They had a great idea but couldn’t get traction. Investors shot them down, concluding there was no space in the market for the service they were planning to offer. So Canva’s founders changed tack.
Rather than allowing space for challenging questions at the end of their pitch, they shifted them to the front. As chief executive officer Melanie Perkins explained: “One of the first pages explained our industry and where we believed this huge gap was.”
Suddenly investors were clambering to be involved. The opportunity was obvious. Canva wasn’t just competing for a slice of yearbook publishing, it was posed to revolutionise the entire desktop publishing market.
Where pitches and proposals go wrong
The most common mistake across the proposals I review for clients is a failure to engage the audience early on.
Like in a movie, many entrepreneurs think they need to introduce the characters, set a happy scene to lull the audience into the story, and only toward the end introduce a problem that they then resolve.
But what busy client has the attention span for that?
How to get pitches and proposals right
Instead, pitches should be modelled according to the journalistic catch cry ‘don’t bury the lead!’
As the Canva team realised, shifting tension to the first third of your pitch deck is much more likely to grab the audience’s attention. It means they can focus on what you are sharing rather than being distracted by questions that are nagging at them.
I recommend proposals be structured as follows.
The first third of your document should restate what you heard (or know) of your customer’s problem, and then go further. Point out something someone with only your expertise can see. Create tension between their status quo and where they should or could be, and at a high level, introduce your solution. Your objective in Act I is to win the sale.
Now the audience is on board with your approach at a conceptual level, provide details of process, timings and cost, so they can pore over them if they want. Here your objective is to not lose the sale.
Finally, credential yourself and include a final call to action. (Such as a clear prompt as to what the first small step is for them.) This section is about making them feel they can justify you to others.
Reverse engineering proposals to bring the tension forward is a sure-fire way of piquing the interest of your audience. Getting to the important stuff first signals you respect their time, and you get to share the most powerful insights when they are most fresh and receptive.