If You Don’t Have “The Goods”, then Don’t Pitch

If you want to deliver a winning pitch, you have to have “the goods.” By that, I mean you have to have a strong sense of the client’s “hot buttons.” You need to know the big problems that the prospect is trying to solve in hiring you.


For example, if you’re pitching to win a chance to design a building, you need to know the business reason for the building. Are they trying to increase productivity? Are they trying to consolidate operations?  Are they trying to cut costs?


If you don’t know the “hot buttons”, it severely restricts your ability to deliver a pitch that will win the job.


So what do you do if you don’t have “the goods?”


One option is simply not to pitch.


Indeed, why even bother pitching if you’re not going to put yourself in the best possible position to win? It’s a waste of time and money. With architecture firms, pitching for new business or responding to an RFP includes preparing drawings and charts. That is a lot of man hours and expenses. The total cost of a pitch can reach in excess of $50,000.


Many construction firms refuse to pitch when they’re going in “cold,” with no chance to visit the site or interview the key players. I once invited ten senior officers from commercial construction firms to a dinner to discuss their marketing practices. At one point during the event, I asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have been invited to pitch for opportunities based solely on your reputation or brand name?” 


These were very well-respected firms, so all hands went up. 


Here was my next question. “How many of you have actually won business in these ‘cold pitch’ situations?” 


Not one of them had ever won in that situation. As a result, many stated that they had stopped responding to “cold RFPs.”


I think you send a strong message to your prospect when you refuse to pitch without some opportunity to do some discovery. It says, “Hey, we’re very serious about helping our clients. And we’re not going to be able to truly help you if we don’t get a chance to spend some time diagnosing your key challenges. We’re not interested in working with anyone that is not interested in a true partnership.”


That’s exactly how an accounting software salesman I know feels. He told me his firm is often invited to give competitive presentations. Whenever they are asked to pitch, he says, they ask the opportunity to meet with the key stakeholders and analyze their needs. Sometimes they are asked to just come and give a presentation about their software’s features, benefits, and price. “We say, ‘no thanks,’” he told me. “We want to build a relationship. We don’t sell software. We sell a solution.”

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Five Keys to Making Your Pitch Like a Test Drive

Buying a car is easy. You go to the Honda dealership. You say, “I’d like to test drive the new Civic.”

The salesman says, “Sure. Let me get you the keys.”

You give it a spin and you get a feel for it. You know pretty quickly whether the car is right for you.

Hiring a service provider for your business is much more difficult. You can’t take an architect for a test drive. You can’t ride around in a lawyer.  You can’t hop inside your accountant and give him a spin.

That’s why your sales pitch should do everything possible to give your prospect the closest thing possible to a test drive. Everything in your pitch should be aimed at giving your prospect a sense of what the experience of working with you will be like. 

There are five keys.

Key 1. Focus your message on a solution to the prospect’s key business problem. The prospect is not hiring a law firm. It’s buying a solution to a troublesome legal problem.  Your main job in a pitch is not to show your credentials. Your main job is to give the prospect a sense of your proposed solution to their business problem.

Key 2. Keep your message simple. From the prospect’s perspective, one of the main experiences of working with you will be meetings, conference calls and other forms of spoken interaction.  Your prospect wants to know if you are able to speak to her in a way that is simple and easy to understand. If your presentation is simple and user-friendly, that says a lot about what it will be like to work with you. It says that you’ll be user-friendly. And that’s good.

Key 3. Be passionate.  If you’re hired, the prospect is going to have to spend a lot of time with you.  If they see that you’re passionate, then they’re going to sense that spending time with you will be a pleasure. What if you’re not passionate about your work? Consider a new line of work.

Key 4. Be interactive. Make sure that the prospect has plenty of time to ask questions and discuss your ideas. Q&A is a test drive of the intellect.  The more interactive the presentation, the more the prospect gets a feel for what a meeting with you would be like. That’s a good thing.

Key 5. Rehearse. Good preparation is obvious to the prospect. If you show up well prepared, it gives your prospect a feel for how well you’ll be prepared for them on a daily basis.

Follow these five keys and you’ll give your prospect a sense of what it will be like to work with you. It’s the closest you can come to giving your prospect a test drive.

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Stories in a Sales Pitch Give a “Taste of the Wine”

I hate buying wine because you can’t taste it until you get home.  And by then, it’s too late.

Buyers of business services have the same problem.  You don’t know whether you’ve hired the right lawyer until the judge renders the verdict. You don’t know whether you’ve hired the right architect until you have the very expensive drawings in hand. You don’t know whether you’ve hired the right contractor until you’ve spent $50 million dollars on a new office building.

That is why sellers must tell success stories as part of a sales pitch. It gives the prospect a chance to “taste the wine” before they buy.

Let’s say that you’re pitching for a chance to defend a lawsuit in a complex anti-trust matter. The company is considering three extremely prestigious law firms. 

Just looking at the resumes, won’t give a sense of how well any of the firms will perform in this particular lawsuit. But if you tell a detailed story about how you defended a similar lawsuit and won, it gives a prospect a sense of what result they can expect before they make a decision. It gives the prospect a “taste of the wine before they buy the bottle”.

Of course, other factors play into the decision. Personality and relationship are important.

But one key factor in the decision will be whether the prospect can get a feel for the result they will get prior to making a decision. Stories help give that feel.

Tell stories during your presentations. They give your listeners a “taste of the wine.”

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Sales Pitch Tip from A Shoe Salesman

A good friend of mine was once one of the leading shoe sellers for Parisian. And he told me a secret that could help you win your next sales pitch.

“Whenever I’d get a customer,” he said, “I would never just let him try on just one pair. I would measure his feet and then bring out several pairs. I wanted to spend a lot of time with him as he tried on lots of shoes. He’d try on shoes and we’d  chat, discussing the kinds of shoes he liked. Eventually, after spending 30 minutes with me, we had a relationship. And he would always buy something. He had to because we had become friends.”

The point is this.  If you want to win a sales pitch, you need to find a way to draw out the sale like a shoe salesman. To do that, you need to touch the prospect multiple times prior to the pitch.  Like the shoe salesman, the more time you spend with the prospect prior to the pitch, the more you build a relationship. The better the relationship, the better chance you have to win the pitch.

If someone asks you to give them a presentation, don’t just say, “Sure, when do you want me to show up?”

You need to ask for the chance to talk to them in advance. You need to find a way to build the relationship prior to the pitch.  Say something like, “I’m excited about the chance to present to you. But I want to give you the best presentation possible.  Can we set up a time to meet prior to the presentation to chat with you about your company? I want to understand your key issues.”

Even if he says “no”, you’ve started to build a relationship.

Remember the shoe salesman. He wants to spend as much time as possible with the customer because that builds a relationship. To do that, he draws out the sale.

Do the same thing with your prospect and you’ll win a lot of pitches.

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Have the Courage to Focus on a Single Hot Button

During a presentation yesterday to a group of about 150 economic developers from communities across the country, I made the point that the best way to start a sales pitch is to detail what you understand as your prospect’s single biggest challenge.  “Then you promise to help them find a solution to that challenge,” I explained. “The rest of the presentation delivers on that promise.”

As I said it, there was a man seated in the front row who squirmed uncomfortably.

“I just don’t agree with that,” he said, interrupting me. “That’s dangerous.”

I love being challenged during a presentaiton. It’s a chance to liven things up.

“Why do you disagree?” I said, smiling patiently.

“There are usually many hot buttons,” he said. “You risk missing the other ones if you just focus on one.”

He was right. You do risk missing one if you narrow your focus. But it’s a risk that you should take.

Of course prospects have lots of problems.  But you’re job in a pitch is to find out the single biggest one that you can help solve and focus on it. 

You have a limited amount of time in your sales presentation, usually only 30-45 minutes. A good pitch offers a solution to a prospect’s business problem. But no one can credibly propose a good solution to four or five major business problems in a single short presentation.

Of course, picking a single major problem can be scary.  The gentleman seated in the front row today was scared of picking the wrong one.

Here’s my response. “Don’t pick the wrong one.”

The best sellers hedge their bets with due diligence, working the phones and building the relationships.  That allows you to be confident in judging the prospect’s key problem.

And of course you can touch on other key issues as you go through your presentation.

But the best pitches propose a solution to a single key business problem.

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Asking For Small Committments Pays Off Big

Call it the small committment paradox. You’ll make more sales if you ask for less at the end of your sales pitches.

That’s right. Asking for less yields more, according to a study detailed in “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” a new book by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini.

In the study, solicitors went door-to-door seeking donations for the American Cancer Society. Half of the time the solicitors would say “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?” Half of the time they would also add the following to the end of their pitch: ” . . . even a penny will help.”

The prospects in the “even a penny will help” category were more than twice as likely to give something.

But here’s the kicker. The “even a penny will help” donors did not give smaller donations. The size of their donations were just as large as the other half of the donors.

So what does this all mean for your sales pitches?  When you’re asking for a committment from a prospect, try asking for a small committment.  It seems to make prospects more likely to buy by making the process seem less intimidating. And even though you’re asking for less, the size of the purchase will likely be the same.

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Focus Your Pitch on the Hole, Not the Drill


Here’s a sales pitch fable.


There once was an associate in a hardware store named Johnny. The store had begun carrying what the associate considered the best power drill on the planet. It was the SuperDrill 5000. This drill was a super-duper hand-held model that came with dozens of drill bits. The SuperDrill 5000 was so light anyone could use it with ease. It was extremely powerful. It was fully portable and held a charge for twice as long as the other drills. And above all, it was absolutely beautiful. Johnny had been selling drills for years and yet he still got a slight thrill every time he looked at the SuperDrill 5000. 


One day, Janet walked into the store and went to the drills. 


“Interested in a drill?” said Johnny.


“Yes,” she said, “I need to drill a few holes for a doghouse I’m building for my dog Baloo.”


“Have you thought about the SuperDrill 5000?” As Johnny said the words, he felt a thrill of excitement. He thought, “How could anyone not fall in love with the SuperDrill 5000”


When Johnny described all the features of the drill, Janet could hear Johnny’s passion; she could see it in his eyes.


Then she pointed to another drill, the K-250—a lesser drill in every respect. “But this drill costs a third as much,” she said.


Johnny scoffed at the K-250, reminding her of all the features of the SuperDrill 5000. “This drill comes complete with twenty-four drill bits. And it’s so light.”


“But I only need to drill four holes to make my dog house,” she responded. In the end, Janet bought the lesser drill.


What the moral of this fable? 


People buy holes, not drills.


Put another way, people buy solutions, not products or services. Always. So you should never pitch anything else.


Don’t pitch your law firm. Pitch a solution to the law suit. Don’t pitch your architecture firm, pitch a solution to the owner’s building design needs. Don’t pitch a piece of software. Pitch a solution to a business problem. 


Pitch solutions. Always.

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How to Prep for a Non-Presentation “Conversation”

“We just want to meet your team and get to know you.  The meeting will be a conversation. We don’t want you to prepare a presentation. See you Wednesday.”

That’s the message one of my clients received this weekend as they were invited to come and discuss a large opportunity. They want me to advise them in how to proceed.

Of course, you have to do what the prospect wants. If they don’t want a presentation, then no presentation it will be. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t prepare. You should prepare for the questions like you’re going to be delivering a presentation.

Here is what I recommend. 

  • Pick three key messages and make sure that you find a way to weave those answers into the conversation. You will get a couple of “softballs” like “So what is your approach?” or “What are the key distinguishing factors about your firm?” Those are questions that you can turn into a mini-pitch that lays out your “story” in three key messages.
  • Gather the team and brainstorm all the possible questions you might get.  Determine who will take each question when it arises.
  • Come up with answers. Make sure that you know how to give tight answers, not rambling ones. The best answers are one or two sentences with some explanation.
  • Make sure that you establish a light fun tone for the conversation. This should be fun and everyone should exude a sense of passion for the opportunity.  The goal is to make them think your team will be a fun group to work with.
  • Practice the answers.
When a prospect says they want something informal, that can be a trap. Don’t think that you can avoid preparation. The best sellers are always rehearsing.



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Where Do We Sit During a Team Sales Pitch?

I was working yesterday with a team competing for a piece of new business. When we were finished, one of the team members approached me and asked, “Where do we all sit during the pitch?”


There is no simple answer because all rooms are different. In general, you want to be sitting or standing together so that you can all get up and get back down quickly and easily as you transition between speakers.


Far more important is what you should be doing when you’re not actually speaking. You should be watching your fellow presenters, paying close attention. You want to look like you’re part of the team, not just waiting for your chance to speak.


I’ve seen team members working their BlackBerries while waiting for their turn to speak. It looks terrible and reflects poorly on the team.


Question: What’s the worst thing you’ve seen a team member do during a sales presentation? Best story gets a copy of my book. Contest ends in a week.

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Great Pitches Propose Happy Endings for Clients

“We think we have a great story to tell here. We need to figure out how to best tell that story.”


On the phone was the president of a large real estate firm. We were discussing how to put together a pitch for the chance to win a major project.


And I was I was getting worried.


Why?  Because when someone tells me that they “want to tell their story” I get worried. When you’re delivering a pitch, the goal isn’t to tell your story. The goal is to show how you can help the prospect write a happy ending to their story.


Too many people in business think that the goal of a sales pitch is to describe their firm and capabilities. As a result, they waste time detailing qualifications or “telling their story.”


But a great sales pitch proposes a solution to a business problem.  That means that the best pitches don’t focus on the presenters.  The best pitches start by recognizing the big challenge that the prospect faces. Then they propose a way to help get past the challenge.


Let’s say that your prospect is a corporation looking for a firm to manage their 401-K plan. What is the business chellenge that the prospect faces? It could be several things. Perhaps the last manager of the plan did a poor job of employee relations. In that case, they’re looking for a vendor that will do a better job of keeping employees happy.  Perhaps the existing plan is too limited with too few choices for the employees. Perhaps the most important issue is putting in place something that will be inexpensive. 


The best pitch will be the one that focuses like a laser on how to resolve that challenge that the prospect sees.


To be sure, you can talk about how you’ve helped other clients solve similar problems. In that sense, you can talk about your qualifications.


But the focus should be on the prospect’s key problems and challenges.  Forget about your story.  Discuss how you can make the prospect’s story have a happy ending.


Here’s Elvis singing “Happy Ending” from the 1963 film, “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”



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