Pitching your Service
Pitch perfect. More than a successful movie franchise starring Tasmania’s foremost mermaid dancer, being pitch perfect is the key to success.
Having been in the game for more than 23 years, I’ve worked on three continents, founded three startups, and run three ad agencies.
The purpose of my company Fractal is to support professionals. Beyond the day to day grunt work, I relish in connecting people and connecting people’s dreams with reality.
I have been told I’m a Grade A Pitch.
I am keen to share my lessons learned over the past couple of decades of pitching products and ideas, to help professionals better understand what potential clients need to hear, and tips and tricks for more successful pitches.
The principles are simple and effective.
I should warn you that some of this, I’ll be doing via the medium of Star Wars – but don’t worry if you haven’t seen the films. My tips are based on techniques which will make a big difference to how successful your pitches are, whether you’re familiar with Luke Skywalker – or not.
If while reading this guide you have any questions or you’d just like to dig a little deeper please do email me directly at [email protected]
Now let’s get started …….
Most people would start a pitch with a credit slide – a snapshot that showcases your credibility by highlighting the big names you’ve worked with.
It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. My own credit slide is a map of all the brands I’ve been involved within my career. Logos of big brands that you know and trust, because I want you to know that those big brands trusted me. And I want you to I know, that I know, what I’m talking about.
I always glean some confidence from knowing Burberry and H&M are featured on my slide – because if they’re willing to let me do their marketing, and I dress the way I dress, I must be really good at pitching.
My biggest fear when I’m pitching? All the heads before me start to drop, eyes begin to glaze over, and my audience just isn’t buying or understanding what I’m selling.
You think you are saying one thing, but they are hearing something else.
When you pitch something, it can be hugely frustrating when people don’t get it.
We’ve all been in situations where our message is getting away from us.
Trust me, I’ve got two kids who never listen to me – even though I know what’s best for them.
And just like parents who will use every trick in the book to communicate with their kids, there are also ways of putting a message across in a pitch which increases your chances of being heard.
And drawing on the dad in me, I am here to impart my wisdom. I’m going to share some of the tactics, tricks, ideas and strategies I’ve picked up and developed over the years.
If you can build these methods into your own pitching, it will improve how you convey your vision and make sure that by the time your audience leaves they can see what you see.
We’ll start by looking at how joining the dots of your presentation makes it easier for an audience to understand what you’re saying, and how storytelling makes it easier for you to keep them interested.
Storytelling is a great way to ensure engagement.
It’s a powerful way to present information and to capture and maintain the interest of a room.
Great storytelling is why we go in our droves to movie theatres, spending hours glued to the big screen.
It’s the reason we’re enthralled by plays, and it’s why we can sit through a 12 hour Netflix binge without coming up for air.
It’s why you just can’t wait for that next episode, or you can’t put down that book. Great storytelling grabs attention – and keeps attention.
For thousands of years, we’ve used storytelling as a medium to pass information and knowledge between ourselves. Stories would be verbally passed down from generation to generation, well before there were ways of capturing them in print.
It’s a feature of human history which remains unchanged. Stories are extremely important to the way we communicate.
That’s because people find stories easy to follow, and their attention spans grow longer as a result.
Having a great idea is just that – great, but to effectively communicate that idea we need to create structure around it and make it into a concept that can be related and understood.
A story is a way to bring an idea to life and it’s a very effective aid to selling.
I like to look at the way people think: the way people process, rationalize and understand information.
People are dot connectors.
We don’t try to remember the position of individual dots; we join them together and place them in a context. We find it easier to remember those individual points – or dots – when they’re part of a memorable whole.
When you set up the points within your story, people are better able and more likely to remember your pitch.
You may be looking to sell a product, or trying to warn cave mates about a sabre tooth tiger – but there’s a reason why storytelling has been used to convey information for so long.
Humans are wired for stories, and when you’re pitching, storytelling is a powerful way to get people to identify and align with your idea.
When you stand before an audience and pitch, you want to signpost where the conversation is going to go – but the last thing you want to do is start by saying you’re going to present 97 points.
You’ll instantly lose most of the room – death by powerpoint.
Consider the attention span of your audience when you design your pitch.
Limit the number of presentation points to a figure that won’t be daunting and you won’t go too far wrong.
For the same reason, I’m going to keep the number of points here manageable.
I’m going with six. Six of the best tactics you can use in your own pitches to get better results.
Now, if there was only one thing I’d want you to take away from reading this, it’d be this: your client is the hero of the story – not yourself.
Most people make the mistake of positioning themselves as the hero and I’m going to show you why that’s not the way to go.
Prepare yourself for my first Star Wars reference.
When you read company websites, you’ll often see people making themselves the hero.
This is a mistake because nobody out there wants to buy the success of your company – what they want is to make a better version of themselves. And they’re always looking for something that will help them do that.
In essence, your job is not to be Luke Skywalker – it’s not to be the hero. You want to be Yoda – the sage, the wise man – here to guide your hero on their journey of betterment.
The best way to gain the trust of those listening is to make yourself the sage.
You’ll come across as the one with all the knowledge, you’ll be seen as a guide, and most importantly – you’ll allow your client to be the hero.
Making your client the hero is a very powerful tactic.
Luke and Yoda, Dumbledore and Harry, Bilbo and Gandalf- there’s a reason our most beloved stories are filled with heroes and sages. These two groups of people are relatable and aspirational, and these roles can be played out at work and play.
When you’re trying to engage a client, it’s important that you play the role of sage in the story of your pitch.
You’ll be saving me a lot of writing if you watch Simon Sinek’s excellent TED Talk about how people buy your why.
It’s had more than 12 million views, so a lot of you will already have seen it. If you haven’t, take a look.
You need to have a why, a deeper purpose; and you need people to understand your why.
Let’s consider Nike shoes. What do Nike training shoes do? Well, they stop your feet from hitting the ground – that’s their primary and most basic function, right?
They can also help you gain a little more traction, maybe even a little more speed. But that’s just what Nike shoes do – that’s the easy part.
If we’re unable to convey what Nike shoes do, we should just give up now, because we’re very unlikely to be able to come up with a successful pitch.
Most businesses even get as far as how they do things.
With Nike, that’s talking about technical features, such as the air in the sole of the shoe, or the pumps, triggers and performance-enhancing attributes.
It’s when you look at Nike’s ads that you realise why they’re such a successful and powerful brand.
Because they sell their why. Nike’s deeper purpose is to help you become the best athlete you can be.
The fact of the matter is that, when well-articulated, people will align with your why and it makes for an extremely powerful way to sell things.
The difficulty with selling your why is that even finding your why can be very difficult. So, rather than you trying to work that out, I suggest you make the why about yourself.
When you make the why about you, I want you to do it by baking your why into an origin story.
Once again, we look to pop culture and cinema for business inspo.
Like Batman’s tragic trip to the theatre, an origin story is the life-changing catalyst that makes you what you are, makes you do the things you’re doing, and it’s the reason you feel so strongly.
If you’re in business, it’s the driver behind how you chose your career or job. It’s why you built your product or it’s what made you decide to run a service.
If you’re in the movies, it’s maybe why you catch bad guys, or how you became an arch-villain.
Batman’s origin story is about attending the theatre with his parents, they made the mistake of exiting through a back alley, they were robbed, and the thieves shot Batman’s parents dead – right in front of him.
That’s when he vowed to fight evil and crime for the rest of his life.
The thing about Batman’s story is that it’s perfectly believable, and it gives him his reason for being.
Without his origin, Batman would be just another weird guy in a black rubber suit.
I mean, he probably still is a weird guy in a black rubber suit, but what’s important is his origin story shows us he’s never going to give up because he’s driven by a higher purpose – and we can invest in that.
It’s as if Batman has to have that great origin story to convince us to root for him.
If he didn’t have it, we’d imagine him looking at his watch when confronted with a bank robbery just before 5 pm and saying: “Ah look, it’s my clocking off time, so you just carry on with stealing all the money from that bank.”
People get hung up on by low-paid call centre workers, after two hours of holding – they’re jaded.
To capture their imagination, you need a great back story – just like Batman. You have to give them a reason to believe you won’t let them down, and that you’ll never give up – just like the weird guy in the black rubber suit.
When you have a higher purpose for what you’re providing or trying to do, people will get onboard.
You need to remember that people buy why you’re doing something, and not what you’re doing.
Too often, we get focused on what we’re pitching. The facts and the features.
What I want you to do is to sell on essence and emotion, because if you’re perceived as being driven to do something by a higher power, people are far more likely to align with you and support you.
And now for another Star Wars reference…
The Deathstar represents my own origin story.
If you can remember my credential slide at the beginning of this article – I showed you all of those big brands, right?
Back when I was working for those big brands, they often paid me for marketing strategies which were ultimately aimed at crushing innovation.
I was the guy sitting over at the big ad agency, trying to disrupt the disruption.
I would often be involved in a meeting when a new and innovative product was being released, and these companies would want to know: “How do we beat this?”
So, I found myself sitting in a boardroom one day, and they said: “Look, how can we stop this disruptive new product?”
I jumped up and white-boarded a whole bunch of solutions and everyone said: “That’s amazing! This is fantastic, Gerard, but where are you referencing? How are you doing this?”
The truth was, I found it easy to come up with barriers to innovation because I’d been a startup founder myself.
I knew exactly what I wouldn’t want them to do, and I was just advising them on that basis.
When I sat back down that day, I had an epiphany of sorts.
I thought of myself like an engineer who’d been asked to work on the greatest project of all time.
A giant planet – totally mechanical. Sure, this may be the biggest and boldest, the greatest engineering feat of all time – but it’s also the Deathstar.
That’s when I knew I was on the wrong team. For me.
I needed to help the Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and the Founders.
My true calling was to join the rebel alliance of the industry and disrupt. To make the world a better place by shaking up convention.
And that was the catalyst for where I am today; the point at which I decided to devote my marketing knowledge and skills to the wider purpose of helping people sell themselves, not huge brands.
To try to make the world better by living vicariously through their success – because I’d reached a point where I could no longer be comfortable with my own.
And that’s my origin story. It’s how I present myself and when I get it right, then you’ll think,
“I believe Gerard and what he says. I’m confident he’s got my best interests at heart. He gave up his great career to help me in mine. Without needing to know anything about his technical abilities, I think I probably want to chat to him.”
That’s the power of a great origin story.
You’ll be remembered for what you represent
I guess what I mean is that it’s important to realise you’re going to be remembered for what you represent – not for what you do.
I think the Lego characters illustrate this point really well because ostensibly, they’re all made in the same plastic mould.
They’re an identical shape with the same feet and arms – Lego just change what they represent with a different coloured hat or hair, and different clothes.
And that’s a very important thing to consider – people will replicate your ideas;
after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.
But if you truly are what you represent – people can’t take that away from you.
Authenticity is credibility.
“A company can’t own its’ facts. If the company’s facts are superior to the competition, any good competitor will duplicate or improve them”
Mark Benioff is the founder and CEO of Salesforce, and this quote of his reminds us that if we fall into the trap of pitching too much detail – features, facts, and elements of our business – people will just copy them.
We live in a global world, so if someone is going to copy you and they’ve got more money; they’re going to be doing it faster, and they’re going to do it cheaper.
When you pitch on features you ultimately end up competing on price, and that’s a fast way to get in a race to the bottom.
The best products don’t win – the best marketing, positioning and the best stories are what ultimately capture attention.
So avoid the temptation of fiddling with your product and adding features to stave off competition, it’s more important to focus on positioning. And even if someone does copy your idea just remember, they can’t take away your why.
TACTIC 3: Solve a problem
It’s time to channel Vanilla Ice: If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.
When you pitch a service, you have to solve a problem. And not just a niggle, but a problem big enough to make a significant difference in someone’s life.
Solving a small problem is not going to move anyone around and inertia is your greatest enemy – bigger even than your competition.
The status quo is what you need to fight against, so you want the problem you’re solving to be a big one.
You can do what the movies do really well, and split problems into internal and external problems.
Luke Skywalker’s external problem – and I warned you there was going to be a lot of Star Wars references – was Darth Vader. He had to fight him, right? That’s a really clear external problem.
But, what about those movies where it’s all fighting and explosions but no story behind it? They don’t really work – you don’t get fully engaged.
The stories that work are those which the lead character has an external fight, let’s say he has to fight Darth Vader – but he has an internal struggle too.
That internal struggle is what makes the story, a development or journey that moves the plot along, and it’s an emotional connection that we are made to feel with our hero.
Your goal when positioning your product or service is to identify an internal struggle with which you can help your customer or client.
Help the hero of your story find a way to better themselves.
If your pitch is great, then you may even be able to combine the internal and the external.
In the Star Wars story, Luke has inner struggles.
He has doubts about whether he’s a Jedi. But he’s also got to fight Darth Vader – and Vader just happens to be his father! That’s a great story, right?
If you can combine them, all the better. But really try to focus on the internal struggle.
Make it about your hero’s betterment. Solve that problem.
You’ll go a lot further with your pitch if you can do that.
You may have seen Everett Rogers’ adoption innovation curve; you may not have.
But it’s important to understand when you’re pitching, that everyone out there falls somewhere on this curve.
Let’s take fashion for example.
I’m probably a late majority on fashion, but when it comes to fashion marketing, I’m right down as an early adopter and innovator.
What does that mean? Well, all of us can, within one genre or market, be in two very different places on the curve.
We’re like quantum particles, we can exist in two different places at once – but we’re always somewhere, regardless of the product or service.
Another example of this is my music taste.
On one hand, the way I consume music is very late majority. I’ve attended one concert in the last two years – and that was Ed Sheeran.
That’s as mainstream as you can possibly get. So middle of the road I am practically roadkill.
But on the other hand, these last 10 years, I’ve been paying for Spotify Premium.
That subscription makes me an innovator on the music technology front.
What I want you to understand is, that where possible, you should try to pitch your ideas to the innovators.
They’re more likely to get on board with your ideas. If you go out and pitch to late adopters, they’re going to hate your product.
In fact, the harsh truth is, and the innovation curve shows us most people are going to be against innovation.
Your task is not to take your marketing budget and drop it on the whole market – because some of your money will go to the wrong place, your task is to target the right people.
The largest part of your sales efforts, the majority of your pitches, will find the late adopters and laggards.
Try and target the early adopters as best you can, and direct your energies there.
Most potential clients will already have a service provider, convincing people to switch is hard, best to focus on people more open to a new position on the old problem.
To begin to really scale and grab a large chunk of the market though, the battle is to get across the “chasm”.
CURVE CHASM SLIDE
Geoffrey Moore wrote an extremely influential book and coined the term, “the chasm” back in the late nineties.
It’s a book I’d highly recommend you read if you haven’t already.
When we talk about crossing the chasm, we mean taking our product past the people who are already willing to get on board.
We’re looking to take on the rest of the dwellers on that curve and make our product mainstream.
That’s going to be the challenge facing a lot of your businesses.
At some unavoidable point in time, you’re going to need to take on the rest of the market.
In order to continue growing, you’ll have to develop techniques that make you more successful at pitching to the early and late majority folks on the curve.
One strategy you can start with – is to put up your credentials slide, like I did at the start of this document.
TACTIC 4: Avoiding failure
As we’ve said, your credits slide shows your credentials.
So, when I showed you my slide earlier, that was a lot to do with the concept of avoiding failure.
When pitching, one of your biggest enemies is fear of failure – and I’m not talking about your own nerves; I’m referring to the audience and the things that might stop them getting on board with your product.
It’s their fear of making the wrong decision which often results in them being too apprehensive to make any decision at all.
A great illustration of what fear of failure does to buyers is the old IBM slogan: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. It directly targets fear of failure.
A ‘credentials’ slide may help you when you pitch to a difficult room.
By putting a slide up at the start like this, I’m showing the room my experience and I want them to think:
“Well, if Coca Cola paid attention to Gerard, he’s probably right”.
And that will go some way to easing my task because it eases their fear of failure.
It’s crucial to do everything you can to remove their apprehension.
One of the things that will stop people buying your service is the fear that they’re going to get it wrong.
You need to do as much as possible to get past that, so don’t be reluctant to show them where you’ve been, and what you can do.
The Stroop effect tells us something very important about the way an audience perceives a pitch, and the best way to illustrate this is to have a quick go at the test.
You’re going to start by looking at the following image, and I want you to just read each word, from top to bottom and left to right.
Read them out loud in your head, whilst timing yourself.
Ok, so hopefully that didn’t take too long.
I’d like you to make a note of the time it took you to read the whole image.
Then, we’re going to look at the next picture, which again contains a list of words.
This time, I want you to read all the words in the same way, but I want you to ignore the colour they’re printed in.
Again, you’ll time yourself and keep a note.
This is a little bit harder, and it generally takes people a second or two longer to get through the list.
With the third and final picture in this series, I want you to read the colour of the print – not the word that’s written.
People find this far harder in general, and at some point, most people make a mistake and read the word.
This picture usually takes around 5-seconds longer to complete.
The Stroop effect shows us that the word being used is more significant than the reality being described.
This is a super-powerful thing to know when it comes to pitching.
That’s because sometimes, we have a tendency to fall back and say, “You’ll see the quality of my product. You’ll know that I’m good”
That’s as maybe, but if you want to be sure, you need to tell the room. You need to clearly spell out that your product is of high quality.
So, let’s look at how that works in the real world.
I used to drive an ice-cream truck when I was at uni. For real. I rang a bell and everything.
Occasionally, I’d take the truck out to the factory to get it fixed up.
That involved sitting around for long periods.
I’d wait and I’d watch a machine depositing splodge after splodge of vanilla ice cream into tub after tub, which was strangely satisfying to watch.
Then, one day this guy came out.
He took all of the blue tubs away and put yellow tubs in their place.
Then, he went back and turned on the machine, and started filling up the tubs again.
So, I looked at the yellow tubs and saw they were for a generic brand of supermarket ice cream.
I kind of had this moment when I was about 19 where I thought: “Well, it’s the same ice cream, but you’re telling me it’s cheaper. So, I’m going to pay less for it.”
And that’s a strategy I really want you to take forward when you pitch.
Don’t be afraid to say exactly what you want from a person.
Don’t be tempted to hold back and think: “They’ll see the quality. They’ll see it’s superior.”
Whatever happens to be great about you – or great about your service, you need to say exactly what it is.
If people have to use calories in their brains to decipher something, your product will be harder to sell.
Loss Aversion Theory is another behavioural psychology element which applies here.
Business insider did a great video to illustrate this.
They went out to a newsstand where people were buying lottery tickets for $2, and they offered to buy those tickets for $4 each.
Most people wouldn’t sell the lottery ticket they’d just purchased for $2.
That doesn’t make sense in monetary terms.
If I’ve got a rational brain, of course, I’ll take the $4 and go and buy two more lottery tickets.
I’ll just keep doubling my money.
But people didn’t, because they attach a higher value to something they already have, than something they can get.
TACTIC 5: Get your product in use, then try and take it away
The way a business typically takes advantage of loss aversion psychology is with a free trial.
If I’ve had Netflix for 30 days, and my kids have gotten used to the cartoon channels and the movies, it’s going to be really hard to take that away from me when the month is up.
I value Netflix higher having used it.
When it comes to it being taken away, I’m far more reluctant than I would be if I hadn’t tried it.
Your goal with service pitching is to get your potential client engaged with your service in any small way possible.
If you can get them involved and to take ownership, they’ll attach a higher value to it than if you’re coming at them cold.
TACTIC 6: It ends in success
So, lastly. It ends in success.
You need to use images of success in your pitch. It’s your job, as the sage and the storyteller, to show people what success will look like after they buy into you.
Great brands do this brilliantly. They’ll show you weight loss – before and after.
Fashion brands may show you how you’d look great in their clothes, and how confident you’d be wearing their perfume.
If you buy a Mercedes, you can be a successful executive and all of a sudden, your hair grows back – that sort of thing.
It’s your job as the sage to convince people there’s success at the end of the journey, and to show them what it looks like.
Back in Star Wars, Obi Wan had to tell Luke that he’d made it, he was a Jedi and he’d successfully fought his inner demons.
Nike’s Serena Williams campaign is something I really love. Everything Nike does with branding is on-point.
The ‘Serena ad’ does all the important things we’ve looked at.
It talks about their why, it’s got a journey, it doesn’t talk about the product.
What you really need to remember about adverts like this, and it’s a thing true of all sports sponsorship – they only really work if there’s a clear image of success at the end.
So, when Serena wins, the whole story works better.
You need to present that image of success, it’s extremely important that a potential customer sees what will happen once they’ve bought your service.
The power of showing images of success when branding in this manner, is also why when sporting stars begin to drop down their rankings, sponsorships start to disappear.
So, to recap on the journey we’ve been on.
- We create a story, and we use the ancient and proven art of storytelling to engage the people in the room.
- We start with a character, and that character is your client. They’re the hero of our story.
- The hero has to have a problem and it needs to be big enough to grab the imagination. Ideally it’s an internal problem, not an external threat.
- Our hero needs to meet a guide – and that’s where you come in. You’re the Yoda of the story.
- You need to give them a plan. I gave you a 6 point plan, but you can give them a three point plan if you wish. What’s vital is you show them you’ve got a plan. If you don’t have a plan, people won’t trust you.
- You need to give them a call to action. And it’s got to result in something. It could result in tragedy: this is what will happen if you don’t buy my product. This is the bad outcome.
- Or it could result in a romantic, comedic, or happy ending. That’s the image of success.
A Final Word …
As a business owner pitching for new clients is a necessary evil, and because clients are your business you need to be good at it.
The problem is that you didn’t start your services agency to spend all day selling!
I hope with this guide you’ve been able to take away a few actionable tips that’ll increase your conversion rate from conversations to clients.
If you have any questions about what you’ve read here or would like to schedule in a “right-fit” call with me you can book a time directly into my diary using this link https://fractal.com.au/call
Best of luck with your future pitching.
Founder and Consultant