Back when I was in in college in Atlanta, I had a design professor who was some sort of a creative director at CNN. I aspired to be everything that he was professionally, so I made it a point to work 100 times harder in his class than any other during that time. For our end-of-semester project, we had to pitch a poster design for a mock relaunch of Underground Atlanta and he, as the client, laid out everything that he wanted to see from us in a very detailed brief. I put everything I could into this project to win him over. I followed every graphic design rule, stayed up for three nights straight cutting out every red brick by hand (for the brick wall design) that was the main focus of the piece, and the rest was created with as much precision and focus as I could manage.
When it was my turn to present, he came around to my drafting table, leaned over my shoulder and said softly, " Your execution is impeccable, simply gorgeous work, Theresa." At that moment I felt like I was going to burst with joy that I had nailed this. But in mid swoon he says "But I don't like brick walls. You need to rework this." And he walked off.
All semblance of classroom decorum left me at that second, and I grabbed him before he made it to the next guy's table. "Wait! What? I don't understand--You don't like brick walls? Why does your personal opinion about bricks matter?"He then said to me, "It does matter. You knew what your client needed, but you never asked your client what he 'liked.'"
If you are working hard on a creative pitch, no doubt you have asked your clients questions about their business, their market, etc. But if given the opportunity, dig a bit deeper to get to know them personally by simply asking questions that will help paint a mental picture of what their individual personal tastes are. This might be all it takes to win a bid : you took the time to listen not only to their needs but to their wants, too.
Many times people find it difficult to express what they like in visual terms. So listen closely as you are chatting with them. Pay attention to descriptive key words such as sharp, cool, soft, edgy, etc. that come up in your conversation that can help you develop a better plan of attack. If your client starts to talk about his love of outdoor sports, why not show a little love and include related products or imagery that can tie in his personal interest as an option. Even if it doesn't work out, you show that you have cared enough to listen.
Don't assume everyone will just like what you do because you believe you are the best. Super awesome outside-the-box creative thinking is great, but tailoring that to your clients needs or their tastes is just as important. I might like octopus and can create amazing octopus dishes, but I'm not going to force feed folks octopus at a dinner party if I don't know them well and just assume they will love it being that I'm a top octopus chef. In doing so, I might end up eating alone a whole bunch.
And remember: you can't win everyone over 100% of the time. This is when you can't be precious about your work or the creative concepts you pitch. If you don't hit the mark, its not the end of days. Take a moment to reevaluate your pitch, go back and really listen to you clients words, and ask questions regarding where they believed you could have improved or continue to help them.
If you show genuine interest in your customers likes and kick off a friendly rapport with them before your project starts, break down those brick walls, and the easier it will be to maintain a solid working relationship over time.