Seema Menon of Toastmasters International
Every business owner needs to hone their pitching skills if they are to attract and win new business. And there isn’t room for second chances – if the pitch isn’t right, the potential customer will say no, and move on.
So how do you craft a successful pitch?
Don’t start with your pitch – instead, begin with a ‘dynamic change story’ (DCS). Use one of the prominent transformational disruptions that is happening in the client’s industry. It must be an attention grabber and alert the client that if these changes are not embraced sooner or later, the firm will suffer. Once its significance has been clearly highlighted, you’ve generated interest in the client, and they will be more likely to listen carefully.
Like a movie, the DCS must have intrigue, buzz, excitement, relevance and a little fear (if change is not adopted). At this stage, you’re gently shaking up the foundations of their comfort zone. Once you have their undivided attention – now is the time to pitch.
Imagine you are hungry and doing food shopping at a supermarket; you project your present hunger on to the future and end up buying a whole lot of stuff. In cognitive terms, projection bias is the tendency to project current preferences onto a future event. The idea of the dynamic change story is to create a projection bias within the client so that they are hungry for the pitch and want to hear more.
Most pitches inundate the client with a multiplicity of themes and ideas. Even though the pitcher may have many brilliant ideas it is necessary to discipline oneself to pitch a single enticing idea. This single idea is not experimentation, it must make a difference to the client and the pitcher must have this conviction.
When two professionals meet there is often an attempt at conversational dominance; impressions are created and challenged, rapport is built (or not) - cognitive transactions are going on both explicitly and tacitly. Clients try to categorise the pitcher, the pitcher’s firm and pitcher’s products/services from the onset. Human beings can categorise others in less than 150 milliseconds and so over a 10-minute pitch, just imagine how many ‘judgements’ they are making. Clients then compare these impressions with their pre-existing ideas and knowledge. This is known as confirmation bias.
Clients generally have certain presuppositions and biases prior to the meeting; they come to the meeting to validate their biases and are busy acquiring proof to supplement their thoughts. The pitch, therefore, has to penetrate this and make it interesting enough for the client to consider a new idea. In other words, the pitch must make the client temporarily suspend his/her pre-existing notions, presuppositions, biases and prejudices about the pitcher’s firm.
The pitch has to create expectancy or hope in the client about where they could be if they adopted your idea/bought your services, etc.
The pitch must answer the key question; why should the client adopt the idea suggested NOW? What difference it will make to them and their business if they buy in right now – and why would waiting be a mistake.
The iceberg that struck the Titanic was almost invisible. Continuous melting had given it a clear, mirror-like surface which reflected the water and dark night sky, like black ice on a wintry road. This type of iceberg is called a blackberg. It is possible that the crew could have been looking right at the iceberg from a distance and not seen anything unusual. Introduce the blackberg in your pitch.
The blackberg is the risk, the market disrupter, that everyone is missing. Now suggest how the client’s business is going to suffer if they don’t embrace this and make the relevant changes you are suggesting.
The client must be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch your brand. Take your single idea and pitch it to the five senses of the client. Here are a few examples:
The takeaway here is, whilst pitching, attempt to engage with the client’s five senses. This could be your visual slides, your own auditory speaking power and storytelling. If certain senses cannot be invoked because of the layout of your product/service, build examples into the pitch in such a manner that you can speak about it and through visualisation, the client is able to feel it.
It is important to maintain momentum throughout your pitch. If possible, leave questions to the end, but if this is not feasible then provide a quick explanatory answer and move on – you can come back to it for a fuller explanation later. You don’t want to let the questions distract the client (or you). Often the answers to these questions are already part of your pitch – it’s just the potential client jumped in too soon. Ensure you keep control of the pitch – and don’t let others side-track you and take you from your path. A good pitcher keeps retrieving the control despite the attempts, through questions, to alter its course.
Once the idea has been pitched, it needs to be emotionally enhanced to induce buying interest or a movement forward to the next phase of buying.
Urgency is a form of persuasion and it precipitates action. It is a sales conversion optimiser. Deadlines, milestone dates, etc. create a sense of urgency. Using words that induce scarcity such as limited availability, a few left, clearance, rush, etc. are gimmicks that may work for small retail deals but when pitching for larger deals these techniques are easily seen through – and can damage the pitch by simply not being believable.
However, urgency is a persuader, so how do we create it? By genuinely getting the client excited and just a little bit scared. Provide examples of businesses that are flourishing thanks to embracing your idea. Also, provide examples of organisations atrophying due to their indolence and delay.
Yes, you are there to sell, but do so with the spirit of giving. When it is demonstrated through the pitch that it is the client who is benefitting from the association, trust blossoms.
People buy emotionally and justify rationally. Therefore, the end of the pitch must heighten the client’s emotions. The pitch must not make the client logical or rational. On the contrary, it must conjure up the emotional intensity of the client.
By following the tips above you will create and deliver a winning pitch. Remember you only get one chance – so make it count.
Seema Menon is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org
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