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We all engage in “pitching” – all the time. Even negotiating with your child to finish her cereal and get off to school, is “pitching“ your point of view to persuade her to do something.
In business, it is inevitable that you will need to pitch yourself: for a new job, promotion, or to secure a contract or sale of a product, or pitch your service or case for a contribution.
Love it or hate it, pitching is part of life. But there also are myriad ways to totally mess it up. Here are five (and what to do to fix them):
- Bad manners: Too much talking about how wonderful you or how great your product or service is, and not enough listening to the needs of the person(s) you are pitching to. It’s a classic but we get caught up – even nervous – about getting our point of view across and forget the fundamentals of selling: i.e., it’s not about us. IT’S ABOUT THEM! If you have ever suffered through an endless litany of credentials by an agency that you are already familiar with, you know what I mean.
Avoid this by sending your credentials in advance or directing prospects to your website. And when you are in the room, LISTEN. It’s a good meeting if you do less talking and they do more.
- Bad team work: Ever watched a business team pitch and it is painfully obvious that they don’t really like or respect each other? The other frequent mistake: taking too many people to the meeting. If the client has two people and you show up with six, it screams “THESE GUYS ARE EXPENSIVE!” and they won’t hear anything else you’re saying.
The answer: Only take people to the pitch who are absolutely necessary, have a clear and articulated role to play, and like and respect each other – or can at least look like they do for the duration of the meeting!
- Boring: Hands up! Who else has experienced “Death by PowerPoint”? Do you really need all those slides? Do you need a PowerPoint at all or would it be better to simply go in and get a dialogue going? Again, don’t tell prospects what they already know or what could easily be communicated in advance.
- Baffling: There is nothing worse than telling a person or company all about how you solved the problems of another client when it has absolutely nothing to do with them. The flip side of that is plunging right into the solution for the client, when you haven’t even heard yet what they think the problem is. Remember that they run their lives and businesses all day every day.
How to avoid bafflement? Again, LISTEN first. Keep it simple and relevant to them – stay on their WIIFMchannel (What’s In It For Me).
- Beat at your own game: Give too much away in the pitch and the client will be wondering why they should engage you, or worse, think that you are desperate and lack self respect. You are looking to add value to the client but the goal of a pitch is to get the business!
Avoid this one by being crystal clear on these four questions – before you step foot in the pitch. What are my key messages? What do I need to learn? How do I want the client to feel/react? And, what are the next steps?
- And finally, don’t forget the ask! Whatever it is you want, ask for it! The worst way to mess up a pitch is to have a wonderful meeting where everyone feels good and then walk out without what you came for. Make sure you walk out of the room with what you went in to get: the order, the invitation to submit a proposal, or the offer to go to the next level.
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I have a client who is so articulate, compelling and charismatic that she could pretty much sell you anything. Unless it was selling her own professional services or asking to get paid to do them!
“I can sell anything but myself”, she says. Other people have variations on the theme: “I have trouble articulating what it is I can do” or “I can ask for a raise for people who work for me but when it comes to discussing my own salary, I am at a loss.”
Why is that? Of course some people are just plain shy. Even the idea of talking about themselves is abhorrent, much less asking for something. There are also people who are not shy, but still go into freeze mode when it comes to making the ask.
And yet, we know that there are times when we have to promote ourselves and ask for what we need. Others may sing your praises but can you count on them to get your story right? As an example, I have some wonderful colleagues who have always been generous in promoting me, but they really know me as an Olympic marketing expert – work that I no longer do. It is my job to equip them with the tools they need to continue to promote me for the business coaching and development work that is now my passion.
I am of the belief that you need to take personal responsibility for promoting yourself in a manner that is natural and works for you. And it starts with exhibiting self confidence, even if you do not feel it.
If this is you – not feeling confident but you still want/need to promote yourself – here are some tips that may help get you rolling:
- Get your story right – at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it really does all start with having a personal career story that reflects the “why” you do what you do, not just the what, how and when. Get it so you believe it first, then crisp it up and get ready to take it out into the world!
- Develop a list of the people in your network – think beyond the obvious and be strategic according to what you are currently looking to do (get a new job, start a business, etc). Then prioritize that list and keep it as a living document that you revisit and update on a regular basis. And START NETWORKING – begin with the people that are easiest for you to approach and use them as a training ground.
- Pick a friendly venue – if it is easier for you to start promoting yourself to someone whom you are comfortable with inviting to your home or meeting in a coffee shop, do that. If it is intimidating meeting someone in an office setting, you can build up to that.
- Dress the role you want – if you are looking for an office job, dress in business attire even if you are just meeting a friend. This is true for both men and women – you don’t want the person you are meeting to sit there the whole time thinking “really? Dressed like that he thinks he is ready to work in X?”
- Act the role you want – we all know the old adage “fake it till you make it”. Maybe faking it is not in your definition of a natural approach, but use those first test grounds to act the role you want, in whatever way you can. Want to start a consultancy? What would it take for you to look and sound like a consultant?
ASK! A belief in fundraising is that one of the biggest reasons people don’t donate is because they are not asked. I believe the same is true of asking your friends and colleagues – your network – for what you need. Set the stage, relax and just ASK. The person may say no or it may not be something they can do, but you will not know until you ASK!
Your immediate network of friends and colleagues is a great place to get started. Practice may not make you perfect but it will move you along the continuum towards being able to promote yourself and ask for what you need.