Success involves people and organisations having to sell what they have to offer – this could be our skill, a product or service. This term frightens the life out of many as it conjures images of unethical smooth talking individuals manipulating others so as to get their own way. This is not the case, a great pitch is grounded in ethical behaviour fused to a mindset of offering real value through a passionate belief in what you have to offer. Personal and professional progression means that you will frequently be in a situation where you have to pitch for what you want. Applying for a career promotion, a place on the school board or attracting new customers fundamentally means we are in competition and there is a need to sell.
If you don’t adopt this mindset then you will struggle to get what you want out of life. When you find yourself in a situation where selling is vital, start by asking:
- Do I understand their world?
- What problem am I going to solve for the person I am pitching to?
- What do I know about my audience?
- What value do I bring?
- What examples can I use to evidence credibility?
- How can I bring to life the impact I make?
- What is special about what I have to offer?
Personal progression means you must embrace the philosophy of life is a pitch. In doing this you condition yourself to delivering an effective and engaging performance to those that matter. Convincing others of the benefit of your talent, idea, product or service is an integral component to achieving your goals. Other people have an influence on whether we succeed or not. Your pitching mindset should help you to position your key messages in the following way:
- Real and tangible
- Deliver it with passion and meaning
- Ruthlessly simplistic message
- Clearly shows the difference you will make
- Win – win outcome
Practicing your pitching skills to enhance your chances of success. It will put you in a stronger position to beat off competition.
For the past ten years marketing experts and the finance community have stressed the importance and benefit of having an “elevator pitch”. This is the term, originating from the US, used to describe very clearly and concisely your proposition or offering. The elevator pitch is commonly used in selling situations, increasingly it has become one of the key tools entrepreneurs use to raise finance.
The Dragons Den format has dominated investments forums in recent years and it seems to be these events where the elevator pitch has greatest application. Just how effective is this pitching environment? – on TV we have seen many individuals face humiliation in front of millions. Makes great TV (not for me, as I personally can’t stand the programme). These TV styled events have got boring, local entrepreneurs (business angels, devils more like) with ego’s the size of planets, sit there in judgement of nervous individuals struggling to get their message out in three minutes.
Well in my view anyone who can make a financial judgement based on a three-minute elevator pitch must be a genius. The sensible and ethical investors I have come across avoid TV style pitching formats and spend time trying to understand the idea, the proposition, the person, the market, and the numbers. It’s a considered response based on a least a couple of hours of discussion. How many ideas get lost or fail to see the light of day because an individual can’t get their message over within 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Does that make them a bad entrepreneur?
Two serious and successful VC’s I have spoken to (one in the UK and the other from North America) have started to do away with pitching type events – instead they want to get under the skin of the ideas and the people. How refreshing!
Some traditional sales philosophies tell us that we should keep following up leads, quotations and proposals till we get a “yes” or “no” answer. Similarly, we are advised that getting the desired meeting with a potential buyer requires up to nine calls/emails. My experience over twenty odd years of selling would tell me that if I have to ring someone more than three times they really don’t want anything to do with me. In selling it is so easy to cross the line from bringing value to being a pain in the backside. At the end of the day do any of us want to feel we are being a pest?
My preferred sales philosophy is based around embracing a mindset of bringing added value whether it be a request for a meeting or credentials presentation. If after three attempts to get a date in the diary no response is obtained I would rather move on. Why would I want to meet or speak to someone who does not want to speak to me?
It’s a bit like being in one of those awful networking sessions and you are speaking to an individual and they are totally ignoring what you are saying because they are looking for someone else they deem as being more important than you. Personally I would rather be somewhere else. Life’s too short to be spending time with people who are totally disinterested in what you have to say. Spend time with those where there is common ground – it’s far more satisfying, rewarding and indeed productive from a business development point of view.
The ability to stand up and deliver a powerful pitch, proposition or message is a fundamental skill for all growth/ambitious companies. It is a capability woven throughout all aspects of running and managing a business. Selling is such an important skill that many enterprise policy makers have overlooked and only in the US does it get the respect it deserves. The reality is if you can’t sell your business will suffer not only in terms of winning new customers – but it also has a knock on effect to recruiting high quality staff, suppliers and other strategic partners. The ability to raise and secure finance is also a function of how well you can sell. I was talking to a corporate finance friend of mine the other day – she said one VC’s she works with had 1,000 business plans fall on their desk – last year they invested in 7 ! Many of them were sent in on spec and others failed to hit the mark in any way shape or form. I keep hearing that there is no shortage of funds but poorly pitched ideas is common place. Many of them, with tweaks are potentially viable but most end up going nowhere.
I hope that the message and importance of selling and the power of great selling gets on the agenda – so many great ideas fail because of the ineffectiveness of the entrepreneurs ability to stand and deliver!