Even The Best Of Us Can’t Resist The Urge To Pitch!

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Recently, I participated in a “discussion,” with a group of people I deeply respect.  All of them were heavy hitters and well respected in their disciplines, I was almost embarrassed to be part of such a distinguished group.  The topic was a discussion about a particular aspect of sales performance management that I am really interested in, I was looking forward to learning some new ideas and approaches in the discussion. 

I went to the meeting, the leader started the discussion, and the pitch began.  It turned out, the leader was trying to enlist partners in selling something and acquiring new customers.  At the end of the “discussion,” there was a call for questions, silence.  Finally, someone asked a question, probably to help the speaker save face.  In the end, I think the meeting was a disappointment to all of us, probably because each of us had a different expectation of the meeting.  Perhaps it was my fault, in accepting the invitation, perhaps I should have tried to understand the agenda better.  If I had, I would have opted out of the meeting.

The core problem, the host had an objective to use the discussion as an opportunity to pitch his products and services, but the participants (at least me) had different objectives and, in fact, no need to buy.  It was a lost opportunity for everyone.

The more I reflected on it, the more I realized, that despite all best intentions, many great sales professionals are so accustomed to talking and pitching, that our “default” when tossed into a poorly defined situation is to begin pitching.  I know I’ve fallen victim to the same thing myself, I’ve gotten sucked into pitch mode without even knowing if it was appropriate to pitch.

The pitch (I prefer to think of it as presenting a solution) is an important part of any sale.  People want to know how you are going to solve their problem and what they will get from your solution.  To develop a great pitch, you have to know that people have a problem they want to solve, whether you can solve their problem, and whether they want to consider you as a solution provider—otherwise known as “qualifying.”  Once you know your customer is qualified, then you have to ask them a whole lot of questions, what are their needs, what are their priorities, what alternatives are the considering, what’s kept them from addressing the issue in the past, who will be involved in selecting a solution, the criteria they will use in deciding the best solution for them, and on and on.  There are lots of things you need to know, before you know exactly what solution to present and how to position that solution as the best for the customer.  In sales jargon, we call that the discovery process.  After qualification, I tend to think it’s the most important part of winning deals.  Properly executed, the customer tells you everything you need to do to earn their business.

Finally we get to the pitch (and the close).  This is where you present your solution, why it represents the best alternative for the customer, and why they should immediately select your solution.  How can you make those claims—well in the discovery, you learned everything you needed to about positioning your solution to help the customer achieve their goals.

I’ve greatly simplified this, but the pitch is important–but only properly positioned.

What happens too often, is we get things out of whack, we have a compulsion to pitch before we have completed all the preceding steps.  That actually makes pitching harder–if you don’t know what the customer wants, how do you know what to present.  Sales people often solve that by pitching everything–even the stuff the customer isn’t interested in or may not want to know.  We make it worse by starting to guess what they need, emphasizing what we think is important, even without knowing whether it is really a concern to the customer.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Pitches are important, but they have the most impact and produce the best results, when done after you know what you should be pitching and whether you have an interested prospect.

This wasn’t done in the meeting I participated in.  Funny thing, with a proper discussion, I might have discovered that I could really use what this person pitched, but I was cheated of that opportunity.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the great post. Since I was the unnamed presenter in your story, I will stand-up and take responsibility and plead guilty as charged. I’ve written articles like yours, worked with hundreds of sales forces and fixed the problems you described, and still, there I was in the situation you wrote about.

    If it was up to me, we would have had a one-on-one and I would have been able to learn about your business, possible gaps in your offerings, potential revenue opportunities, scenarios where our tools might be able to help your clients and never, see if there was a fit and never, ever talk about my company unless you needed me to.

    However, the host (not me) specifically invited people who he claimed were personally hand-selected, interested, and wanted to me to present – not that you can do too much else on a webinar with multiple participants. Not my idea of perfect but hey, it wasn’t my platform either.

  2. Dave, thanks for the comment. Wish I could say it never happened to me, but it has, and I haven’t been as effective as I should have been.

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