Published: September 12, 2017
The fundamentals of selling are changing before our very eyes. So many of the strategies and principles once considered integral to the craft are losing significance, if not disappearing entirely. But one element remains essential for any pro in the field:
The sales pitch.
To be sure, the intricacies of the sales pitch are evolving along with our communication channels and the overall business environment, but this core pillar of the profession is never going away. Delivering an effective and persuasive case for your product or service on the spot is a crucial capability that separates great salespeople from good ones.
What is a Sales Pitch and Why Does It Still Matter?
The idea behind a sales pitch, or sales presentation, is to communicate the value of your offering succinctly and credibly in a way that might sway an unfamiliar person to make a purchase. Sales pitches are usually attention-grabbing and deeply appealing to one’s emotional or rational sensibilities.
Not so long ago, it was common practice to have an elevator sales pitch. These didn’t necessarily occur in an elevator, but the idea was that you could drop them in a casual conversation and generate meaningful interest. Sales pros would (and often still do) rehearse a full spiel and masterfully recite it on command in any given situation. The more salient points you could fit into a brief span of time, the better your pitch.
Today’s sales pitch maintains the same conceptual basis, but needs to be more versatile and personalized. We must reach buyers through many different channels, and in ways that speak more directly to their particular needs.
What is a Sales Presentation?
Some people use the terms sales pitch and sales presentation interchangeably. Wikipedia views them as basically the same thing. But there is often a distinction drawn between the two terms, and if we were to delineate them, it would be as such:
A sales pitch is a “quick and dirty” case made during a brief encounter, short email blurb, quick phone chat, or other scenarios where time is of the essence. It drills down to a few key talking points and challenges the salesperson to deliver their value proposition in convincing yet concise fashion.
A sales presentation is an extended version of the sales pitch, wherein the seller has more flexibility to go over the ins and outs of what they’re offering. It might simply be a longer and more comprehensive version of the pitch, or it might involve additional supporting materials, such as slides or a demo.
The sales rep should always be prepared to deliver either one when the opportunity arises. The information and advice provided over the rest of this article will largely apply to both pitches and presentations, though we’ll also touch on some specifics for each.
How to Make a Sales Pitch
Here is how NOT to make a sales pitch: memorize and rehearse (or copy and paste) a scripted message and then serve it up verbatim, regardless of the audience. Today’s buyers are becoming impervious to this impersonal approach. It doesn’t resonate or break through.
As we see it, the qualities of an effective sales pitch are as follows:
Know Who You’re Talking To
Researching and understanding the prospect ahead of time is absolutely critical to making an effective pitch. You will want to be speaking to their needs and pains directly. LinkedIn’s State of Sales 2017 report found that 64% of B2B decision-makers would not engage with a salesperson if the communication wasn’t personalized, and that number is only trending up. Creating a pitch that is custom-fitted to the recipient is an absolute necessity. Take a little time to presearch the person you’re planning to approach by:
Viewing their LinkedIn profile to identify mutual connections and areas of concentration
Scanning social media feeds to determine what they like to talk about and share
Searching the Web for news about their business and their industry at large
Talking to your colleagues or associates who have interacted with them in the past
Drill Down to Key Strengths
If you’re passionate about what you sell, then you surely have a long list of benefits to pitch. But chances are, you won’t have ample time to get through them all. People are busy, and rattling off perks can quickly come off as self-serving. Try to parse out the most impactful advantages relevant to the prospect you’re engaging. Research completed in the above step will help you make these determinations.
Be Ready for Questions or Skeptical Responses
This is sort of Sales 101 stuff, but it’s always smart to be prepared for pushback. When you deliver your sales pitch, the hope is that it turns into a two-way conversation. If you’ve been doing it for a while, you probably already know the primary objections or demurrals that tend to arise in such dialogues. Come equipped with answers to acutely resolve these hesitations in the scope of the prospect’s unique circumstances. And never push too hard if you’re getting the sense they are growing impatient -- this can halt a potential relationship in its tracks.
Come with Genuine Empathy
Every sales pitch should open with an earnest effort to recognize and confront professional hurdles that the prospect is facing. If you start out by talking about yourself, or what you’re selling, you are bound to lose them quickly. In most cases an effective pitch doesn’t come at the start of a conversation, but develops naturally as it flows, and involves more question-asking than promoting of solutions. Open the door for the buyer to talk and share their pain points, and let them carry the discussion.
Leave Them with an Action Item
A sales pitch isn’t a failure if you’re unable to close a deal on the spot. In the modern B2B marketplace, that’s actually pretty rare, because buying committees generally require collective decision-making with involvement from numerous stakeholders. It’s a process. So instead of creating pressure to make a purchase right away, leave them with a different call-to-action that has a lower barrier (e.g., “Shoot me a LinkedIn request when you get back to your desk” or “Check out this case study on our website from a business that was in a similar situation, and let me know what you think”). This will make it easier for them to signal interest without commitment.
How to Structure a Sales Presentation: Telling a Story
There are many types of sales pitches, but an approach employed by many today is to utilize a narrative structure. A good story is not only gripping and engaging, but also relatable. It helps the person on the other end visualize what you’re talking about, and place themselves into the situation you’re describing.
In his book Pitch Perfect: How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time, Bill McGowan talks about “The Scorsese Principle.” He references the film Goodfellas, one of director Martin Scorsese’s enduring masterpieces, and the scene in which Paulie Cicero -- portrayed by Paul Sorvino -- thinly slices a garlic clove with razor blade while preparing a meal for his fellow wiseguys in prison. If you’ve seen the movie, you likely remember this vivid moment -- you could almost smell the delicious aromas, making it easy to grasp the underlying point: these mobsters were living it up lavishly, even while incarcerated. They were above the law, larger than life.
You might not have the luxury of including actual visual elements when making your sales pitch, but what you can do is let your words paint a picture by including specific details and minutia that bring your story to life and help the listener or reader mentally connect to your narrative.
You can turn almost any pitch into a story by tying it to real-life anecdotes or even posing a hypothetical situation. This is a great sales presentation template to follow in almost any setting.
Sales Pitch Tips from the Experts
What are today’s best performers saying about their approach to great sales pitches and presentations? Here are a few insightful quotes we’ve come across that made an impression and might help you shape your strategy:
“What is vitally important is making sure your message fulfills two objectives: First, you don’t want your message to trigger fear alarms. And second, you want to make sure it gets recognized as something positive, unexpected, and out of the ordinary—a pleasant novelty.”
- Oren Klaff, from his book Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal
“Prepare more questions. Salespeople spend too much time preparing what they want to say to a customer and not enough time thinking of the questions they should ask. The best sales presentations are the ones never given, because the salesperson and the customer are having a discussion around the questions being asked.”
- Mark Hunter, via Salesforce
“You really shouldn’t use the word ‘pitch’ outside of baseball. Instead, call it a recommendation. That lets prospects know you want to engage in a conversation and help them.”
- Art Sobczak, via Forbes
“We no longer live in the world of the 1950s car salesman and his cheery banter and people can see through charm for the sake of a good sale. For this reason, you need to genuinely believe in what you're selling and the fact it will actually benefit the customer by buying it. If you're insincere or lacking in confidence, people will be able to tell a mile off and it will affect the success of your pitch. If you have a natural confidence in your product then it's likely you will be able to translate this without the need for hyperbole or faux-friendliness. Saying that, you need to also have a natural empathy with people, because how you present yourself will impact how people see your product and its subsequent saleability.”
- Simon Dolan, via Stylist
“You truly can’t recycle a stale sales presentation anytime you need to convey a compelling pitch. The issue with utilizing a canned presentation is that the center is on you—your organization, your item, your peculiarities and your profits. To truly interface with a prospect, you need to make it about them—their issues, their needs, their organization and their circumstance. Regardless of how earth-shatteringly awesome your product or service is, nobody’s going to purchase it unless it’s significant to their business.”
- David Anderson, from his book Pitch Sell Upsell Repeat: A Practical Guide to Sales Domination
“Unless you have an existing relationship with the vendor, it’s a good idea to set two meetings. The first meeting should be to build rapport with the vendor and uncover their pain points and pleasure centres. The second meeting is to actually pitch.”
- David Palfreyman, via CampaignTrack
“The fewer dimensions to your communication, the less leverage you have. Email better than texting, phone better than email, video conference better than phone, live conversation better than any of them. Multi-dimensional communication allows you to not only communicate, but read the other side more accurately and quickly to move the deal forward and across the finish line.”
- Matt Heinz, via Salesforce
The Paradox of Pitching
All of the information above will hopefully prove useful as you hone your pitching skills, but there is no singular solution to the sales presentation puzzle. Every situation is different, and these days sales pros often have to make sales pitches with no actual face-to-face interaction. This limits the ability to control variables and adhere behavioral best practices.
Above all, regardless of how you’re making your case, it’s smart to keep these core principles in mind:
Knowing your buyer is essential. Research them and their company before starting the conversation.
Frame your pitch around the prospect’s needs instead of the strengths of your offering.
Use narrative and storytelling to create an engaging and relatable connection.
Don’t obsess on closing the deal right away; B2B purchases often take time and collaboration.
If you don’t genuinely believe in what you’re selling, neither will anyone else.
Feeling prepared? Then get out there and make your pitch.
More from around the web:
- How to Make a Good Sales Pitch in 7 Steps - Salesforce
- How to Write a Winning Sales Pitch in 10 Minutes - SuperOffice
- The 3-Part Formula for a Winning Sales Pitch - Forbes
- How to Create a Great Sales Pitch in 3 Steps - HubSpot
- Crafting a Great Sales Pitch (With Examples) - CustomShow
- 7 Amazing Sales Presentation Examples - Yesware
- Perfect Pitch: Winning (And Losing) Sales Pitch Examples - Mediafly