The easiest way of getting to a “yes”

It’s a simple truth: The easiest way to get a decision maker to approve a decision is to offer something that they actually want. Of course, the obvious question is: What do you do when you need their approval for something that they don’t want?

Try empathy!

Why are they right to not want it? What do they want instead? How does what you want align to what they want? How could you modify the idea you want them to approve so that it also gets them what they want? How does your idea contribute to them getting what they really want?

It’s even better to ask these questions before you actually build your project, your product, your proposal. When you do, all you need to do with your pitch is to tell a true story about the thing you’ve built.

Why me? Why now?

These are the two obvious questions that are too often overlooked in communication.

I get that you are excited about your product. But why should I?

I understand that you need an investor to grow your business. But why me?

I see that it’s urgent for you. But why should it be for me?

You’re not communicating for yourself. You already know everything that you’re going to tell me. You’re already convinced. The purpose of the pitch, the website, the social media post, … is not to make me see what you see. It is to make it obvious why I should care for what you make me see.

I’m hooked. Now what?

Surprisingly often, this question is a lot harder to answer than it should be. The website made a great job of hooking me up. The video made a great point of why this is just the right product for us. The talk was brilliant.

But now? What shall I do? Where do I go from here?

Lighting the path for your audience includes making it obvious where to go next. Things can go wrong in a couple of directions.

First, there is no obvious place to go from here. There might be five places while I need one. But when it’s too difficult which of your five calls to action is the right one – at this moment in time – I might just give up.

Second, I can’t find a place to go from here. E.g. because it’s hidden deep down in the website. Or you forgot to mention it in your talk. I might not be willing to go hunting for it.

Third, it’s too difficult to get to that place. I’m hooked, but probably not all-in, yet. So I might not be willing to invest that much effort right now.

Make it one place, make this place obvious, and make it easy to get there. Then, when I’m hooked, I’m almost guaranteed to go there.

Communicating risk in a project pitch

It’s the least liked part of any project pitch: the risks of the project. What if these risks will lead the decision makers to shy away from approving the project?

What’s easily overlooked is that the problem is not that there is a risk. The problem is when there’s no appropriate plan to deal with the risk.

Any decent decision maker understands that business decisions come with a risk. We make decisions not because there is no risk but because we are confident to be able to deal with the risk.

Show me that you understand the risk, be transparent about what can happen at worst and make me see that you know how to deal with it.

That’s a much more convincing pitch than trying to hide the risk and hoping that nobody will recognize it.

When done right, the risk part is actually the best part where you can prove that you know what you’re doing.

Speaking with confidence

Most of your competition leads with vague statements such as “improving efficiency”, “providing flexible solutions”, “using high quality materials”.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself from this competition is to be really specific in what you promise. What does “improving efficiency” mean? What does it look like? How will it change our processes?

And then make a bold statement about it. “X will increase Y by at least a factor of 3.”

There’s one important pitfall: You need to keep your promises. It’s easy to make bold promises. It’s a different thing to actually keep them.

Yet, this is the actual differentiator – and the reason why so many companies shy away from making specific promises. They lack the confidence to actually make them happen. They don’t go all the way to make sure that this will always work (or figure out which version of the promise will always work).

The best pitches start with empathy: Understand what matters to your customers. Make a bold innovation to improve this aspect. Work hard to be able to keep a promise around it.

When you’ve done this, speaking about it with confidence will be the easiest part.

Bill Gates doesn’t get the Internet

In 1995, Bill Gates really struggled to make a case for the Internet:

Funny isn’t it? The CEO of the dominant software company can’t clearly say what the benefits of one of the most significant technological advances in mankind actually are.

Now, here’s a question to you: 26 years later and knowing what you know now, would you do any better? Could you answer Letterman’s question about what’s the big deal about the Internet in a TV compatible way?

As Letterman said: It’s easy to criticise something you don’t fully understand. And yet, that’s exactly the position that our customers are in. They don’t fully understand the thing we’re trying to explain to them. And one of their most pressing questions is this: So, what’s the big deal about this?

It’s easy to make fun of one of the most successful businessmen in history. But again, would you do better? Or more precisely, do you do better for the things you sell?

(PS: This fall, I’m launching the “Leaders Light the Path” masterclass which helps you do better. Get notified here.)

The value of a well crafted email

Many businesses underestimate the value of a well crafted email.

More than 90% of all deals that I’ve pitched were basically decided at the time I showed up in person. The purpose of the pitch was just to rationalise a decision that has long before been made.

A well crafted email gets the reader’s attention and triggers an “I want that! Now!” impulse. In the shortest possible way.

When we signed our first worldwide licensing deal in the toy industry, there wasn’t even a pitch presentation involved. On a Sunday afternoon we sent an email. On the next day, we were being asked to send over a prototype and a week later, the managing director was sitting at our table (not theirs) and we were negotiating the deal.

All thanks to a well-crafted email.

Start with work that matters. Build something that people actually want. And then speak (or write) about it using plain language in a short and concise way.

Who are you pitching to?

“I like it”, he said. “Maybe just one thing. Could you add a small overview of the other products that we offer? Just in case they would be interested in one of these as well.”

So, what do you do?

Please your boss and include the overview? Or please the customer and focus the pitch on what they asked for? Include everything your boss asks for or exclude everything that bores your customer?

It’s better to make this decision consciously.

Using up trust

We tend to think about sales as a competition. About winning the pitch, making the sale, and getting the deal. And when we do get it, the deal is the end to the story, isn’t it? (A happy end for that matter!)

But what if you considered it to be the beginning of the story? The inciting incident of a story about a long-lasting relationship with a client …

Would that change the way that you approach your pitch? Your ad? Your conversation?

For many of my clients it does. Instead of using up trust to make a deal they shift to building trust to enter into a relationship. It immediately rules out hyperbole and favours the truth.

Telling a true story about the things that you care about is what builds trust. Investing the empathy to relate it to what matters to our audience is what creates resonance. And resonance has no end. There is no winning. The whole point is to keep resonating.

What are sales pitches for?

“We are awesome!”

That, in essence, is the summary of 99% of all sales pitches.

Yet, that’s not what decision makers care for. At all.

Decision makers care for how awesome they are. And whether buying your product will make them even more awesome. To make them see how is the actual job of a sales pitch.

Make it about them, not you.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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