I’ve been blog- silent for a month, but not idle.  Frankly, work has kept me pretty busy, which is a very good thing when you’re a consultant.  But that’s hasn’t meant I could be lazy about business development, so I’ve been equally busy making pitches to various potential clients.  Pitching is a part of the sales process.  Ideally, by the time you’re pitching the client already knows that they need your product and you’re just trying to convince them to hire you (as opposed to your competitors).  Unfortunately, the nature of my business is that my pitches must often do double duty: explain to the client why they need a strategic plan, set of annual business objectives and annual marketing plan; and then convince them to hire me for the process.  It’s a lot to try to accomplish in what is often a single meeting, but I’m usually up for the challenge.  And as you can imagine, I’m continually looking for ways to improve my skills in this area.

So I was delighted this past weekend when on a long car ride with my better half, we tuned into a program on CBC that was so impressive, when I returned home I found the originating website.   The show, which had first aired some time ago, follows broadcaster/reporter Alex Blumberg (of This America Life and Planet Money fame) as he attempts to start a podcasting company.  It is a detailed, raw look at a learning process that allows the listener to feel the desperate need for success but observe the lessons from a safe distance.  I heard the very first episode, which was primarily focussed on Alex attempting to get funding through a meeting with  Silicon Valley venture capitalist extraordinaire, Chris Sacca.

Chris worked for Google as he slowly became an investor in start ups such as Twitter, Uber, Stripe, Twilio, Docker, Lookout, Automattic and Instagram.  It’s no wonder he’s #3 on Forbes “Midas List”.   At the time of the meeting, Alex didn’t understand that he was cutting his baby pitching teeth on one of the most sought after angle investors in North America.  But luckily Chris was patient, understanding, and gave Alex one of the best lessons of his life: how to develop a tight sales pitch.

Asking for money is not the same as a professional pitching for legal or accounting work; however Chris’ technique is helpful for professionals because it speaks to the human decision process on the client side.  Why is this important?  Alex spent most of his time with Chris unsuccessfully pitching him because his content was too self-focussed.  He couldn’t seem to nail what was might be important messages to the investor in front of him.  Chris did his best to mentor Alex throughout his painful attempts. Finally, Chris stopped the conversation.   “Give me a minute” he said, and then spent the next one role playing as Alex and providing the perfect pitch.

Someone like Chris Sacca has had to kiss a lot of toads, so it’s understandable that he would be capable of quickly cutting to the chase.   In professional services, we usually have more time in which to get our points across…or do we?  The truth is, even in a one hour meeting we have at beset a few minutes here and there to create the magic.  And those minutes are not just about demonstrating your passion for whatever you are selling, although that’s important.  Those minutes are also for describing why your product is a great fit for the person in front of you – as succinctly as you can.  Luckily, Chris’ pitch had a clear structure that we can follow:

  • Ask for their attention: Chris does it by saying, “hey, have you got two minutes?”  The professional service equivalent would be asking someone out for coffee, or arranging to meet with them by phone.
  • Speak to your credibility: Chris, playing Alex, said “you probably recognize me as the producer of the well known This American Life series, or Planet Money”.  Professionals might reference the name of their firm, state if they are a partner, perhaps reference a well-known case or speaking engagement.
  • Show a hole in the marketplace: Chris described how podcasts were on the increase, but content was hard to find.  Give your listener a reason to listen to the next minute by identifying a gap or issue in their business that you can fill.  Show you’ve done your homework about them.
  • Declare why you are the best person to address that issues/fill that gap.  “I’ve done ten of these deals before, I created this innovative tax structure that is now an industry standard”, etc.
  • Detail the first steps: show how committed you are by describing the next few steps of the process.  Show them you’re already on your way; the question is whether they are the one you’ll take there, or if you’ll be taking someone else.
  • Explain your unfair advantage: This might be a bit of a repeat to two bullets above, but this section usually refers to past experience, success stories, unique/creative solutions, etc.  Essentially, what are you doing (or how are you doing it) that no one else is?
  • Show you have a longer-term game plan: give them the 30,000 foot outline to show you know how this pony will ride, and win, over the coming months (or years).
  • Highlight the benefits: outline how your work on their behalf will specifically resolve their issue/fill that gap.
  • Extend those benefits: show how this solution will not only help this issue at hand, but may be beneficial for their company in other areas as well.
  • Enthusiastically ask for the business.

Remember, he did this in a minute.  Granted, he spoke quickly, but this wasn’t a one-hour conversation.

How did he do it?  The trick was the time leading up to that minute.  Chris knows the flow of info required to sell an idea.  He had figured out the basics of his elevator pitch – but he needed to ensure that within this structure, he hit all the hot buttons of the investor.  He collected this information throughout the long conversation he and Alex had.  Chris asked a lot of questions of Alex, trying to extract the relevant points.  Then he listened very carefully to the answers, until he had sufficient information with which to augment his elevator pitch and turn it into the structure above.

Great selling isn’t just about the elevator pitch; it’s also about asking enough questions to understand if there’s a good fit between your skills and the needs of the person in front of you. Then it’s listening for the hot buttons, the circumstances, the long-term goals, and finding a way to highlight how whatever you’re selling can assist with all of those key points.  The result is far more compelling because it allows the listener to understand the value to them.  It makes their job of hiring you as easy as possible.

I’m off to listen to the full series now, which is on season two.  You can learn more about the program, called StartUp, at gimletmedia at http://gimletmedia.com/