How to create the perfect sales pitch (and avoid pitching prematurely)

by Steli Efti

A lot of salespeople start pitching way too early in a sales call. This almost always shuts down your chances of closing a deal. Want to know how to work your way to the perfect time to pitch? And a failproof method to find out exactly how to customize your pitch for every prospect? 

This method ties in with the most important lesson I ever learned in sales. It's fundamentally about gaining a deep understanding of your prospect, and using it to close the deal.

Remember this scene from Wolf of Wall Street?

You know why all their sales pitches suck? Because each of these sales seminar attendees pitches prematurely. They assume that what they like about the pen is what their buyer likes about the pen. They just show up and throw up all over the prospect, rather than gathering information, engaging the prospect and presenting the solution in response to their fact find.

But rather than talking in abstracts, let's demonstrate this on a specific case.

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Example: Pitching a scheduling app to doctors

You call up Dr. Smith, and after a quick intro, you launch into your pitch, full of enthusiasm.

Sales rep: "Hey Dr. Smith, we've built this scheduling app, and it saves doctors like you a lot of time. Would this be interesting to you?"

Dr. Smith: "No, we don't really have that problem, I don't think this is really for us."

Sales rep: "Yeah, but our scheduling app can also help you to reduce staff costs because you don't need to have somebody on the phone all the time, going back and forth with potential patients. Are you interested in reducing your staffing costs?"

Dr. Smith: "No, I don't think this is something we're interested in."

Sales rep: "Yeah, but, how about if we could actually increase your revenue a bit?"

And the sales rep goes on and on like this, without a clear target, without a clear understanding of where to aim at.

Aimlessly throwing darts in the dark

He's just throwing features and value propositions around, hoping something sticks. 

He's just taking stabs in the dark. He's not working, he's guessworking. He's playing value proposition lottery, hoping to get a lucky ticket. That's not selling, that's speculating. It lacks strategy.

Building a no-street

Every time you throw out another random benefit of your solution, and the prospect says no to that, you are building a no-street. You're conditioning the prospects mind to say "no" to your proposals. The more often the prospect says no to you, the more likely he is going to be to keep saying no, and the bigger the disconnect between you and the prospect.

No -> no -> no -> no -> no -> ... (can you guess what they'll say next?)

coveyunderstand

Even if you finally get lucky and offer them something they are interested in ... if they've just told you no five times in a row, they're much less likely to now change into the yes-lane. They'll just give you another no, because they have mentally tuned out. They feel like you don't really know what they are interested in, you don't really get them, and you don't have anything of value to offer.

How to work your way to yes

What's a better way than random benefit sputtering? You want to gain an understanding of the prospect that is so precise that you can predict in advance where the prospect's sweet spot is. Wouldn't it be awesome to lead the conversation in a direction where you can do just that? Well, there is!

And what's the best way to lead a conversation in sales?

Asking questions!

Specifically open-ended questions (questions which can't be answered with a yes or no). 

satellite

Use your questions as satellites which map out the prospect's wants and needs. You want to use your satellites to spot the exact coordinates of their sweet spots.

Sales rep: "What's one of the biggest challenges you have in your practice right now, especially when it comes to patients, managing revenue, managing costs, managing your time?"

Dr. Smith: "Figuring out a way to increase revenues is important in today's economy."

Sales rep: "Ok, so increasing revenue is really important for your practice."

Dr. Smith: "Right."

Getting past surface level understanding

Most people at this point in the conversation would think: "Great, I got it! I will pitch this doctor our scheduling app as a way to increase revenues!"

But you—the real pro sales rep—aren't satisfied with that. You keep exploring, you take it a step further.

Sales rep: "If increasing revenue is important to you, what have you done in the past to achieve that? And what are you currently considering? Is it about advertising, is it about getting more new patients in? Is it about efficiencies, e.g. having more people show up on time, and reduce the number of no-shows? What kind of measures would you think of that could really make a dent?"

Dr. Smith: "We don't really have a problem with no-shows. The main thing would probably be doing more effective advertising."

Now that piece of information changes the whole dynamic of the conversation dramatically, compared to what the first version of the answer was (and even more so compared to the sales rep shooting darts in the dark).

What's next? Digging deeper!

digdeeper

At this point it might seem like there's no way to sell to this doctor. After all, how can your scheduling app help Dr. Smith's advertising?

But this is the point that differentiates mediocre sales reps from great sales reps. Because now you're really getting into consulting. You're not just trying to get the prospect's money in exchange for what you've got, you're revealing something of value to your prospect.

Keep asking questions. You want to find out: Is advertising really the thing that would benefit this doctor the most? What's their actual no-show rate? (Maybe there's potential for significant improvement, and Dr. Smith simply isn't aware of how big an opportunity for increasing revenues this represents.)

Practice the art of listening

Don't just listen to what they say. Also listen to how they say it. If you're selling person to person, observe their body language. When does the prospect really light up, when does the energy in thier voice get a lot more excited? These are often more important signals to pay attention to than the actual words they speak.

Test before you pitch

At this point in the conversation, you're probably in a good position to pitch. But again, don't gamble, don't guess, don't hope for luck. Instead, test! 

Don't proclaim, "Dr. Smith, I think I have the perfect solution for you! We can save you money on scheduling!"

Instead, keep asking, probing, testing:

Sales rep: "Dr. Smith, if there was a way to significanly save on scheduling and staffing, to save on software costs, would you be interested in a solution like that? Would saving a lot of money be an option for you, so that you keep your revenue unaffected, but lower costs, and thus end up with more profit, instead of trying all kinds of new advertising things that have unknown outcomes and aren't predictable?"

And then wait to hear what they say!

Dr. Smith: "Na, I'm not really a saving-money guy."

That's valuable feedback! It saves you a wasted bullet. Now you don't have to pitch what you wanted to pitch, and are still good for another round of interaction and questioning, until you get a clear sense of what would work.

Ultimately, you want to get to a point where Dr. Smith says, "Yes, that would indeed be interesting."

cleartarget

Because now you have a clear target. Now you know which buttons to push and how to frame your solution. Now you can throw and you are certain that you will hit. You have the clarity to know what they care about. Now it's time to actually make that pitch and close the deal. This is how you actually sell the pen. If you want to learn more, join the best startup sales course—for free.