First Step to Winning a Sales Pitch? Listening


One of the most important keys to winning a sales pitch has nothing to do with how dynamic you are as a speaker, or your slides, or how to craft your message.  The first thing that the best sales presenters do is listen.

That’s because the best sales presenters know that the best pitches focus like a laser on only one thing: the client’s biggest worries.  To identify those worries, you need to talk to the prospect prior to the presentation and listen. I mean really listen.

Consider this tale of two architecture pitches.

Architecture Pitch 1

An international architecture firm invited me in to help them win a pitch. They had been short-listed for the chance to build a new corporate headquarters for a “big box” retailer.  When I arrived at the first meeting, two architects on the project were seated at a conference table thumbing through copies of the “Request for Proposals.”

Once the meeting started I asked the following question, “Why are they building the new headquarters?”

The architects started leafing through the RFP searching for answers.  The RFP listed the proposed square footage. It listed a proposed timetable. It even discussed the budget. But it did not say why they wanted to build a new headquarters.

“Isn’t that an important question when you’re designing a building?” I asked. Of course it was. You might design a Wall Street showpiece much differently than you would a structure that merely needs to be functional and fun for employees.

Of course there was a reason for building the new headquarters. It just wasn’t detailed in the RFP. The architects didn’t know the reason because they hadn’t spoken to the decision-makers and listened to their needs. Those needs aren’t usually listed in the RFP.  Yet if you don’t know those needs, then you have no way of knowing what to focus on during the presentation.

I did what I could to help them. But they didn’t have a chance. 

Architecture Pitch 2

Now consider a respected Atlanta architecture firm. They had been invited to pitch for a corporate headquarters as well. They had received an RFP also. But the key architect in this case had secured a conference call with one of the key decision-makers. On that call, the architect listened carefully and learned that the company’s biggest concern involved the lag time it would take to actually build the project.

The project would take three years from design to completion. The prospect was worried that their business conditions would change by the time the project was done and that the final building would no longer meet their needs. This architect gathered this information by asking questions and listening. 

With those issues in mind, the firm was able to structure the presentation around the prospect’s key hot button: flexibility.  The presentation focused on how they would design a building with lots of flexible workspaces, thereby ensuring that the building would meet their business needs even as the business evolved.

The pitch focused like a laser on what the prospect really cared about.  As a result, they won.  But they couldn’t have put together such a great pitch had the architect not taken the time to listen to the prospect’s concerns.

Remember that the best sales pitches are the culmination of a sales process. If you want to deliver a great sales pitch, listen for the prospect’s needs early in the process. Then make sure that the pitch addresses those needs like a laser.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What If You Can’t Practice For A Sales Pitch?

I was conducting a presentation skills workshop for a large marketing agency recently when an account representative asked me the following question. 


“When we’re getting ready for new business pitches, we often just don’t have time to rehearse. What can we do if we just don’t have time to practice?” 


Now I understand that in business we’re all extremely busy. And I understand that finding time to rehearse a new business pitch is hard. 


But here is what I told him.  “I really don’t have much sympathy for people who won’t rehearse for a new business pitch. If you don’t have time to rehearse, don’t expect to win.”


What if the Atlanta Falcons Quarterback said ‘”We just don’t have time to prepare for next week’s game?”  What if Jerry Seinfeld said, “I just didn’t have time to prepare for tonight’s performance?” What if your attorney told you that “I just just didn’t have time to prepare for today’s open argument?”


If you don’t have time to rehearse, I guess I understand. But know this. One of your competitors probably wants to win enough to practice really hard. And with that in mind, they’re probably going to win.




Because teams that rehearse more win more. It’s that simple. 


I talk to decision makers all the time about the new business pitches that they hear. They always tell me the same thing. “One team came in and blew everyone else away. They were just so much smoother and better prepared than everyone else.” 


Rehearsal is something that is extremely apparent to people who watch presentations. And it’s a simple way to separate yourself from your competition.  If you don’t have time to practice, then you’re just not going to do that well.  Sorry.


Tiger Woods always found time to practice.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Great Sellers Put a Dumpster in the Driveway

About three years ago, my wife and I decided to renovate our house.  We were going to add a new master suite, renovate our kitchen, replace the deck, replace the driveway, and re-landscape our front yard. It was going to be expensive.

We obtained three bids from contractors. The first two bids were almost the same. The third bid came in about five percent higher. The high bid was from Mark.

Arriving home from work one day, I was astonished to find a big blue construction waste dumpster right in the middle of my driveway. From my car, I called my wife.

“Are you aware that there is a dumpster in our driveway?”

“I know nothing about it,” she said. “Call Mark.”

I have no idea why she wanted me to call Mark. But I did.

“Mark,”  I said. “Are you aware that there is a big blue dumpster in our driveway?”

“I put it there,” he said without blinking.

“Don’t you think that’s a bit presumptuous?” I said. “We haven’t picked you yet.”

“Perhaps,” he said. “But I know that you want to finish the major parts of the job before the end of the summer. So we’re going to need to get a quick start. If you pick me, then I’m starting tomorrow. If you don’t pick me, then I’ll get rid of it and it won’t cost you a thing.”

I was stunned. I guess I could have looked at this as a high pressure sales tactic. But I saw it differently. Mark had decided to take a risk. He was going to expend his own resources to start solving our construction problems before we had even hired him.

And that’s what great sellers do.  They begin to solve the prospect’s business problems prior to being hired. The sales pitch presents the proposed solution to the prospect for free. The prospect should think, “Wow. I would have paid them for that analysis.  But I got it for free as part of the sales pitch. That’s impressive.”

If you’re a lawyer, the pitch should raise the key legal issues and begin to propose legal solutions.  If you’re a contractor, you should identify key construction challenges and propose how to solve them. If you’re a software salesman, you should lay out  a plan for reducing the prospect’s costs.

That’s putting a dumpster in the client’s driveway.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In Sales Pitches, Stories Equate to a “Test Drive”

When I went to buy a car a couple of years back, I walked into Honda Carland of Roswell and was greeted by a salesman. After chatting briefly, he went into a back room and returned with a set of keys to the silver Accord that had caught my eye.

“Give it a spin,” he told me. “Let me know what you think.”

The car felt great and I bought it, largely based on the test drive.

The problem with most businesses, however, is that you can’t let your client take what you sell for much of a “test drive.”  If you’re in the construction business, the client can’t walk through the building you’re going to build for them.  If you’re an attorney, the client can’t feel what it’s like to have you as their lawyer before you bring the lawsuit on their behalf.  If you sell software, the client can’t really even try out the software to any large extent because most complex software is coupled with a critical consultative element.

That’s why stories are so important in sales presentations. Stories about your successes are often the closest you can come to giving your client a “test drive.”   Tell your client a story about how you built a similar building for another client.  Or tell about how you won a similar lawsuit. Or tell about how your software saved lots of money for another client.

The best sales presentations have stories because it helps the client feel what it’s like to have you on the team. It’s like taking your business out for a test drive.

When watching the following Honda ad, think about the idea that great sellers use stories to give you the experience of what it’s like to work with them. 


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Can Your Sales Pitch Top the Cutco Knife Pitch?

One of our neighbors’ kids is spending the summer after her freshman year at the University of Georgia selling Cutco knives door-to-door.  We heard her pitch tonight and she did a nice job. The knives are impressive. We bought several.

But it struck me that most sales presentations in business are no more sophisticated than my neighbor’s Cutco pitch.  She brought out the knives, talked about them, and did a little demonstration. My kids and I particularly liked the one where we try to cut through a piece of rope.

When it was all done, she took out an order form and asked if we wanted any knives. 

Of course that’s fine for a door-to-door knife pitch.  But many sales presentations, for far more sophisticated products and services, do the exact same thing. They show you all their stuff and then ask “Do you think you’ll need any of this stuff?” 

Great sales pitches don’t start by talking about the stuff that you have to offer. The best sales presentations start by showing that you understand your prospect’s business problem. Then you present a solution to that problem.  Great sales pitches focus on nothing other than proposing a specific solution to the prospect’s specific business problem.

For example, start by detailing how you understand that your customer is losing lots of money in shipping costs. Then propose a solution to help them save that money.  The body of your presentation should then be a demonstration of how your software will save your customer lots of money.  Do that well and your audience will hang on every word.

By the way, we bought the small chef’s knife, the kitchen shears, the vegetable peeler, and the bread knife.  The total cost was $344.  They aren’t cheap. But they come with a lifetime guarantee and never need sharpening.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Separate Your Sales Pitch With Fewer Slides

Sellers constantly ask me how to deliver sales presentations that separate them from the competition. Sometimes that separation can be accomplished with something as simple as fewer slides.

Working with a software team last week, an account representative told me that he was pitching for a piece of business against several other highly qualified vendors.  “I never bring more than five slides,” he told me.

The prospect told him that the streamlined nature of his pitch was in stark contrast with his competition. “Thanks for keeping your presentation so short,” the decision-maker told him. “I appreciate not having to look at so many slides.”

He won the business. And while there were many reasons for the win, he separated himself from the competition by refusing the temptation to overwhelm the prospect with too many slides.

Sellers often try to separate themselves from the competition with increasingly complex attempts to distinguish their products and services. That often means more slides.  But often we can separate ourselves by just executing the presentation in a way that makes life easier on the prospect.

User-friendly presentations send a wonderful message about what it’s going to be like to do business with you. That separates you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email