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.


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