By Seema Menon, Toastmasters International
Whether you are pitching an idea, a product or a service there is always a lot to think about.
The skills involved are ones that we need to keep improving as some of us need to pitch to customers daily and others of us will find ourselves pitching at important points in our careers. The reality is that if your pitch isn’t right, the potential customer will say no, and you’ll lose them.
So, what do you need in a pitch to make it successful?
Hold the pitch
Hold back initially, rather than launching into pitch mode begin with a ‘dynamic change story’ (DCS). Use one of the prominent transformational disruptions that is happening in the client’s industry. It must be an attention grabber and alert the client that if these changes are not embraced sooner or later, the firm will suffer. Once its significance has been clearly highlighted, you’ve generated interest in the client, and they will be more likely to listen carefully.
Like a movie, the DCS must have intrigue, buzz, excitement, relevance and a little fear (if change is not adopted). At this stage, you’re gently shaking them out of their comfort zone. Having gained their undivided attention – it’s time to pitch.
Transition to the pitch
Imagine you are hungry and doing food shopping at a supermarket; you project your present hunger on to the future and end up buying a whole lot of stuff. In cognitive terms, projection bias is the tendency to project current preferences onto a future event. The idea of Dynamic Change Story is to create a projection bias within the client so that they are hungry for the pitch and want to hear more.
Go with one idea
Most pitches inundate the client with a multiplicity of themes and ideas. Even though the pitcher may have many brilliant ideas it is necessary to discipline oneself to pitch a single enticing idea. This single idea must make a difference to the client and the pitcher must have this conviction.
Cut through confirmation bias
When two professionals meet there is often an attempt at conversational dominance, impressions are created and challenged, rapport is built (or not) – cognitive transactions are going on both explicitly and tacitly. Human beings can categorize others in less than 150 milliseconds and so over a 10minute pitch, just imagine how many ‘judgements’ they are making. Clients then compare these impressions with their pre-existing ideas and knowledge. This is known as ‘confirmation bias’.
Clients generally have certain presuppositions and cognitive biases. They come to the meeting to validate their biases and are busy acquiring proof to supplement their thoughts. The pitch, therefore, has to cut through this and make it interesting enough for the client to consider a new idea. In other words, the pitch must make the client temporarily suspend his/her pre-existing notions about the pitcher’s company, product etc.
The pitch has to create expectancy or hope in the client about where they could be if they adopted your idea or bought your services etc.
The pitch must answer the key question; why should the client adopt the idea suggested “NOW”? What difference it will make to them and their business if they buy in right now – and why waiting would be a mistake.
Point out what’s being missed
The iceberg that struck the Titanic was almost invisible. Continuous melting had given it a clear, mirror-like surface which reflected the water and dark night sky. This type of iceberg is called a “blackberg”. It is possible that the crew were looking right at the iceberg from a distance and didn’t see anything unusual. Introduce the blackberg in your pitch.
The blackberg is the risk everyone is missing. Now suggest how the client’s business is going to suffer if they don’t deal with this and make the changes you are suggesting.
Pitch to the client’s senses
The client must be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch your brand. Take your single idea and pitch it to the five senses of the client. Here are a couple of examples.
Not just the scent of the perfume but also the beauty of the bottle it comes in is key. The same applies to cognac bottles too. (smell + visual)
The noise of the Ferrari is part of the brand (sound + touch+ visual)
How are you involving the client’s senses? It could be with your visual slides, your own auditory speaking power and storytelling. If certain senses cannot be invoked because of the layout of your product/service, build examples into the pitch so that you can speak about it and through visualisation, the client is able to see, feel it etc.
Manage the momentum
It is important to maintain momentum throughout your pitch. If possible, leave questions to the end, but if this is not feasible then provide a quick explanatory answer and move on – you can come back to it for a fuller explanation later. You don’t want to let the questions distract the client (or you). Often the answers to these questions are already part of your pitch – it’s just the potential client jumped in too soon. Ensure you keep control of the pitch – and don’t let others side-track you and take you from your path. A good pitcher keeps retrieving the control despite the attempts, through questions, to alter its course.
Once the idea has been pitched, it needs to be emotionally enhanced to induce buying interest or a movement forward to the next phase of buying.
Getting to the close
Urgency is a form of persuasion and it precipitates action. It is a sales conversion optimiser. Deadlines, milestone dates etc. create a sense of urgency. Using words that induce scarcity such as limited availability, a few left, clearance, rush, etc. are gimmicks that may work for small retail deals but when pitching for larger deals these techniques and easily seen through – and can damage the pitch by simply not being believable. However, urgency is a persuader, so how do we create it? By genuinely getting the client excited and just a little bit scared. Provide examples of businesses that are flourishing thanks to embracing your idea. Also provide examples of organizations atrophying due to their indolence and delay.
Yes, you are there to sell, but do so with the spirit of giving. When it is demonstrated through the pitch that it is the client who is benefitting from the association, trust blossoms.
People buy emotionally and justify rationally. Therefore, the end of the pitch must not make the client logical or rational, on the contrary it must heighten the emotional intensity of the client.
Whether you are new to pitching or are experience skills can always be honed. I hope these tips will help you as you get ready for your next client interaction.
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