What can X Factor teach us about new business pitches?

OK I admit it; I’m a massive X Factor fan.

I’m one of the thousands of men who claim they only watch it because they’re forced to by their other halves, but secretly love the grand spectacle, the emotional highs and lows, and the sheer silliness of it all.

Last weekend’s instalment was sillier than most.  The human incarnation of Droopy sang all five harmony parts of Bohemian Rhapsody (badly), whilst one of the guys most able to sing ended up losing the public vote and leaving the competition.

Sadly for Paul Akister, the writing had been on the wall for a couple of weeks, as he failed to heed warnings from the judges to crack his face and start looking like he was enjoying himself (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly).

In these squeaky clean days of competition rule compliance there could clearly be no question of the TV producers rigging the vote, but that’s not to say they couldn’t use their influence to stack the odds against young Paul, with his sweet voice and sour face.

And so it came to pass that in the week when all the surviving contestants would be guaranteed places on next year’s X Factor tour, out came Paul to open the show singing a terrible drum & bass arrangement of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, dressed all in black against a black backdrop punctuated only by distracting strobe lights.

Eurovision enthusiasts will already know that running order makes a huge difference to the voting pattern, and I’m guessing the same is true of X Factor given that so far in this year’s competition no act that has performed in the last four slots has ended up in the bottom two of the public vote.

Freddie Mercury himself would have struggled to win out under those circumstances, and tearful Paul duly received his marching orders to a chorus of boos from the stunned studio audience.

What Paul and the audience failed to appreciate is that X Factor is first and foremost an entertainment show.  The ability to sing is only one – arguably relatively minor – element in a contestant’s success.  For many of the previous contestants who have subsequently enjoyed some degree of TV fame (such as Olly Murs, Rylan Clark or Stacey Solomon), the ability to sing has been secondary to a likeable personality, positive attitude and strong work ethic.

As I watched the results unfold on Sunday night, I realised there are a number of parallels between Paul Akister’s situation on X Factor and some of the more common reasons for failure in new business pitches:

  • He focused too narrowly. He spent too much time on one element of his presentation, whilst neglecting other equally important areas to score points.
  • He didn’t focus on the key decision makers. He put all his efforts into winning over the public with his live performance, failing to realise that the real judging had already occurred well before the main event.
  • He didn’t build strong relationships. He thought his talent would be enough to see him through, when being well liked and trusted by those in power was the real key to success.
  • He didn’t respond to feedback. He was given a clear warning that he needed to adapt his approach, which he failed to heed.
  • He didn’t look like he wanted it enough. He didn’t demonstrate sufficient enthusiasm and desire to win in the face of strong competition.

I wish Paul all the best, and hope he can go on to build a great singing career, but his X Factor tactics left him a long way short of being pitch perfect.

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