IAN MANN REVIEWS: How to make a winning sales pitch

Pitch to Win: How to present, persuade and close the deal, by Justin Cohen

Author Justin Cohen sets the tone for this very accessible primer on pitching your product, service or opportunity, with this assertion: If you build it and if you pitch it better than anyone else, then and only then, will they come… maybe.

There are few if any businesses that can survive on 'quality' alone. 'Quality' is fast becoming table stakes, the minimum required to play. For success, you need to be able to master the art of actively persuading – or 'pitching'.

This could be selling goods or services, but could also be used to offer an opportunity to work with your department that you make to another division in your company. There are few people whose jobs don't require pitching a request for help, or a request for permission. This makes the skill of pitching of concern to people beyond the sales department.

Consider the facts: pharmaceutical companies spend more on pitching their drugs than on research and development. Over one hundred thousand buying decisions revealed that more than 40% of business-to-business buyers, buy based on the skills of the person making the pitch rather than price, quality or service.

The ability to persuade in business is not a skill or talent one is born with. It is a skill that just about anyone can, and must, acquire through practice. Without this skill one is rendered powerless in so many situations.

There are several fundamental facts that need to be understood even before thinking about how to pitch.

They don't have to care

The first is that whoever you are pitching to, doesn't really care about you, your company or your list of features and benefits. They care about their own needs, their desires and their problems. There is no substitute for knowing what they care about, so one simply has to find out one way or the other. Take the opportunity to meet before the pitch if you can. If you don't have that option, you might begin your pitch by saying: "Thanks so much for the opportunity to share what I have to offer, but first I'd like to understand what you want to achieve."

Another fundamental truth is that people like people who are like them. Building rapport involves addressing their concern empathetically and honestly. "You're quite right to be concerned about depth of experience – it's critical to us in delivering on the success of this project. Fortunately, I have worked on several projects in this field, including …"

This would make them feel that you understand them, which builds your connection.

Then reduce your pitch down to its essence, making it clear and simple. Your pitch must always be a compelling solution to their problem, Cohen explains.

Make a winning team

When a group is required to pitch, it is rarely won by one person. As such, the relationship between team members is almost as important as the relationship with the client. The clients must sense that the team gels well in the pitch and will build on each other throughout the project.

Have the team members introduce each other and present their competencies, not the people themselves. This not only demonstrates the team members' trust in one another, but allows for more to be known about the person than he or she might feel comfortable expressing.

When it is your colleague's opportunity to present or answer a question, it's important to focus on them with a positive facial expression and upright posture. This is a clear indication that you like and respect them and are interested in what they are sharing. "A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other."

Energy, enthusiasm

Cohen quotes a survey of top European companies identifying the reasons for a winning pitch. The number one reason given was energy and enthusiasm - exuding confidence. This is important because a lie expressed confidently is more likely to be believed than the truth expressed doubtfully.

We are so much more persuasive when we make eye contact. This is why in smaller groups one needs to be sure to give everyone the courtesy of at least that kind of contact.

An engaging opening gathers everyone's attention and interest. After your opening, your closing is more important than anything else. If you don't give a call to action don't be surprised if they don't act. Research indicates that people are more likely to buy when they're explicitly told what to do.

Some believe that if our prospective clients like what they've heard they'll buy without us asking them to. That is simply not true. The call to action should be something they can do right now that is easy to do, and that feels like a natural next step. At the very least bring the person right into the conclusion.

Compare these two statements for generating commitment. "The Super Suck Vacuum Cleaner sucks up twice as much dirt," as compared with "When you clean your house with the Super Suck Vacuum Cleaner you will suck up twice as much dirt." In the second statement the potential buyers can see themselves using your product.

So, my conclusion. When you have read this book, either as your pitching primer or as a reminder of good advice you know but may have forgotten to use, you will have greater control over your pitching success.

Readability         Light +--- Serious

Insights              High --+-- Low

Practical              High -+--- Low

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on strategy and implementation and is the author of 'Strategy that Works' and 'The Executive Update.' Views expressed are his own.