By Seema Menon, Toastmasters International
For any business owner needs the ability to pitch successfully is a vital skill. When you’re winning new business or new customers you are likely to get one chance. If the pitch doesn’t sit well with a potential customer, she’ll probably say No and walk away.
Let’s look at how you can develop a successful pitch.
Attention grabbing story
Don’t start with your pitch – instead begin with a ‘dynamic change story’ (DCS). Use one of the transformational disruptions happening in the customer’s industry. It must be an attention grabber and alert the customer 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, and the customer 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 up the foundations of their comfort zone. Once you have their undivided attention – now is the time to pitch.
Moving 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 customer so that she’s hungry for the pitch and want to hear more.
Most pitches inundate the customer 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 is not an experimentation, it must make a difference to the customer and the pitcher must have this conviction.
When people meet impressions are created and challenged, rapport is built (or not). Customers try to categorise the person pitching, their company firm and products/services from the start. Human beings can categorize others in less than 150 milliseconds and so over a 10minute pitch, just imagine how many ‘judgements’ are made. Customers then compare these impressions with their pre-existing ideas and knowledge. This is known as ‘confirmation bias’.
Customers generally have certain presuppositions and biases prior to the meeting; they come to the meeting to validate their biases and are busy acquiring proof to supplement their thoughts. Your pitch needs to penetrate this and make it interesting enough for the customer to consider something new.
The pitch has to create expectancy or hope in the customer about where they could be if they adopted your idea/bought your services etc.
The pitch must answer the key question; why should the customer 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.
The iceberg that struck the Titanic was almost invisible. Reflecting the water and dark night sky this type of iceberg is called a “blackberg”. The crew might have been looking right at the iceberg from a distance and not seen anything unusual. Introduce the blackberg in your pitch.
It’s the risk, the market disrupter, that everyone is missing. Now suggest how the customer’s business is going to suffer if they don’t embrace this and make the changes you’re suggesting to them.
The customer must be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch your brand. Take your single idea and pitch it to the five senses. For example, Singapore Airlines has a distinct smell, made with a specific spray. You can see Singapore airlines, smell it when you enter, taste their food. Even the captain’s script has been developed by an advertising agency. They use all five senses to make flying with them memorable.
The take-away here is, whilst pitching, attempt to engage with the customer’s five senses. This could be 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 in such a manner that you can speak about it and the customer is able to feel it
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 customer (or you). Often the answers to these questions are already part of your pitch – it’s just the potential customer 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.
Ending the pitch
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 customer 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.
Sell, but with a spirit of giving. When it is demonstrated through the pitch that it is the customer who is benefitting from the association, trust blossoms.
People buy emotionally and justify rationally. Therefore, the end of the pitch must heighten the customer’s emotions. The pitch must not make the customer logical or rational, on the contrary it must conjure up emotional intensity.
Prepare for your next pitch using these tips and make the most of every pitching opportunity you get.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Seema Menon is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org