“Put that coffee down. Coffee’s for closers only”. Alec Baldwin delivered this iconic line in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. It may sound harsh but that is the reality.
Pitching an idea and closing a deal can be a nerve-wracking process. Even successful business greats like Richard Branson found the skill of pitching hard to come by.
As a small business owner you will be involved in pitching so let’s look at how you can make the best of these high-stake opportunities.
How is Pitching different from Selling?
Pitching shouldn’t be confused with selling. There are key differences between them.
Selling happens when you have built a rapport with a client through regular interactions over time and this relationship enables you to engage in low or medium value deals where the stakes are not very high.
Pitching on the other hand has very high stakes and it ends in either a yes or a no. If it is a no, don’t flog yourself to exhaustion with the client like most salespeople do.
Both the client and the pitcher know that the exit light has turned on and it is time for the pitcher to leave. It is therefore very important that the pitch is well prepared, moves smoothly from one theme to the next and executes the pitch immaculately. This is Single-Stitch and there are no second chances.
A pitch has very high stakes; there is cognitive influencing going on between the parties, and most importantly, attention span is finite so you need to find the sweet spot.
Either the client already has a need and is interested in buying or the client could be moved towards a buying desire with the pitch, both possibilities exist. However, all this has to be done in a short time.
There are 3 aspects of Single Stitch Pitch;
- Discard the Pitch
- Shift to the pitch
- Stitch the pitch.
1. Discard the Pitch
Despite a common belief that you should begin pitching right away it is best to avoid the premature pitch.
People can intuitively feel when they are being sold to and they do not like to be subjected to an explicit act of being influenced. However, the dynamics change when they desperately have a need and want to evaluate the best vendor out there for specific ideas, products or services.
Both parties know each other’s role in the buying process, it is not a game, but nothing is more disastrous than the pitcher jumping into a premature pitch. The sales presentation with its impressive deck must stay parked at this stage.
When you start, discard the pitch and begin by talking about one of the conspicuous disruptions that is happening in the client’s industry. This will grab the client’s attention. At this stage, you are finessing the client with mesmerizing market developments and you have set the context for the actual pitching
2. Shift to the pitch
When it comes to developing your pitch, you need to get these key areas right;
You may have lots of great ideas; however, when pitching focus on one single concept which will make a difference to the client’s business. Keep the pitch crisp and succinct to hold the client’s attention.
According to Richard Branson, the pitch must be short enough to fit on a drinks coaster.
One such beer mat idea resulted in a $10 million investment and a $3 billion company three years later. Today the company — Virgin Australia Airlines — is the third largest airline in Australia.
The pitch must get through the thinking traps/defences of the client to make him open to the idea being presented. It must avoid the client’s need to typecast the pitcher’s firm to match their preconceived expectations.
The pitch must be aligned to the customer’s drivers – what is most important to him or her.
Your pitch must ask and answer these key questions;
- Why is it that you are pitching this idea now and what is the significance of this to the client?
- Where is it going?
- What might hinder this big idea?
- What placatory strategies have you thought of to see this idea take off?
Through the pitch, the client must be convinced that you are a doer and will make things happen.
Introduce the Fright Element
Business alacrity i.e. the speed of response is one of the most vital elements if a business is to remain competitive.
We know about companies who couldn’t see the changing business landscape or remained in a state of denial. These companies went through the ‘Normalcy Bias’ i.e. refusing to plan for, or respond to a disaster that has not previously happened.
Introduce the gentle fright element – what is disrupting or going to disrupt the market, what is the client not seeing? How will the client’s business be impacted if certain transitions are not put in place?
The loss aversion nature of human being kicks in, which may help you. To make people buy out of ‘pleasure of a gain’ is healthier but alas, it doesn’t work that way on most occasions. Fear is a faster facilitator when it comes to inducing someone to buy.
Clients can ask a lot of questions. These questions could be genuine and relevant but once the pitcher gets into a mode of answering these, you’ll lose the pitching momentum.
It is important maintain this momentum. Any difficult question asked must not reduce the pitcher’s speed. In pitching offer a short professional pause. Do not immediately digress from the question, rather provide a quick explanatory answer and then politely move on.
In the movie Holiday, Eli Wallach is an old man and having dinner with Kate Winslet at a restaurant. Kate feels terrible that her boyfriend got engaged to someone else and did not have the courtesy to tell her. She starts crying. Eli says to her ‘In the movies we have leading ladies and the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady but somehow you are behaving like the best friend.’
Pitching is like a movie, a short one, but you must be the leading man or lady of the pitch and remain in control.
3. Stitch the pitch
To stitch the pitch a couple of cognitive augmenters are needed.
The pitcher must have the best interests of the client in his/her heart and refrain from a product/services dump.
After any sale has been made, if the client never uses the product or just minimally uses it, he will never provide a good reference and the relationship rapidly falls apart.
Our business in life is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves. Business integrity is key.
Conjure Up Emotional Intensity
After showing the awesome picture to the client, reduce the intensity of your pitch and start withdrawing towards the end of the pitch.
The pitch must not reduce the client’s emotional capacity and switch him into rational mode. On the contrary the pitch must invoke the emotional intensity of the client because people buy with emotion and justify their decision later rationally.
Take Your Chance When it Arises
In the book Myth of the Sisyphus, the gods sentenced Sisyphus to an eternity in hell and pushing a large rock up a hill. Sisyphus would get it to the top, only to watch it roll to the bottom where his job awaited him again.
Multiple pitches are like this, you attempt to reignite the client’s interest but the attention keeps rolling away. When you have one chance, take it, it is sacrosanct, single stitch the winning pitch.
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Seema Menon, a member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches communication and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. With 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, you can find your local club at www.toastmasters.org