A few years back, we won a pitch against an incumbent agency that was several orders of magnitude larger than we were. For all intents and purposes, they should have won; but instead, we were unanimously chosen by the selection committee.

When we asked why, they told us that the other agency had spent the majority of the pitch talking about themselves, while we barely said anything about us, opting instead to focus on the client's challenges, opportunities and solutions.

Since then, we've taken that feedback and evolved a more nuanced system for our business pitches that we have found differentiates us almost every single time we use it.

We call it, "Discredit and Differentiate."

1. Discredit

First, spend a few minutes asking yourself, "what will my competitors do?"

It's really not that difficult to imagine what most of your competitors will say and do. Just look at their websites, case studies and methodologies and you'll have a pretty good idea of what they will try to sell to the prospect.

Your first job is to figure out how to discredit everything they're going to say. Typically, we'll do this by stating the obvious -- for instance, "every agency uses tools like SEO, social media and digital advertising to produce results."

Then we'll go on to level the playing field: "But the truth is, as you very well know, every agency has similar tools. And to be honest, we all do them really, really well."

At that point, when your competitors brag about how well they do their craft, the prospect will be thinking yup, I know that already, because that other firm let me in on the secret that you all do that well.

2. Differentiate

Once you've disarmed all of your competitors' tools and methods, then it's time to plant a new idea in your prospect's mind that they hadn't considered.

For us, we might say something like, "So now, you know that you can't possibly make a decision based on how creative any of us are or how well we're going to handle your digital media strategy, which is why we're going to tell you what really matters, which few other firms will ever admit."

At this point, they're on the edge of their seats, wondering what they don't know. Then we'll pick a very specific strategy that we know is honestly the most important thing for them, and make that the star of the show.

For instance, for a client we just pitched this month, we knew that they had a huge focus on their core values, which influenced everything they did. So we said, "what's most important is that you share a set of core values with your growth partner, because everything you do and say will only, really produce the growth results you want if those messages fully align with your core beliefs."

It just so happened that our values do, in fact, overlap. So, we found a perfect reason to differentiate ourselves that we knew would resonate with them.

Furthermore, they could no longer make any other decision based on whether other competitors of ours had different tools, methods or even case studies, because we had already discredited all of that as being nothing but smoke and mirrors compared to what really mattered.

Discredit and differentiate if you want to gain an immediate competitive advantage every time.

When it comes to this strategy, the key question you should be asking is, how do I help my prospect have an epiphany about what truly matters, and then align what truly matters with something that only I can offer?

If you can help the prospect have an epiphany that changes the buying criteria in the first place, you'll always gain an immediate advantage that your competitor can never see coming.

It's like I always say: If you can't win, change the game. Happy hunting.