The role of the ‘pitch’ has been magnified through such TV shows as ‘Shark Tank’ or ‘Lion’s Den’. These shows put a pitch in the spotlight, with an assessment and investment depending upon the quality of the presentation as well as the product idea. They can often make the process seem as a ‘one shot for glory’. However, if we view a pitch as this, then it can lead to unnecessary stress and worry, and can negatively impact how we pitch.
If, on the other hand, we considered a pitch as simply an opportunity to open a discussion and negotiation, to present our position and influence buy in, then we can use the pitch in powerful ways to create successful uptake of our ideas and secure the support that we seek.
Everyone has to pitch – maybe not for a major investment, but politicians pitch their policies for your vote, business leaders pitch their vision and plans, sales specialists pitch their products and we all pitch ideas to friends and family.
How do we tune our pitches to make them ‘pitch perfect’? By understanding the process, the psychology and the things we can influence, perhaps you can take your pitching to the next level.
If we consider the pitch in 3 phases, namely the preparation phase, the presentation phase and the follow up phase, then we can break it down to really examine how to create an extraordinary and compelling pitch.
Phase 1: Preparation
The preparation phase is the part of a pitch that sets the scene, and unfortunately breaks many pitches before they get started. Spending a significant amount of time and effort prior to the pitch itself is how you maximise your chances of success.
What are you actually pitching?
Before you start your pitch, be prepared! Know what you are pitching, why you are pitching it and what you want from the process. It is useful to ‘shrug off’ the entrepreneurial advice of ‘just do it’, and instead invest your time, effort and money into producing a quality business and marketing plan. Not only is this an impressive basis from which to support your pitch, it also offers you the opportunity to pressure test your idea, product or service, and your planned approach to market. Doing high quality planning ensures that you have the right information available, and have already asked yourself the hard questions, and solved any glaring problems, before you step in front of your audience. There are many templates available for creating these plans, and it is the discipline of testing your thinking and articulating your approach which makes the real difference.
As you build your plans, it is useful to interrogate the information you have to draw valuable insights which form the backbone of your pitch. The insights that any investor worth their salt would want to understand about a business proposition can be broken into the ‘5C’s:
• Context. This is the description of the market, its dynamics and expectations.
• Competition: what is the direct and indirect competition for what you are pitching, and what impact will they have on your product or service, and its introduction.
• Customer: what insights do you have about your customers, including sub segments, demographics, psychographics, behaviour and preferences?
• Consumer: how will it be consumed (used), who consumes it, who draws value from its consumption?
• Capability: What do we offer? What skills or differentiated capabilities do we have that can be leveraged to make what we offer compelling, sustainable and valuable?
Be prepared to share what you know on these 5 topics, and where the information and insights are drawn from, in your pitch.
To get this information, research may need to be conducted. Whilst big corporates may be able to spend on big data and deep research, there are many opportunities to gain research on your target market and customer, especially with the volume of information available on the Internet. However, it is critical to not just offer a fact or an insight, but be able to explain where the information was sourced, and the assumptions that are inherent in it. Research can be cheap and effective.
The important thing for investment-type pitches (to your bank manager or an angel investor) is to have a proper business plan, with a deep understanding of your costs, liabilities, sales projections and profit potential. Understanding the risks and opportunities, and being able to present a cogent financial story. Nothing will scare off an investor more than financial confusion and lack of clarity.
Who is the ‘investor’?
The investor is the person or people listening to your pitch. They might be investors of capital, intellect, time, beliefs – but they are the person or people you are presenting your idea to in an effort to get them engaged and to take action as a result of your interaction. Regardless of what you are pitching, you are seeking for your audience to make an investment of some kind in your idea, policy, product or sevice.
If you get the opportunity, it can be incredibly valuable to research the people you are pitching to. Pitching ‘cold’ can be difficult, so one way to improve your chances is to get to know the people you are pitching to. The best way to do this is to have already built a personal relationship with the people you are pitching to. If you have already developed trust and a personal connection, this can help positively impact the pitch, and be leveraged to enhance your outcome. It also takes away the fear facto, as it can be like presenting to ‘friends’.
However, this is not always possible. The next best approach is to have developed a ‘social’ connection with them. Twitter and LinkedIn are great tools for building a connection with the people you pitch to. You can engage with them, and perhaps become recognised by them as an expert in your field, enhancing your credibility. Even if you cannot, you can get to know them, their styles, and what appeals to them by what they do and how they interact.
Finally, you could simply Google them. This will at least give you a face to a name, some backgound (education, interests, history, what they have funded), which can help you shape your pitch.
As you prepare for the pitch, if you can understand what they might be looking for, what things have been successful for them before, who do they trust or listen to, what is their education and background (this gives you their jargon and language), and things they are proud of. All of these things can enhance the customisation of your message, but also help you avoid stepping on unintentional ‘land mines’ that will trigger your target and shut down your pitch.
In the end, if you know what they are after, or what they prefer, you can work out a way for your offer to be based on what you know, to really personalise the offer and make it relevant and valuable to them.
What sort of pitch are you making?
Depending on the circumstances, the pitch being made will have to change. The main driver is often the time and location. For example, if you only had 15 seconds with someone at the bar, what would you say? If you had 30 seconds? If you had 15 minutes in a boardroom? If you had an hour?
In 15 seconds, what you aim to achieve is very different from what you aim to achieve in an hour. As a rule of thumb:
• 15 seconds provides you with time for a teaser. You want your target to say “tell me more!”. The pitch might look like: “You know <problem>? I have developed a product which can <big benefits>. I don’t know if that could be something you are looking for.??..”
• 30 seconds is the elevator pitch. Now you want your target to say “sounds interesting, I need to understand this in more depth!”. It might look like: “you know <problem>? I have developed a product which <big benefits>. It is <name, function> and <key features and differentiators>. I could only imagine that this may be just what you are looking for….”
• In 5-15 minutes, there is adequate time to ask for what you want, give a clear outline of what you offer, and ask for the the investment. The aim is for the investor to say, “I want to say yes, so show me the details!”. This would look like the full pitch, outlined below.
• In an hour, the aim is to close the deal and sign the papers. An in depth pitch is not only possible, but this timeframe is way too long, and the pitch should be completed with plenty of time to spare. Spending an hour covering your idea will bore even the most interested. Aim for max 20 minutes, and invite discussion for the remainder.
Know how long you will be given for the pitch, but be prepared for all possibilities. Too often a board meeting has run over time, and you walk in to pitch and the chair says “we are out of time. You have 2 minutes”. In this case, you have to swing into your elevator pitch, get them to say “tell me more”- and your 2 minutes may turn into 20. If you try and cram the full pitch in, they will simply say “next!”
Phase 2: Presentation (delivery)
So, you are all prepared. Now is the time to walk into the room and floor them with your idea, and walk out with the investment that you are after. What can you do in the delivery to really enhance your chances?
Open with the close, close with the open.
We often teach people to sell backwards. We get them to close a sale, rather than open it. What I mean by this is we need to be clear what we are presenting and what we want (close off all uncertainty), and work towards a point where what we present to them opens new and exciting possibilities involving what we offer. This is really important – You know it is a pitch, they know it is a pitch, so why not be clear up front (or early on) what you are after? They can then relax and get into your story and see what it means beyond the wallet. Why not also create possibility and excitement, rather than finishing with a single choice? It is critical to seek agreement at the end, but by inspiring them to think and imagine forwards in time, to the ‘possibilities’, you add value to your pitch that doesn’t even exist yet. Sounds much better than closing it down to a ‘take it or leave it now’ approach.
There is a structure that works:
· “Thanks for the opportunity to share….”. This validates them, sets up an equal power balance, and tunes them in to your presentation. It make also include a declaration of what you are pitching for (although I prefer it a little later).
· Tell them WHY. Outline the problem. Offer stories of experience of the current problem, statistics, even a demonstration using the current approach. Define the target customer and use some of the 5C insights to show a depth of understanding of the current circumstance.
· Tell them WHAT. What are you offering, how should they categorise it, and what you want from the pitch.
· Tell them HOW. How it is better, how it is used, how it adds significant benefit to the target market? How will you sell it? How will it be marketed? How will you deal with market challenges?
· Build and answer QUESTIONS. Create a picture of what the future looks like, for the target customer and the investor. In particular, what are your projections? What happens next? Are there further versions to come? Get then to imagine the impact they would make, and what it could mean to them and the target customer segment.
· Presuppose agreement, close a detail. For example “on the basis that you are ready to commit (the presupposition), how would you prefer to structure the investment? (The detail)”?
· Let the negotiations begin!
First impressions – ideas don’t get heard if the person is not believed
Often, great ideas don’t get properly appreciated because the pitcher creates an incongruent first impression, or significantly distracts from the meat of the presentation with some show biz “razzle dazzle”. We have 0.6 of a second to make an initial impression. This is then tested unconsciously until about 6 seconds, when it becomes a belief. After 30 seconds, the impression becomes quite rigid, and requires significant effort to change.
As you make your pitch, what first impression are you making? A key element of first impressions is the belief of trustworthiness. This is achieved if we appear to be congruent, meet their expectation and are consistent. For example, a fitness guru can show up in training gear. A farmer can show up in chinos and a shirt. A business executive who shows up in these outfits (without explanation) would create an incongruous impression. False bravado is also incongruous. The investor will wonder what you are trying to hide with your big show.
Sometimes pitchers believe that some ‘razzle dazzle’ is going to help their cause. If you are going to go with this approach, ensure that there is a really (I mean ‘crystal’!) clear reason to use this approach. If it demonstrates the issue you are solving, or the benefit of what you are offering, then it can be a powerful experiential reinforcer. However, mostly the joke, trick or performance element takes the focus off the message and detracts from what really matters.
How you enter, introduce yourself, set up and begin the pitch set the tone for the rest of the delivery. Ensure you are consistent, match their expectations (of being like someone they could invest in) and ensure everything you do is congruent.
This extends to the power position that you take. Here there are 3 choices: one-up (expert), equal power (negotiator) or one-down (supplicant or beggar). One up (you have more power than them) can only be taken if your idea is so good that suitors are lining up. If this is not the case, one up power position is a real turn off, as it sends signals of what you would be like to work with if the deal was struck.
The best position is to come as a negotiator, with the power being equal on both sides. You have your idea, they have money to invest. What happens next is the conversation.
One down ( the supplicant or beggar) assumes you have no power, and everything relies on a handout from the powerful investor. This is a terrible place to get good value from your pitch, and also can make the investor nervous (why are they so desperate for my cash?).
Often pitchers are not purposefully taking bad power positions, it is done because they are way out of their comfort zones and are operating defensively. Being self aware, being prepared, and understanding how to be comfortable in an even power role can help you to assume the right stance to create the best possibility for pitch success.
Can you explain it to your Granny?
We are experts in our product or service. By the time we get to pitch, we have usually developed a depth of knowledge on the subject area, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of bringing specialised language – jargon – into the pitch. Unfortunately, the investor may not share your deep technical understanding, and jargon may get in the way of them being able to work out what you are offering, or how it will work. If you consider the ‘granny’ test : can you explain it in words, phrases and descriptions that even a dear old granny could understand?- then you are on the right track. Your investor is not stupid, and it is unwise to treat them as if they are. However, using simplified, jargon free communication also stops them feeling stupid as you baffle them with your technical brilliance. Never assume anything, however if your research into who you are pitching to shows qualifications or expertise in a particular field, then ‘speaking their language’ by using general, high level jargon, can actually create a closer connection between you.
What do they need to know to say yes?
The investor needs to answer the three key unconscious questions and the two critical conscious questions before they will say yes.
The unconscious questions reflect questions we ask ourselves in any circumstance:
1. Am I safe? People are unlikely to say yes to something which brings greater risk, or greater uncertainty. How can you show how what you offer reduces risk and uncertainty, and does not expose them to physical, social, emotional, legal or financial danger?
2. Will I be successful? Everyone has their own measure of what success looks like. For some people, it is benchmarked (in monetary or goods terms) or comparative (have more than Bob), or internally assessed ( how it makes them feel). If you want to get to yes, find the trigger that makes someone see that what you offer will make them more successful. If your offer makes them less successful, you can immediately forget it.
3. Does it make me satisfied? To get agreement, the investor is going to have to get a sense of the future view of the scenario presented. What will the experience and legacy be from their involvement? This is a classic scenario when a great idea is rejected because people think that working with the pitcher will be too much hard work, and not very satisfying.
At a conscious level, the investor wants to know two things: What is in it for you, and what is in it for me?
We can be explicit in our pitch to clarify these two things. When you make an offer, you can be clear how you both benefit from the investment. Even when you are simply asking someone to believe something different, ensuring that they are clear what is ‘in it’ for both parties makes saying yes so much easier. If there is no added value in it for them, they should not invest. If there is nothing of value in the deal for you, why are you even presenting it?
Important tactics to help make it Pitch Perfect
Regardless of what occurs, it is important not to take whatever happens as personal. It is about the deal. By keeping ourselves out of ‘personalising’ any feedback, responses or negotiations, we can avoid getting defensive or reacting negatively. Managing yourself and staying open to suggestion, negotiation and possibility is a key element of making a pitch successful.
What is the deal?
Have a clear idea both of your position (what you ask for) and your opt-out point. This allows you clarity to present your initial offer, but the confidence to negotiate as required. It also means that you have to be ready to walk away from offers which are below your opt out point. No deal is better than a bad deal.
Show your purpose and passion in delivery – it’s what sells.
People buy your passion. Pitching something requires a strong dose of passion and a clear expression of your reason why doing it is important to you. This allows a really strong connection of the idea to the investor, and can motivate them to want to be involved.
Tell the story of the problem. Tell the story of how what you offer is the solution. Stories communicate powerfully, let the investor ‘experience’ the problem and the solution, and provide evidence that it does what it says on the tin. Use stories to illustrate your points and leave a real impression.
Answering questions honestly
In the pitch is not the time to make stuff up. If something unexpected happens, or a question is raised that you don’t know the answer to, don’t lie, avoid the question or fidget. Be honest. Say you don’t know – and tell them how you will find out. Thank them for the insight the question brings – if it was valuable for you. If you have the answer, provide it succinctly and personally to the person asking the question.
Ask for their thoughts, feelings and reasoning.
The people you pitch to may have an angle or idea that really can take your idea to the next level. Do not be afraid to ask for their feedback, their thoughts, their feelings and even their rationale for buying in or opting out of your offer. It all helps to make you more successful
Phase 3: Follow-up
The pitch is over – and there are two options that may have occurred – you are successful and got what you pitched for, or you did not.
If you are successful, it is critical that you follow up, signing any documents, providing any information and keeping all promises that you made. Now is the time to demonstrate what they will get with the quality of your actions, your honesty and integrity.
If you are not successful, then use what you have learned, about your idea, about the offer, about the pitch process. Understand the quality of the feedback that was offered, and work out how you can utilise it to make your next efforts even more successful.
Pitching is something we do all the time. Although the TV shows have highlighted and dramatized the ‘angel investor’ type pitch, we all pitch our ideas every day. If you prepare, present and follow up properly, then what you present will be compelling to your audience and you may just make a valuable ‘deal’.