End Sales Pitches with a Commitment Statement

I worked with a construction firm that had a simple rule for all of their new business pitches. At the very end of every pitch, the last person to speak would look at one or more of the key decision-makers and make a “personal commitment statement.”

 We’ve laid out a plan for helping you build a hospital that will be a showpiece for your community. We think it’s an excellent plan. But we also know that there are going to be problems and roadblocks that arise as we move forward with this plan. I want to tell you that my colleagues and I want this business. And we want to do a great job for you. And I promise that we are going to do whatever it takes to make you happy. We just want to get started.

 I think that these commitment states are very powerful for several reasons. First, they’re rare. The idea of making such a bald, personal appeal is a little corny and old-fashioned. To me they sound like something you might hear on an episode of “Leave it to Beaver”. 


“And Beaver, when you interview for the job, be sure to tell Mr. Crabtree that you promise to do an excellent job for him.” 


“Sure thing, mom. Thanks for the tip.” 


Because they can sound a little corny, most people don’t make those types of commitment statements. That is exactly why you should make them. No one else will. It differentiates you.


More important, I think you should make these commitment statements because they work. Commitment statements impress people if they seem genuine. People want to work with others who are passionate about their work, and those who will do what it takes to succeed.


Finally, I think such statements are actually a compliment to your prospect. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Someone spent time examining your business and came up with a solution to a key business problem. Now they’re looking at you in the eye and telling you how badly they want to work with you, that they’re committed to doing their best work for you, and that they want to get started right away. That prospect’s thought process will be something like, “Wow, these people really are impressed with us and our organization and they really want to work with us. That makes me feel good.”

To Brief CEO, Focus on Big Picture, Not Weeds

Focus on big picture. Let the CEO take you into the weeds.

That’s the philosophy of a strong executive briefing.  A tight, high-level message inspires confidence.  “If you can’t tell it to me quick,” one manufacturing executive told us recently, “you probably don’t have a strong understanding of the issues.” 

Long rambling remarks sound uncertain.  With that in mind, prepare relatively short messages that focus on just the most important issues. Deliver the update quickly.

“But our CEO wants to know all the details,” one of our clients told us.  

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t be ready with the details when asked.   But don’t serve up those details until you are asked.  A good waiter recites the specials and takes his cues on further suggestions from the restaurant patron.  He doesn’t read out the entire menu.  Similarly, a good briefer gives the high points and then responds to the issues raised by the CEO rather than wading into a lot of potentially unwanted detail.

Let the CEO ask for the detail she wants.  When you start at a high level, you can always go deeper.

We recommend a three point strategy:

  • Current Status
  • Key Challenges
  • Proposed Solutions

We worked with a telecom executive in charge of improving customer service. His task force had done several things to improve service and he had to report out to the CEO. He outlined his message as follows:

  • Current status: Our key customer service metrics are finally starting to move in the right direction.
  • Key Challenges: We’re still getting way too many customers calling us trying to figure out how to operate the new handsets.
  • Proposed Solutions: To solve the problem we’re going to get more involved in early development of the handsets.

When it was his turn during the meeting to speak, he quickly outlined the three key points, giving an overview in 15 seconds. An overview helps the listener get the big picture. Then he went back over the three key points, giving a couple of sentences of detail and explanation.  Then he stopped and took questions.

“Actually it was a very orderly and productive discussion that everyone was happy with,” he told us later. “We stayed on track and didn’t get too lost in unnecessary detail.”

Keeping your message high level tends to keep the discussion properly focused, leaving plenty of room for detail if needed.

Study Says Swearing at Work Helps Beat Stress

From the “language connects you with others” department, here’s a study that indicates that foul language can help you connect with others.

Researchers at England’s University of East Anglia Norwich looked into leadership styles and found that using swear words can reduce stress and boost camaraderie among coworkers. 

Professor Yehuda Baruch, professor of management, told the BBC that 

In most scenarios, in particular in the presence of customers or senior staff, profanity must be seriously discouraged or banned. However, our study suggested that, in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire.  Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing. . . . The challenge is to master the art of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet with their own standards.

As always, consider the audience.

“How to Win a Pitch” is Now Available!

My new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition” is due in bookstores and on Amazon in the Spring of 2009. But it’s available now at the Speechworks bookstore.  To order, click here.


The book details how we have helped our clients win billions of dollars in new business contracts.  It includes simple recipes for winning your next new business contract.  If you do what I say in the book, you will win business. You may not win every pitch, but you’ll win more than your fair share.


Below is the book’s introduction.


On a recent spring evening, I was with my wife walking our dog when my cell phone rang. When I saw who was calling, I took a deep breath before pressing the answer button.


“How did it go?” I said, as I picked up, not even bothering to say “Hello.”


It was the senior marketing officer of a large commercial contractor. We didn’t need small talk. He knew what I wanted to know.


For the past two days, I worked with his team of experienced builders in a conference room. We hammered out and then rehearsed a new business pitch. The prize was a contract to build a $150 million office building. His was one of three firms on the short list. That morning, all three had delivered a ninety-minute pitch competing for the job.


“We won,” he said, almost screaming into the phone. “They just called us to let us know. They said we blew the other teams away.”


I did a little jig beside the road. My wife laughed. My dog barked. But I wasn’t too surprised. I had seen the same thing happen over and over again.


My client had put together a great pitch with a laser-like focus on the client’s key business challenges. The message was extremely simple and organized. They rehearsed it like crazy. They even spent a couple of hours going through all the possible questions they expected to receive. The team was prepared.


My experience has shown that with the proper preparation and planning, you can greatly increase your chance of winning a pitch.


That’s what this book is about. You will learn how to consistently win new business pitches with a simple plan that applies to all businesses.


My firm has been helping companies win new business pitches for twenty-two years. We have worked with a broad cross-section of businesses: commercial contractors, law firms, architecture firms, accounting firms, insurance agencies, financial services firms, software firms, high-tech service providers, real estate firms, and many others. 


We have helped our clients win billions of dollars worth of new business contracts. And we have learned that you don’t win new business pitches by being the “best” firm. In fact, whether you are the best is usually irrelevant to whether you win.


That shouldn’t be too surprising for most businesspeople. Generally, firms that make it to the short list for an important piece of new business do great work. And the buyer can’t really tell which firm is the best. If they’re honest, most competitors for new business would admit that their competition could also do a great job.


Since doing great work doesn’t win the job, what does win? Repeatedly, we see that the firms consistently winning competitive business pitches are the ones simply delivering the best pitch. That means executing a series of simple sales pitch fundamentals better than the competition does. Those fundamentals include ensuring that the pitch is:


  • Focused on a business solution
  • Simply organized
  • Delivered with passion
  • Interactive
  • Well-rehearsed


These five fundamentals are the ingredients for a simple plan to winning new business presentations.

As you will see, this book is broken into five sections. Each section provides a detailed discussion and series of recipes for how to execute every step of the plan. You’ll find stories taken from my experiences in helping my clients win new business presentations.


In working with dozens of companies across many types of business, I’ve found that all of them have one major thing in common. They worry about how to make their firm stand out from the competition. By executing the fundamentals in this book, you will stand out.

Oprah and Daniel Pink On the Power of “Story.”

Check out this link to Oprah’s interview with Daniel Pink.  Pink is the author of a wonderful book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. It’s about the growing importance of “right-brained” skills like story-telling and design.

The interview is wide-ranging. Below is a portion on the importance of learning how to synthesize material into stories that bring that material to life.

Oprah: Another right-brained skill you talk about is “story.” 

Daniel: We live in a world where facts are everywhere. If we wanted to know the gross domestic product of Ecuador, my kids could find that online in 15 seconds. What matters more now is the ability to put facts into context and deliver them with emotional impact. And that’s what a story does. We have in our head something called story grammar. We see the world as a series of episodes rather than logical propositions; when your spouse asks, “How was your day?” you don’t whip out a PowerPoint presentation and a pie chart. Instead, you narrate: “First, this happened, and you’ll never believe what happened after that…,” and so on. In our serious society, storytelling is seen as being soft. But people process the world through story. Companies are now using a product’s backstory as a way to differentiate items in a crowded marketplace. 

Oprah: Of course, I have a great affection for story because I make my living telling others’ stories. Story is a way to build connection. 

Daniel: Amen. That’s why business schools are slowly starting to recognize the power of narrative—if you want to lead an organization, you have to be effective in creating a compelling vision with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

Oprah: Tell me about the skill you call “symphony.” 

Daniel: Symphony is the ability to see the big picture, connect the dots, combine disparate things into something new. It’s a signature ability that is a great predictor of star performance in the workplace. Visual artists in particular are good at seeing how the pieces come together. I experienced this myself by trying to learn to draw. The teacher showed us how to see proportions, relationships, light and shadow, negative space, and space between space—something I never noticed before! In one week, I went from not knowing how to draw to sketching a detailed portrait. It literally changed the way I see things; now I view the world in a much more holistic, symphonic way.

Public Speaking Tip from Odetta

“No one can dub you with dignity. That’s yours to claim.”

Those are the words of folk singer and civil rights legend Odetta, who died this week.   If you don’t know about her, check out her obituary in the New York Times.

She wasn’t a noted public speaker. But the above quote touches on what great speakers do. Great speakers claim dignity by trusting in their own voices and speaking with passion.

Yesterday, I was in a workshop where one of the participants made a large stride in improving his ability to connect with audiences. He really was getting it. He was speaking with a kind of passion that anyone could see was real and unique to him.  And when he saw himself on videotape, I could see him getting nervous.

“I’m not sure I can do that,” he said. “Everyone is going to wonder what happened to me. It’s not what they’re used to seeing.”

But great speakers embrace how good they can be without fear. They realize that their passion is their dignity. They embrace it rather than run from it.

That’s what Odetta did.

How to Deliver a Great Holiday Toast

With families gathering for the holidays, you just might have to give a toast.  And if you want to do it well, think FSP: Focus, Story, Passion.

Those are the three steps to a great toast.

Focus : No one likes long rambling toasts. Make one point about the person that you’re toasting.  “I want to make a toast to our host, Jeffrey.  Jeffrey is one of the most generous people I know.”  In this case the one point is that the person is generous.  That’s better than saying  “Jeffrey is generous, funny, and friendly.” Uh, that would be three points.

Story: Great toasts give a feel for the person being toasted with a simple story.  “About a year ago, I went with Jeffrey to a Braves game and he had two extra tickets.  He saw two teenagers who didn’t look like they had any money.  So Jeffrey just gave them the tickets.  Not only that, he bought them hotdogs, sodas and popcorn.  That’s the kind of generous person he is.”  From there you simply raise your glass and say “So here’s a toast to Jeffrey and his generosity.”

Passion: The key to speaking well in any situation is speaking with intensity and passion.  So many people get up in front of people and speak in a dull monotone.  They sound like they’re reading the telephone book. Set yourself apart by practicing your toast several times and speaking with the same animation that you use when you’re relaxed and speaking excitedly with a close friend.

So when the holiday spirit strikes and it’s your turn to give a toast, think Focus, Stories, and Passion.  You’ll knock ‘em dead.

Public Speaking Tip From Woody Allen

Yesterday was Woody Allen’s birthday and it reminded me of how you don’t have to be a wonderful “orator” to be a highly effective communicator. What you do need, however, is to learn how to be a highly animated version of yourself.

The idea is to speak to your listeners like you’re speaking to a good friend during a highly animated dinner conversation.

The opening sequence of Allen’s Academy Award winning classic “Annie Hall” is a perfect example. Allen is vocally and facially animated.  Yet he’s not trying to be anything but himself.

Allen is no orator. But he’s no less effective in his own way than Barack Obama.



Why You Should Avoid Saying “Great Question.”

I was at a nice restaurant recently and when the first person at the table gave his order, the waiter said, “Very nice choice.”   In fact, the waiter said, “very nice” or “good choice” to everyone at the table . . .  except me. 

I ordered the fish. The waiter just nodded and walked away. I felt a little offended.  He didn’t tell me I made a nice choice.  The rest of the meal, I wondered if I had ordered poorly.

Similarly, it’s not a good idea to say “That’s a great question” when someone asks a question during a presentation.  Once you say “great question”, you’re put into the position of having to say “great question” to everyone who asks a question. 

After all, everyone thinks they’ve asked a “great question.”  Failing to say so to everyone, once you’ve said it to one person, will seem like a snub.  Also, so many presenters say “That’s a great question” that it often seems patronizing and insincere.

Of course, we understand why people say “great question.”  They want to connect with their audience and prod more questions.  One of the most uncomfortable parts of presenting is when you open the floor for questions and no one speaks up.  So the thought is that by giving the question positive reinforcement, other questioners will volunteer.

Rewarding questioners is a good idea. But you don’t need to do it patronizingly with “That’s a great question.” Instead, reward the questioner by treating the question as if it were a great question.  Smile at the questioner, nod your head seriously, and give a strong answer.  Most importantly, don’t do anything to indicate that you think the question is stupid.  Don’t snicker or roll your eyes.

If you’re giving interesting and lively answers, the questioners will want to ask more.  And you won’t have to tell everyone that they’ve asked a great question.