The Business Pitch 101: How to Pitch to Executives

The Business Pitch 101: How to Pitch to Executives

We’ve analyzed hundreds of emerging technology presentations in front of senior-level executives to share with you the best ways to formulate your pitch and engage an executive audience.

Innovation Insights
 Min read
August 20, 2023

Presenting a successful business pitch to top executives begins with a thorough plan. You may have those great business ideas you want to pitch to the people at the highest echelon of your company, or it could be a potential investor your company is targeting for a new product or service. While you may have everything figured out and a deep analysis of why they should buy into this idea, you may not cover all of it. 

This is because you have a few things against you. For one, you're pitching to top corporate stakeholders, high-end investors, or venture capitalists, and you have at most 10 minutes to make an impression, and realistically that impression is formed within the first minute or two. Pitching to senior executives is tough. Having a jam-packed schedule means they typically want things short and sweet, and their decisions tend to be high stakes with little room for weighing options. So, to ensure you make the most of each minute you have their attention to present your pitch, you must ensure you get everything right. And by right, it means preparing your pitch in advance to ensure it's worth their time and consideration. And it all begins with knowing how to pitch successfully to this particular crowd.

We’ve analyzed hundreds of emerging technology presentations from startups who have shared their ideas with the senior leaders that make up our Innovation Advisory Council Members to share with you the best ways to formulate your pitch and engage an executive audience. Our Council Members benefit from the exposure to new technologies that aim to shape the landscape of tomorrow. Leveraging their decades of executive experience, Council Members share their feedback and insights on the presentations to help these emerging technology companies forge their path.   

group of three individual pitching to an executive ad

What is a business pitch?

Let’s start with the basics; a business pitch is a technique for making a business proposal or innovative idea with the hope of rallying support behind it. As a business executive, you may be presented with a new opportunity to market your idea or even yourself. It's one way of boosting your career, onboarding new investors, or acquiring new customers, all with one approach. A business pitch should ensure your audience understands what your plans or goals are before they buy-in. To achieve this, you must compile and present relevant points and analyses to support your vision. When you submit a compelling pitch, you convince your audience to put themselves in a position where they can envision the benefits of your solution or idea, all driving to the idea of them walking away and thinking, “why am I not using or doing this today?”

Everything you need for pitching to senior executives

It helps if you have a solid plan to draft a business pitch successfully and effectively. You need to figure out how to present your idea as the ultimate solution worth investing in.

With that in mind, here are a few ways we’ve found that resonate best when presenting a business pitch to top industry players.

We asked one of our Council members, Dr. Adrian M. Mayers, CISO of Premera, what's important for him when he’s looking for and what stands out in pitches.

  • Clear Problem/ Solution StatementI shouldn’t be struggling to understand the problem that is being solved.
  • RelevanceWhy does this matter, truly?
  • DifferentiationHow is this different than other things that currently exist in the competitive landscape, and do you understand the market?
  • Deep Understanding of the Customer/Consumer JourneyDemonstrate genuine empathy for the customer/consumer that this “thing” is supposed to help.
  • Broader CorrelationsWhat other macro-level domains does this intersect with (e.g. economics, history, sociology, psychology, etc.)?

Draft a compelling presentation 

The first step is to create an outline for your pitch. The trick is to generate something that captures the attention and interest of your audience quickly. Bear in mind that you need two versions of these decks. The first should be a shorter version for you to summarize to your audience within ten minutes. The other should be an extended version that you can make accessible to your audience for deeper analysis. You need to have these prepared because if it takes you time to craft the more extensive deck after an executive has asked you, they’ve probably already lost interest.

group of senior leaders and individual members discussing pitching to an organization and preparing for difficult questions

Do your pre-pitch practice to hone presentation skills and build toward the perfect pitch

You must familiarize yourself with your pitch before trying to make others familiar with it. As such, you need to practice your pitch consistently before you make your presentation. This will help you highlight each element of the business pitch as quickly as possible to make the most of each minute you'll have. Understanding your business goals and objectives doesn't mean you can briefly explain the value it could bring to your audience. Even a great pitch deck and attention-grabbing visuals will not help if you're unprepared.

Imagine promising your audience of busy professionals that you'll only need ten minutes of their time, only to spend 25 minutes rambling on, and you’ve only covered five slides. Take the time to understand each element, practice, and create short, precise messages that will drive your point home within the shortest time possible. Cut out anything else that's irrelevant or that your audience can access on another medium.

In our Innovation Advisory Council meetings, we’ve found that as startups continue to present more times and embrace the feedback from Council Members, their presentations become more precise, and their value is communicated in a much more effective way.

Draw in your target audience with a compelling story

“A stellar customer pitch is one that tells a compelling story. You need to show empathy for your customers and a deep, personal understanding of their problems. Most importantly, clearly explain how and why your technology offers a unique solution that no other company does.”- Leila Golchehreh, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Relyance

Okay, so you only have less than 20 minutes to sell your idea and hopefully gain the support you're rallying for. However, as short as your time might be, you can create a magnet that will make your audience hooked to you and your idea. Remember, you're facing a tough crowd who have countless other things vying for their attention. So how do you win them over and draw them in? By starting your pitch with a compelling story. This will keep them engaged long enough for you to drop the first and second points. By the time you're on to the third, they'll be engaged; you'll be sure to pass your most vital points while having their full attention. 

Of course, the opening story must be short, precise, compelling, and, most importantly, relevant to your pitch. If there have been previous demos, ensure you have the data to back them up. Even better is if your audience can relate to this story. A good story should touch on industry growth, emerging trends, new challenges, new opportunities, and if these executives have experienced any of them. Additionally, the story should focus on their past or present challenges.

a team building together the crucial information needed in delivering a strong case for their business pitch

It's even better to research the executives to understand what pain points they are dealing with presently and and identify issues they're working to mitigate. Then, with this vital information in hand, you can customize it to fit into your story. That way, you'll quickly create a rapport since it implies you understand each other.

Remember, you want people to be able to envision themselves in a future where you’ve solved a problem for them, and they can relate to the value.

Offer a value proposition in your executive pitch

Having known your audience's main pain points, it's time to offer them a solution. Succinctly explain what's unique about your idea and what value it will add to these executives or the company you're pitching to. Make it short and straight to the point so your audience can explain it to other stakeholders. Avoid using complicated industry jargon unless your audience is familiar with them. Again, if you've done some trials in the past, table the results to validate and give your idea some credibility. 

“An outstanding customer pitch is a compelling idea packaged as an emotionally captivating story. It is not just about the words you say or the visuals you show, but it's how you make your audience feel. That's what sticks.” - Abhi Sharma, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Relyance

Explain your target market

Don't give a general market opinion. Bear in mind that not everyone is your target market, so you should be more realistic. Instead, highlight the total addressable market, the serviceable available market, and the serviceable obtainable market (TAM, SOM, and SAM) of your target market to leave an impression on your audience and craft an effective market roll-out plan. Specifically, define your ideal target market to enable your audience to visualize which demographics your business will serve.

Demonstrate your business model

Now onto the money question. This one is one of the most critical aspects of your pitch, and executives will want a deep analysis of this slide. Generally, the question tends to be how you'll make money. Highlight your offerings and pricing models, plus your predictions on market performance.

“New technology and innovation are exciting. As a CIO, I always look for a technology, product, and service that are relevant to my industry, business model, and customers. It is essential that the presenters demonstrate the business case with ROI and Time to Value.” Shirley Gao, CIO PacSun

Build credibility throughout your executive pitch

At the beginning of your presentation, you should build some form of credibility. To do this, illustrate to your audience your track record of previous experiences. If it's a startup, highlight any specific tractions you've gained. This is your moment to shine. Impress your audience with your success stories and notable achievements.  This is where you create the perfect picture of your business, demonstrating its potential and how the support from your audience will propel it to greater heights. Still, it shouldn't stop at that. Confidently show the investors or executives where you intend to go, your proposed roadmap, estimated milestones, and how you plan to get to each of them.

At the same time, executives are interested in what challenges you’re facing and how you’re overcoming current and future roadblocks. This openness to pull back the curtain provides an additional level of credibility and helps position you and your product or service in a better light. On the other hand, if everything is perceived as perfect, that’s a sign something might be getting swept under the rug.

man sitting in chair in front of a small group of senior executives pitching a great idea

Showcase your long-term growth strategy to build confidence

Your potential business facilitators want to know how you'll fulfill all these beautiful dreams. Even with funding or backing, how will you acquire and retain clients? How will you measure success rates? How will you track your progress? You must show your customer acquisition strategies and marketing channels for the same. Let's say you've done your homework. You know who your business is meant for. Now show your executives how you'll go about it all.

“As a healthcare technology executive, I look for base knowledge of the industry I serve. If the team is too small to have a healthcare expert, do they have the bandwidth to partner with us to learn our environment? Metrics are important to understand their ability to perform and scale. Shorter decks are preferred with real time story telling in terms of problems they have solved. How much traction do they have in the market and how are they growing their team?” -Sarah Richardson, SVP & CIO, Tivity Health

If you're a new technology, there's risk in adopting your solution – you want to make people feel comfortable that the market you're going after is large enough and defined enough to sustain and grow your business. When you're talking with enterprise companies, the switching costs and commitments to adopting new technologies is no small feat; you need to prove to your audience that you'll be around for the long haul.

Communicate the needed resources needed to create executive buy-in

Investors or company executives will not buy into your great idea unless they're convinced it's doable. And after all, is said and done, who will do the job?  Does your company have the right human resources to execute this idea? Does your team have the right skill set to implement your business proposal from start to finish? Do you have any specific talents in each department? No one wants to throw away time and resources only to realize it’s going to take more time and resources than initially expected, and the only way to demonstrate the viability of your business pitch is by illustrating the resources to achieve it. 

Suppose you’re building a complex product that requires a company to hire specialized employees. In that case, it’s important to touch on how clients might need to either upskill their existing workforce or bring on new staff to fully utilize your product or services.

individual in front of a crowd delivering an

Insights From our Innovation Advisory Council Members

Our Innovation Advisory Council comprises over 1,000 of the world's most innovative C-level executives who work together to share and adopt insights that shape the future of technology and disruptive innovation. Council Members benefit by gaining exposure to top venture capital insights and advising next-generation tech startups that will shape industries.

At each of our Councils, our Council Members provide feedback and share their expertise to emerging technologies that present to them during Council meetings. These are insights we've heard time and time again from our past Councils on what to keep in mind when improving a presentation:

Common questions after an executive pitch from Innovation Advisory Council members:

  • How can I incorporate and integrate it with my existing technologies?
  • What is the ease of integration?
  • Do I need to hire or train new people?
  • How quick is it to implement?
  • What is the cost?
  • What are the top industry verticals?
  • What's the differentiation or incremental value over existing technologies?
  • How does the product or service work for a large company vs. a small company?

Common feedback after an executive pitch from Innovation Advisory Council members:

  • Provide use cases with customer examples.
  • Provide enough context to ensure people don't have to fill in the blanks themselves.
  • Present the value first - don't make people guess what the value is or try and figure it out themselves .
  • Answer the compelling question of, “What is the need?”

Reoccurring challenges we’ve seen with pitches to senior leaders:

  • Not being hyper-aware of timing. A pitch that is too rushed or too slow will be noticed.
  • Not practicing or prepping for the pitch. Practice is essential to ensure your audience does not focus on avoidable errors.
  • Not reaching a defined problem, how your product fixes it, and the unique value that it brings to customers should be a pillar of your pitch.
  • A lack of confidence/speaking/annunciation during the presentation.

What we've seen stand out from a successful executive pitch

  • The person who delivers the pitch has a passion for the product, can articulate it concisely, and has the ability to answer both simple and complex questions.
  • A well-structured demo that paints a complete story where an executive can visualize the solution's benefit in solving a real problem.
  • A Strong financial breakdown of the benefits of adopting the product or service.
  • Leveraged relatable use cases and customer stories to provide additional credibility to their presentation.
  • Tailored their approach to the industries and knowledge of the executives in real-time.

planning to deliver and structure an executive pitch in front of industry experts and discussing next steps

The bottom line of building a successful executive pitch

Ultimately, you'll never know how effective your business pitch is until you give it a shot. Even if the message doesn't work out the first time, take it as a learning opportunity and continue to evolve your presentation. The more attempts you make, the more valuable lessons you learn for your business, and the better you get at it.

If you're looking to get guidance and insights on your product and roadmap from a global executive audience who embodies innovation, we’re always interested in hearing from new emerging technology companies who are interested in presenting to our Innovation Advisory Council. Get in touch today.

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