What If Abbott Sold Computers?

One of the great and funny lessons on the importance of knowing your listener was Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s on first” routine.   We received a funny revision of that sketch by e-mail the other day.

The revision posed the question, “What would have happened if Costello called a computer store to buy a computer?” 

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: Thanks. I’m setting up an office in my den and I’m thinking about buying a computer.
COSTELLO: No, the name’s Lou.
ABBOTT: Your computer?
COSTELLO: I don’t own a computer. I want to buy one.
COSTELLO: I told you, my name’s Lou.
ABBOTT: What about Windows?
COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?
ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?
COSTELLO: I don’t know. What will I see when I look at the windows?
ABBOTT: Wallpaper.
COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.
ABBOTT: Software for Windows?
COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?
ABBOTT: Office.
COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?
ABBOTT: I just did.
COSTELLO: You just did what?
ABBOTT: Recommend something.
COSTELLO: You recommended something?
COSTELLO: For my office?
COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?
ABBOTT: Office.
COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!
ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.
COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows!  OK, let’s just say I’m sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?
COSTELLO: What word?
ABBOTT: Word in Office.
COSTELLO: The only word in office is “office”!
ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.
COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?
ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue “W”.
COSTELLO: I’m going to click your blue “w” if you don’t start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?
ABBOTT: Money.
COSTELLO: That’s right. What do you have?
ABBOTT: Money.
COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?
ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.
COSTELLO: What’s bundled with my computer?
ABBOTT: Money.
COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?
ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.
COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer?  How much?
ABBOTT: One copy.
COSTELLO: Isn’t it illegal to copy money?
ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.
COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?

(A few days later)
ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?
ABBOTT: Click on “START”…….

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Winning Sales Advice From the Carolina Tarheels

Watching Carolina stomp stomp Michigan State last night reminded me of what my basketball coach once said.

 “No one shoots until we’ve made six passes.”

I’ve often thought that great sellers follow similar advice. They never present ideas until they’ve asked at least six questions.  Actually, six is probably too few.

My point is that great sellers realize that no one ever listened their way out of a sale. So they ask lots of questions, gathering as much information as possible about the prospect’s needs.  They “work the ball around.” They want to make sure that when they take a shot, it’s dead on.

They never shoot too soon.

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Rave Review for “How to Win a Pitch” from New Zealand!

“How to Win a Pitch” is getting raves on the other side of the world. Olivia Mitchell, a much admired fellow presentation skills coach, blogger, and resident of Wellington, New Zealand raved about the book on her blog today.

She writes: 

If you give sales presentations I recommend you read “How to Win a Pitch“. I admire Joey Asher’s blog Talking Points, so I did expect to be impressed. And I was.

The book has the same discipline as a well-planned presentation. Joey Asher distills five key fundamentals that will help you stand out in a competitive situation. Here’s three reasons to read this book:

1. Joey Asher is an experienced pitch coach. He knows what works and he’s put his winning formula into a book. If you can’t hire Joey to help you, reading his book is the next best thing.

 2. There are many worked examples so that you can see how to put the advice into practice for your own business. These are not just stories – they’re step-by-step examples, showing you exactly what you might say.

3. This book doesn’t cover everything there is to know about making a winning pitch. It highlights the most important things you can immediately do to make a difference to your chances.

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Your Prospect Doesn’t Care About Your Story

Tom Peters

“Your customers don’t care about your story, they care about their own stories.” Those are the words of Tom Peters in a recent blog post. 

Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes sellers make in their presentations is trying to find a “way to tell our story.” If you want to win sales presentations, forget about your story. Focus on your prospect’s story and how you’re going to give that story a happy ending.  

A good sales presentation focuses on one thing: proposing a plan to solve the prospect’s problem.

That means that the presentation should begin by defining the problem the prospect faces. Then the presentation details a solution to that problem. Then you stop.

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Geithner Gives Lesson in How to Pitch an Idea

I have no idea whether Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s plan to save the banks will work. I certainly hope it does work.

But the plan he laid out yesterday is a nice example of how to get people excited about an idea: give a detailed plan.

If you recall, Geithner’s initial discussion of plans to save the banking business last month were not well-received.


 The universal complaint was that the ideas were too vague.  The stock market plunged.  And as I noted in a recent blog post, one of the ways to screw up a pitch is to give a vague plan of how to help your prospect.

What a difference some details can make.

Yesterday, the market soared almost 500 points on news of Geithner’s proposal to revive the banking industry.    And note the headline of the New York Times article, “Rescue Plan With Some Fine Print Dazzles Wall Street.”

The point is that the selling is often in the details. If you give your listeners a clear and well-defined plan — with fine print — there’s a good chance that they’re going to get excited.  Those details help your prospect visualize success. They think “Oh yeah. Now I see how this is going to work! That’s exciting!”

And if you’re trying to make a sale, that’s a very good thing.

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Is “Provocative Selling” a Good Thing?

Is it is a good thing in a sales presentaiton to be “provocative” and challenge your prospect to think differently about their business?  That’s the question posed in an interesting post by Niall Devitt in the Sales and Sales Management blog.  

The post suggests that a good seller doesn’t just address what keeps the prospect up at night. A good seller also addresses challenges that the customer is not even aware of.

It talks about moving our thinking and methodology about selling from focusing on “What keeps our customers awake at night,” to “What should keep our customers awake at night.”

I agree, but with a caveat.  You certainly need to address what keeps your prospects up at night. But I love the idea of taking your thinking about your customer a step further and proposing detailed and global solutions to problems. 

Instead of just saying, “I have a plan to stop the leak in your basement,” you need to be saying “Of course, we’re going to stop the leak. But more importantly, we’ve got a plan to reduce your overall water usage, saving you thousands of dollars a year.”

The only caveat is that you need to be careful in proposing your ideas that you don’t come off like you know more about your prospect’s business than your prospect.

However, the best sellers and the best presenters do more than just solve the immediate problem. The best sellers and presenters get the prospect to think differently about that problem.

To my mind, provacative selling is another term for leadership.

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The goal is always to stand out from the crowd — but in a good way

Marketing guru Seth Godin has an intriguing post today about “Fitting in versus standing out.”     He points out that in everything you do, you need to choose whether you want to fit in or stand out.

In the public speaking and sales presentation world, I think the choice is obvious. You need to stand out.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to be fool. You need to stand out as the obvious choice, the best partner, or a clear leader.

The problem I see is that many people find that extremely scary.  “If I present like that,” one client one told me as I urged her to speak with more passion and to hone her points more, “then people are going to notice that I’ve changed.”

To which I respond, “Yes. We’re not here to help you become average. We want you stand out.”

Stand out in a good way. Stand out in a good way. Stand out in a way that makes people want to be aligned with you.

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How to Get Your Prospect To Engage with You During a Sales Pitch

One of the best ways to make sure that your sales pitch is interactive is to send the prospect something ahead of time with a note saying, “We can discuss this during our meeting.”


A consultant I work with is involved in helping pharmaceutical firms comply with FDA rules. When they’re hired, they engage in highly complex compliance programs. He says, “When we go in for a sales presentation, we always send ahead a plan for how we will spend the first year of our engagement. Even if they don’t read it, it gives us something to discuss with them. It helps make the pitch more like a work session than a pitch.”


Virtually any business can use this tactic. If you’re an attorney, send ahead a brief outline of thoughts on how to approach winning the lawsuit. If you’re an architect, send ahead design ideas that your listeners can react to. If you’re a software engineer, send ahead key issues with the software installation that you’d like to discuss.


And don’t worry too much about sending out something that the prospect won’t initially embrace as the final answer. The point here is not to send out a perfect solution. The point is to give something that will get the conversation started, transforming your presentation from a pitch to a working session.

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How to Win a Pitch Against a Rival with a More Established Brand

The other day  I was conducting a workshop with a consulting firm about how to win a pitch.  A consultant raised his hand and asked “How do we win if we have to go up against IBM?”

While this was a great consulting firm, they didn’t have a brand as well-established as IBM.  As a result, they had lost business to IBM and other better-branded rivals.

 Indeed, many firms in many businesses face what I call the “the IBM problem.”  They run up against the old saying that “no one was ever fired for hiring IBM.”  In other words, if you have to decide between two closely matched potential business partners, most will go with the more established brand because it’s easier to justify your decision up the corporate heirarchy.

But that doesn’t mean that the lesser brand will always lose.  The established brand wins when everything else is equal. But that doesn’t mean that everything else needs to be equal.

You Beat the Superior Brand With Execution

You beat IBM by executing the fundamentals of the pitch better than your competition.

Fundamental # 1. Focus your pitch on solving the prospect’s business problem.  Estblished brands can get complacent and rely on the power of their brand, discussing their past successes rather than how they plan to solve the prospect’s specific business problem.  If you detail a specific plan to help your prospect and the branded rival doesn’t, then you move to the top of the stack.

Fundamental #2. Make sure that your message is simple.  If you speak in a way that is easy for people to understand, that distinguishes you from the competition. Your branded rival may not have as simple a message.

Fundamental # 3. Leave plenty of time for Q&A.  How you answer questions allows your prospect to probe your intellect. They see who you are and forget about the branding issue.

Fundamental #4. Speak with energy. A brand is a static idea that is fixed in the mind of the prospect. If you come across as exciting to work with, you can easily surpass the superior brand. On the other hand, if you speak in a flat monotone and your rival does too, then they will go with the brand.

Fundamental #5. Rehearse like crazy.  If you come in well-rehearsed, then you will demonstrate your intense interest in winning the business.  The established brand might not come off as well.

The reason that IBM has established a great brand is that they have performed at a consistently high level for many years. But that doesn’t mean that in a given pitch, you can’t outperform them.  If you execute these fundamentals, you can beat IBM.

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Review calls How to Win a Pitch “required reading for every sales professional.”

Check out the latest review of my book How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals of that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.

The review is by Karen Schweitzer, the Business School columnist for About.com. She wrote

How to Win a Pitch is so good, so packed with practical advice, that it should be considered required reading for every sales professional. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to deliver an effective sales pitch or presentation.

 To read the full review, click here.

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