A couple of things about ‘pitching’……
- It’s a word we’ve adopted from the U.S. – it really means ‘to present your case’ – probably quite vividly. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pitching your case. You should be able to pitch your product / company / service – BUT
- ……at the right time…. and that is usually the BIG problem
In our experience the THE NUMBER ONE mistake that many (even most) salespeople make is that they pitch much, much too early.
A few words on the reasons why this is the case
- Seller’s lack of confidence in everything except product knowledge
- Encouraged by the customer to pitch rather than ask any ‘awkward’ searching questions – effectively so that he / she can ‘sit back and watch the show’.
- Laziness on the part of the seller – can’t be bothered to take the time and trouble to dig into the customer’s circumstances – it’s far easier to just dump all of your product knowledge on him and hope that some of it raises some interest
- Management (or lack of it) – nobody is asking the salesperson to do anything different – after all it worked for the manager once didn’t it…?
Having defined the problem then — what is the solution…? The answer is to slot the ‘pitch’ into its correct place in the sales cycle.
The sales cycle should look something like this…
- Know why you are there – what is the outcome you are looking for? What outcome will you settle for if this isn’t possible? Tactically, how do you intend to make this meeting work? Examples:
- Use prior track record with the customer as the platform to build on?
- Use introducer’s ‘entry ticket’ as the platform?
- Work with and convince this contact to get at more senior contacts?
- Get the positioning of the meeting right during the opening minutes. Examples:
- Clarify how much time you have
- Swap business cards
- Agree objective for the meeting with the customer
- Have a very short introduction to your company ready for prospective customers who know little / nothing about your company
- Be prepared to ask plenty of incisive, searching, questions which are grounded in your Sales Propositions (i.e. what you wish to sell ultimately).
- Motivate the customer initially to answer them (i.e. give him / her a reason why he / she should answer them – rather than a reason why you are going to ask them)
- In relation to each proposition, try to keep the earlier questions ‘broad’ (i.e. not too transparently connected to the propositions too early in the discussion)
- Just as important is the willingness to listen attentively to the answers to your questions and be bold enough and smart enough to politely challenge and clarify as you go….
“Listening to the customer requires more than rote-like absorption of what the customer says: it requires us to think, to probe, to imagine and to create beyond what the customer simply says.”
– Professor John Quelch
- Make notes as you go – paying particular attention to the lynch-pin issues and views / opinions.
- Be prepared to summarise both en route, and when you have finished your questions. Check at this point that you have covered all of the salient points accurately and haven’t missed / misinterpreted anything.
Our view is that something like 80% of the selling time should have taken place at this point (in particular steps 3 & 4 above). And you will have noticed, I’m sure, that (other than a brief company introduction at the beginning of the first meeting with a new prospect / contact) nothing should have been presented yet……
- You are now (and only now) ready to present where and how you can help your customer in relation to the needs and wants you have just summarised. You can call this ‘pitching’ if you like…. We prefer ‘presenting your solution’…
- After handling any of the concerns (or ‘objections’ if you prefer) which might occur at this point you should be in a position to seek the level of commitment which you have planned for (see ‘preparation’ in step 1 above).
In everyday parlance ‘selling’ and ‘pitching’ are often confused. ‘Pitching’ is just a graphic alternative word for explaining where and how you can help your customer. Thus – pitching is part of the wider sales process – but no pitch should take place until the meeting has been positioned and, critically, you have fully, comprehensively and quantifiably understood where and how you can add your value. The patient building of this understanding should occupy the lion’s share of the sales cycle – and if you get it right, an accurate summary will allow you to make an appealing ‘pitch’ which hits all of the right notes in the latter stages of the sale.
In our experience, whether due to sloth, confidence, habit, customer encouragement or lack of good management supervision, most salespeople pitch far too early. On the ‘most common mistakes salespeople make’ table this is Number 1 – a short nose ahead of ‘making too many assumptions’…..
To quote President Lyndon B. Johnson: “You aint learnin’ when you’re talkin’…”
‘Pitching’ definitely has its place – but make sure you know where it is…!!