How do you craft an effective sales pitch? First, ditch the “pitch”—or at least neglect the traditional meaning of the word. It basically describes what salespeople used to do: throw information at prospects hoping to sell a product or service before the buyer could hang up the phone or slam the door. But according to sales experts, today good salespeople treat the “pitch” process as a collaborative conversation.
“A ‘pitch’ typically conjures up images of a one-way presentation, with the salesperson talking at a prospect, which is not the effective way to sell,” says Art Sobczak, President of BusinessByPhone.com. “The word is outdated, and is typically used in a derogatory way when talking about sales and salespeople,” he adds.
“If someone is pitching to you, what are your options?” says Nancy Bleeke, president of Sales Pro Insider and author of Conversations That Sell. “If you are pitched at, you either swing to bat it away or duck to avoid it. Neither of these works well in sales.”
Sobczak says people often assume that where there’s a pitch, there’s a catch. “If you say, ‘Here is my pitch,’ people will look for something to object to,” he says. “You really shouldn’t use the word ‘pitch’ outside of baseball. Instead, call it a recommendation. That lets prospects know you want to engage in a conversation and help them.”
Wendy Weiss, an author and sales coach, also known as The Queen of Cold Calling, agrees with Sobczak and Bleeke. “Because of the definition of the word, salespeople sometimes think it means they should talk at someone, but that’s really not an effective way to communicate,” she says. “A good pitch is one where you ask questions, listen to the prospect, and offer them a solution to a problem.”
Lesson learned: An effective sales pitch isn’t a monologue. It’s a dialogue.
As a salesperson, you need to know a lot about your buyer, so you can address how valuable your product or service might be to that specific client, Bleeke says. “Buyers are busy and inundated with information. You need to be able to connect the value of your solution to that specific buyer, or the buyer is not going to give you any time or attention,” she adds.
Next, identify your objectives. Bleeke says doing this will determine the information you will need to “advance the probability of time with the person, which will lead to a sale.” Your goal is to get the prospect’s attention and agreement to have an engaged conversation about how you can help them with something specific, she says.
Sobczak suggests that you set action-oriented goals before you ever pick up the phone to call the prospective client. “Say, ‘At the end of the this call I want them to agree to meet with me,’ or ‘At the end of this call they will buy from me,’” he says. “I always suggest that salespeople think big and optimistically.”
With sufficient preparation and specific goals in mind, you’ll be more effective in the sales process.
Weiss says that as a salesperson you should talk 20% of the time and listen the other 80%.
“Ideally what you want to do in this phase of the sales process is to be able to uncover the prospect’s needs, understand their needs, and show them how whatever you’re selling can help them accomplish whatever they’re trying to accomplish, or fix a problem they have,” Weiss says.
“You should let them talk most of the time—but when you talk, you need to tell the prospect how you can help. Don’t talk about the functions of your product and try to sell them on the features or characteristics.” Instead, sell the benefits or the value of the product, she adds.
But you can only do this if you’ve done your research and you know it’s relevant to them.”
Bleeke says she tries to “pown,” an acronym: “Salespeople need to identify the problems they solve, the opportunities they capture, and the wants or needs that are addressed by the solution. Once they know this they need to put together metrics and proof of what they can do or have done,” she says.
How do you communicate this to your prospect? Formulate a recommendation (Sobczak’s preferred substitute word for “pitch”) using their language, he says. “If you ask about a difficulty or challenge they have, and then address that in your recommendation using their exact language, they won’t object to their own words.”
Sobczak says to ask for a commitment at the end the conversation. “Have them promise to consider your recommendation, or ask for an opportunity to meet or talk again.” If they agree to that, you were probably effective in your recommendation.
“Just remember one thing,” Weiss says. “If you go in with the idea that you are just going to talk, talk, talk, and make the sale, it’s going to be a struggle. But if you go in with the idea that you are going to have a conversation and build a relationship with the prospect, you’ll have a much better success rate.”
This is an update of an article that ran previously.