Sales pitching in the digital age: it’s not just a “pitch” anymore
It’s about time we stopped calling it a sales pitch. It may have been how the sales pitch first got its name, but anyone who’s been in sales for longer than 10 minutes will tell you that the first conversation is nothing like the one-way trajectory of a baseball.
Instead, it’s a negotiation.
It’s about getting to know the customer really well—sometimes better than they know themselves—and making a seductive, irresistible promise with flair.
Regardless of the fact that there aren’t many options out there for a formal sales education, selling is very much a keenly applied science, demanding a strong grasp of psychology and communication techniques.
And it’s hard work. In the age of the connected customer, sales teams need to be more than just articulate and charismatic. They need to work collaboratively with tools, data, and other teams to deliver on their targets.
That’s not to say that pitching is irrelevant—it still is. It’s just that pitching that centers around the customer needs to work with technology, not despite it.
What is a (good) sales pitch?
A sales pitch is a story that asks you to buy. “Buy” could be in the sense of a purchase, or even in the sense of “buy into,” like into a philosophy, a presidential candidate, or a lifestyle change:
A pitch could come in the form of a face-to-face conversation, an email, an infomercial, or even a PowerPoint deck.
Whichever form it takes, a good sales pitch should demonstrate an intimate understanding of the prospect’s pain points and provide sufficient proof of the product or service’s value. The delivery of the pitch, whether through a human-human interaction or a tagline on a pamphlet, has to inspire the audience to trust the business.
When done well, the prospect is blissfully unconcerned that they’re being sold to. When done poorly, it makes prospects cringe and stiffen, like they’ve seen the ghost of P.T. Barnum himself.
Considered “the greatest salesman on earth,” once created a circus poster where he called himself “The Sun of the Amusement World From Which All Lesser Luminaries Borrow Light.”
Barnum made extravagant claims—and had the personality and showmanship to carry it… back in the 1800s. But by today’s standards, it’s a terrible pitch. Today’s salesperson has to be less like a smooth-talking con, and, in many ways, more like a therapist.
Customers are less likely to care about you or your company’s vision and mission or motto—and more likely to care about themselves. They’re short on patience, and they can find out everything they want to know online. In B2B sales, particularly, around 60% of a decision is made even before the first conversation with a supplier!2
What they want to know from a salesperson (and therefore, a pitch), are things like “What don’t I already know?”, “Can I trust this company?”, “Is this the best solution out there for me?”
The basic structure of a sales pitch
A sales pitch can be delivered over several different mediums—the phone or on the television or in person. Depending on the medium, the length of the sales cycle, and where a prospect is along the sales funnel, the length of a pitch and the order of the elements could vary.
But in general, a good pitch should do the following:
- Pique the audience’s interest with an attention-grabbing introduction, usually highlighting an event, a problem or a challenge that the prospect can identify with. It would help to create a sense of crisis and urgency.
- Present the benefits and features of the product or service itself, how it works and how it can help the prospect.
- Persuade the audience that the product or service is indeed the solution they need, through data points, social proof, and other persuasive techniques. At this stage it would be good to anticipate and overcome potential objections the prospect might have.
- Ask for the next steps. At this stage, the audience has to be so hooked that there’s no option but to say yes. This would also be a good time to insert a persuasion trigger or create a sense of urgency like “We only have five left in stock.”
Let’s take a look at a pitch by well-known “pitchman” Anthony Sullivan to see how this structure plays out.
An example of a sales pitch script: Smart Mop
“What do you do if you get a spill like this all over your kitchen floor?” asks Anthony Sullivan in this infomercial from the nineties. He empties a can of Diet Coke on the floor. “I’ll tell you, you reach for the Smart Mop.”
“Watch this. To wring it out, you lift and you twist. You never bend your back, and you never touch the dirty water. Unwind it, drop it down, and you’re ready to go.”
“Now, it’s made of synthetic chamois, and it will hold and absorb up to 20 times its own weight in liquid. And the best part is it doesn’t drip. To prove it, I’ll hold it over my head. You can see, no drips. And in these tough times, wring it back into the glass, and it’s ready to drink all over again…”
“Call 1-800-851-4885 and get your second mop free!”
How to write a pitch for any product in 4 steps
There are tons of articles and books out there promising to tell you how to whip up pitches in “five minutes”. But the truth is that if you’re doing it right, you’ll spend tons of time just researching your pitch before you put pen to paper, hit the record button on your phone, or just start typing, whatever your process is.
Delivering a pitch is all about the flair, but writing it? That’s pure method.
Step 1: Know your product inside out
Robert W. Bly, in his Copywriter’s Handbook, advocates for doing telephonic interviews to gather insights beyond the mere features and benefits of the product or service you’re selling.
Call up someone from the product team, or anyone who’s had a hand in developing the offering. Read all the material available on the product—even the instruction manual, if you have to. Use the product or service yourself and get acquainted with the nitty-gritties of it.
Step 2: Know your customers inside out
“Ask a hundred salespeople the secret of their work, and 95 will say ‘listening’,” writes Philip Delves Broughton in The Art of the Sale. Years ago, sales teams had to rely purely on their instinctive grasp of human behavior honed over experience and a smooth-talking tongue. But thanks to the internet, salespeople have a lot more to go on today.
Gobble up all the data you can about your customers and target prospects. What are their demographics? How do they make decisions? What are their pain points? Where do they normally go to college? Every detail matters. There are a few techniques and tools to get into the depths of your prospects’ minds.
The best way to do this is through Voice of Customer (VOC) research. VOC research, or the process of discovering the wants and needs of customers through qualitative and quantitative research, is key to understanding your prospects’ motivations, pain points and even anticipating potential objections.
Scan the results of surveys, forums, testimonials, and on-site reviews to pick out the recurring messages and verbiage that most resonates with your prospects and customers. This way, you’ll have tons of material for your pitch grabbed from the horse’s mouth.3
This is where a solid collaboration between sales and marketing teams can come in handy. Although both departments work along very different parts of the sales funnel, both have tons to learn from each other.
HubSpot reports that companies with aligned sales and marketing teams generated 208% more revenue from marketing efforts, 36% higher customer retention, and 38% higher sales win rates.
Step 3: Know what your competition’s doing
Customers are no strangers to being sold to, and some hear from hundreds of salespeople every single day. To stand out from the noise, you have to find a way to differentiate your company’s messaging. It helps to know what messaging strategies your competitors’ are using, to avoid wearing down your prospects and losing them with the rigmarole they might have heard before.
Step 4: Write
Stew over the information you gather during the discovery stage. At this point, words, sentences, and ideas must be bubbling inside your mind. Jot all of them down, without restructuring or self-editing.
Come up with a “log line.” When listening to pitches from Hollywood screenwriters, Hollywood producers are often looking for a winning logline—two or three sentences describing the crux of the story. What is your product or service’s logline?
For example, the “logline” that snagged Google its first round of funding was this: “Google organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.” For the Smart Mop, it was “Drink your soda off the floor.”
Starting with the logline, and helped along by the notes you made in your research, create your pitch according to the structure mentioned in the previous section. Remember to be cognizant of the mode of delivery—whether by phone, in person or via email—and use your best judgement to tweak the format accordingly.
Before you begin, you might want to go over some sales pitch examples for some inspiration first.
The one tool you need to pitch better
The customer is the centrifugal force of the business, and fittingly, it’s getting to know the customer and paying attention to their needs that takes up the maximum time in the pitch-writing process.
But you need a tool that helps you stay on top of your customers. Some sales cycles can stretch on for months or even years, and keeping track of all the customer interactions is hard but worth it.
You need a communication platform. Specifically, one that lets you…
Stay connected with your prospects
For example, RingCentral’s sophisticated communications solution helps you stay connected with your prospects on the channels of their choice. It also has unique features designed to make sales peoples’ lives easier, like scripting for sales reps and integrations with CRMs like Salesforce and Agile CRM:
Pitch without tech glitches
Having a reliable tool is super important, especially if you do a lot of sales demos online.
Again, a good communication tool gives you the option of taking a conversation smoothly from email to phone, or from desk phone to mobile phone and remain connected wherever in the world you are.
See how this played out in real life—just implementing RingCentral’s contact center technology drastically reduced churn and improved customer satisfaction for Seattle-based company Porch.
Use analytics to sharpen your pitch
Over several hundreds, maybe thousands of calls, you can gather game-changing insights to give your pitch the best chance at succeeding.
And this doesn’t need to have anything to do with the content itself—innocuous details like the timing of a cold call, for example, or the length of the pitch itself and how it was delivered (phone or video-call) can make all the difference. You can typically get this information in your cold calling software or through your communication platform.
3 easy-to-implement ideas to set your pitches apart
1. Use a prop
If you’re giving a live presentation, why not use a prop? While a good old video or an animation might do the trick, a 3D object you can hold in your hand can be a lot more impactful. In the movie The Big Short, Ryan Gosling’s character uses Jenga to demonstrate the impact of subprime mortgages on the economy.
2. Help your prospects experience easy wins
According to Stanford professor and behavior expert BJ Fogg, “…to create a real lifelong habit, the focus should be on training your brain to succeed at small adjustments, then gaining confidence from that success.”5 The same principle, when applied to sales could look like this: a dog trainer teaches a puppy to sit before the end of the first conversation with a pet owner.
CopyHackers, which does e-courses for copywriters, provides free templates for prospects to use and benefit from immediately.
3. Declutter your pitch deck
Most people don’t have the bandwidth or the inclination to digest dense decks of numbers and graphs. Instead, they want to be able to find the information they need at a glance. Take a look at Airbnb’s pitch deck. It’s simple, easy on the eyes, and showcases the creators’ clarity of thought.7
Make your customer the hero of your sales pitch
The pitch is the pick-up line, that first step that opens the conversation and takes things further. And very much like actual pick-up lines, smarmy, cheesey, self-absorbed pitches don’t work. In fact, pitches shouldn’t be anything like pick-up lines, instead, they should be compelling stories.
“The key to galvanizing your audience with a good story is to make listeners feel that they can be heroic,” writes Broughton. “When good salespeople prospect and pitch, they must be alert to the stories running through their customers’ minds. What is their internal hero story? Whom do they wish to impress? What kind of person do they hope this sale will help them become?”
How will your sales pitch make your prospect the hero?