Paul Boross, a presenter at BusinessZone's event The Pitch Live in Liverpool on 18 October, outlines how small business owners can be successful at pitching.
Paul will be presenting at The Pitch Live in Liverpool on 18 October alongside other expert speakers and 80 finalists in The Pitch 2012. To buy a ticket for only £10, click here.
The word 'pitching' is entering everyday business vocabulary, thanks to TV programmes like Dragons' Den and The Apprentice. But where does pitching fit into the world of small businesses? In short, we can define a pitch as any professional interaction where you present your business, your products or your services to someone and ask them to make an investment or a buying decision as a result.
You'll already find many valuable resources here on BusinessZone.co.uk to help you run your business, but without good pitching skills you won’t have a business to run because you won't have any clients. And while you may not see yourself as a salesperson, and you may want to let your products speak for themselves, most people will admit to losing customers simply because a competitor did a better job of selling their business.
Pitching is absolutely not a 'hard sell', and often we imagine market traders shouting their bargain prices at disinterested passers-by. If you take this approach, you’re not going to be successful, unless your business is a market stall, of course! My point is that the pitch must always be appropriate to the audience, giving them the information that they need to make a fair and informed decision.
Since I've been helping professionals to improve their pitching skills for the past 25 years, I'm often asked for my top ten pitching tips. While my advice changes depending on who’s asking, I feel that these are the tips that are most useful for you.
Being nervous is a good sign, as it means that you’re connected with what's really going on, and it’s certainly better than arrogance. Don't worry about breathing exercises or icebreakers, as the most likely cause of anxiety isn’t what’s happening but what you're imagining – or fearing – will happen. Change that mental image to something neutral; an audience who are interested in what you have to say, willing to listen and able make a fair decision.
Shift the balance
Human interactions have a balance of power – or at least we often think that they do. We might imagine an important client as being 'bigger' or 'higher', and a junior buyer as being unimportant, but take away the situations and ‘uniforms’ and you’ll see that we’re all equal. A pitch isn't an opportunity to impress someone important; it’s an opportunity to form a balanced, equal and fair business relationship.
Focus on the right goal
Ask your colleagues about their goals for pitching and they might say, "To win the deal". This is a completely unrealistic goal, because you can't control the client's decision, and you can't control your competitors. Instead, refocus on a goal that is totally under your control, such as "Get my message across and check that the audience understands it".
When does the pitch begin?
Your pitch doesn't begin when you think it does, it begins the moment that the audience first commits to hearing your pitch, because that is the point at which they begin to form their preconceptions of you. The way that you write your invitation, the way that you walk into the room and what you say as you’re getting ready sets the stage for the pitch itself.
Understand why you're there
Many pitchers, especially nervous ones, think that they are pitching to convince the audience, to persuade them. In fact, the audience has already made a decision about you, and the result is that you are standing in front of them. Therefore, you are not there to convince them of anything, you are simply there to fill in the gaps and reassure them that the decision they have already made was a good one.
To a professional audience, nothing is more frustrating than someone who hasn't done their homework. The Internet is overflowing with information about companies and individuals, and to even spend ten minutes researching your audience’s business, competitors, history and goals is an investment that will tell your audience that you’re interested in them and you have tailored your pitch to their needs.
Oddly, when you speak about benefits rather that features, you break rapport. Clearly convey specific, key features and ask your audience what the benefits are for them. Features are objective, benefits are subjective, so make the most of that distinction.
Ask for what you want
So many people say that they are pitching to inform the audience or to help them. That's not true. You're pitching because you want something. You know it, and the audience knows it. Having the courage to ask for what you want will earn respect from the audience, and having the common sense to realise that the audience is giving you their time because they already know what you want shows that you respect them.
Make your pitch and then shut up. So many people repeat themselves or continue selling, becoming more and more desperate and making the audience more and more resistant. The silence is not yours to fill, so keep quiet and let the customer think over what you have presented to them.
The pitch begins long before you stand up, and it ends long after you have left the room, as your words continue to echo in the customer’s ears. A follow up letter is an absolute must. Keep it short, one page maximum, and use it to reiterate the main messages of your pitch. Sign off by clearly and concisely asking for what you want.
Paul Boross, aka The Pitch Doctor, has recently released his latest book, The Pocket Pitching Bible priced at £7.99. Visit www.thepitchingbible.com for more information. Paul will be presenting at The Pitch Live in Liverpool on 18 October alongside other expert speakers and 80 finalists in BusinessZone.co.uk's competition The Pitch 2012. To buy a ticket for only £10, click here.
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