that they are to deliver an inspiring monologue, like a public company’s CEO delivering annual results at an investor’s conference (see Jeffrey Immelt / Elon Musk). More worrisome is that many novice CEOs mistakenly believe that this is their audience’s expectation.
However, the reality of a successful pitch is far detached from what many might expect. It’s even reasonable to suggest that the term “pitching” is itself a misnomer, because successful pitches are better thought of and approached as conversations, or dialogue, with interested investors or buyers. Below are a few suggestions for management teams to keep in mind when meeting with future partners.
Manage Your Time
However long your meeting is scheduled for, cut it in half and that is approximately how long your “pitch” should be. You will want to take time before your presentation to introduce yourself and your team and to learn about your audience. You will also want to leave enough time after your pitch for the most impactful portion of the meeting: the post-pitch discussion. During this time you will have the opportunity to answer questions and gauge audience response and concerns.
Know Your Audience
Important strategic meetings are typically hard to come by and are initially brief. Because of this, management teams need to understand who their audience is and why they want to learn more about the company. It is common for investors to hear hundreds of pitches each year. These opportunities to pitch are usually the product of one or both of the following factors: either the company was introduced to the investor by a mutual acquaintance, or the company genuinely sparked investor’s interest. Whatever the reason, take the time to understand what engages potential investors by reviewing their deal history and personal background(s) before the meeting, and by asking them directly in person. This way you will be able to tailor your presentation accordingly.
As the life sciences segment is knowledge-intensive, management teams often find the scientific and clinical aspects of their company irresistible and thus focus exclusively on the science. The reality, however, is that the human component is just as important and should not be overlooked. It is people that drive transactions, not spreadsheets and scientific concepts. Investors seek management teams that are not only able to execute on a strategic plan but also possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills. The ability to connect with your audience on a personal level will increase the probability of reaching positive outcomes. In other words, focus not only on the content of your pitch but also on how you deliver it.
As mentioned earlier, the best approach to pitching is to think of the meeting as a discussion about your firm, where you will receive real market feedback. This feedback will provide a valuable external perspective from sophisticated investors/buyers that will enable you to make adjustments to your strategy, if needed. To this end, it can be helpful to reflect on issues you would like feedback on prior to the meeting. For example, if a number of strategic paths are possible, show management maturity and thoughtfulness by sharing your thoughts with the audience. While you need not share your deepest concerns, it is a time to solicit feedback about issues that perhaps only your audience could answer.
Listen & Learn
As with any relationship or dialogue, it is important to maintain a healthy balance between speaking and listening during your pitch. On occasion, CEOs and management teams give in to their excitement and focus far more on what they want to say than on what their potential investors might want to share. And while the first-order benefit to listening is obvious (an opportunity to learn), the second-order advantage is of equal importance: investors seek management teams that possess intellectual agility and an ability to make strategic adjustments based on sound, data-driven advice. CEOs who dominate the meeting run the risk of being perceived as unmanageable and closed to outside input. Avoid interrupting and listen carefully and intently to questions, feedback and, most importantly, other perspectives.
While intricate presentations given with dramatic flare might seem like an appealing route for entrepreneurs to take, seasoned CEOs leverage the opportunity to discuss their company, form relationships and receive invaluable feedback.
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