Tech Leader Pro podcast 11, How to pitch

 
Published on 2021-11-18 by John Collins.

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File details: 22.5 MB MP3, 15 mins 37 secs duration.

Title music is "Still Cold" by Crystal Shards, licensed via www.epidemicsound.com

Script

Introduction

Throughout our studies, our careers, and indeed our lives, we all need to pitch. We need to convince someone to accept our ideas, to buy our products, to hire us, to love us, to respect us.

Yet weirdly, most of us never receive any training on how to pitch.

When I was younger, I used to grow very frustrated as I was unable to convince my peers, namely other software engineers, to adopt a certain process, technology, or direction that I felt with be a big improvements for us.

I could not understand why if it was obvious to me, why was in not obvious to them?

In truth, I was doing a terrible job of convincing them. I wrongly thought that if I complained about what they were doing wrong, and nag them, they would be forced by my logical arguments to see the errors of their ways. I didn’t have a clue!

People will not buy into your idea if they don’t like you, and if you nag them and point out all of their mistakes, they have no reason to like you. That was the first lesson I learned, the hard way.

In the remainder of this episode, I will share with you the other lessons I have learned over the past twenty plus years, from convincing my fellow engineers to adopt a technology, right through to selling a product during commercial B2B engagements. Let’s begin.

Selling an idea

Everything you sell starts with an idea: an idea for a product, an idea for a technology, an idea for a project. So we can say that ultimately, all sales activities relate to the selling of an idea.

There are two basic steps in selling an idea:

  1. Having the idea crystal clear in your mind, so that you can properly explain it to your audience.
  2. Transferring that clarity from your mind to their minds.

The first step requires you to do your ground work, to ensure that you can speak about the idea with clarity and authority. If you cannot speak with confidence about the idea, you will fail to convince your audience, as you will lack credibility.

You must know your topic inside-out before you can try to convince others to buy into it.

For the second step, you need great communication skills. I have worked with many smart technologists who fail miserably on this step, because they cannot articulate the idea they have in their mind into words, even though it is clear in their mind.

There are no quick fixes to improving your communication skills, but here at least I can share some tips that have helped me over the years:

  1. Start with a high-level explanation. If your idea is to solve a problem, state that problem in plain terms firstly. At the beginning, keep it simple.
  2. Bring your idea back to people. Technologists really struggle with this, but a general audience responds to people firstly, as people naturally empathize with other people, even if they are just example personas in your presentation. Keep it human-focused.
  3. Tell a story! I can not emphasize this enough, stories resonate with audiences. Those personas I described in the previous point are the characters in the story your are telling.
  4. Try to make it funny, but not too hard. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian, but a little humour always help people like you. And if they like you, they are more likely to like your idea.
  5. Dive into the detail only when asked to do so, or you feel it is appropriate for your audience. If you deep dive into the detail with a general audience, especially at the beginning, you will lose them.

All of the above tips are relevant for all of the next sections, but in those sections we will look at particular topics you need to be aware of when selling different things, starting with the selling of a product.

Selling a product

In a previous episode, episode 9, I advised you that you need to believe in what you are selling. It is my basic belief that you cannot sell a product that you do not believe in yourself, and to do so is deceptive.

I am not naive, I know this happens, but personally I will not try to sell something I do not believe in, and I advise you to do the same.

It is much easier to sell something that you genuinely believe in, as your pitch will be more credible. It is also easier to defend a product that you care about.

Therefore, the first step in convincing someone to try your product is to buy into it yourself completely.

Next up, you need to learn your product inside-out, and back-to-front. Learn the UX, and learn how every feature works from a user perspective. After that, dive deeper into the back-end architecture. That knowledge will help you when the questions start to come during real pitches, and believe me there will be many, so you need to be ready: the more answers you have to hand, the more credible your will appear to your audience.

Ultimately, selling a product is about market fit as much as it is about the quality of your pitch. The need either already exists in your market, or you are capable of creating that need. But if that need does not exist at all, even the best pitch won’t save you.

You have to sure that your product is addressing a real need, and you are pitching to the people with that need.

The best way to think about those people is as personas: get a whiteboard and draw out the attributes of those personas:

Write down all of these attributes and more, and you and your team should come to a clearer understanding of the type of persona you are selling your product to: give that persona a name, “Bob, Harry, Jenny” whatever, and then start thinking about that persona as a real person, because they will become real once your product hits production.

The persona exercise is useful because it will get everyone focused on the end user, which is where your focus should be.

Once your understand your end user, you can then start to identify what buttons your can press during your pitches in order to get a reaction from them.

Selling you

The fact is, nobody is going to buy anything from you if they don’t like you. With that in mind, your first step should be to build a rapport from the very beginning.

This is particularly challenging these days, when video calls have largely replaced face-to-face meetings. In the past when I travelled more, I could break the ice by breaking bread, namely by socializing with my new friends. Sadly, Zoom and other tools are a poor substitute for this.

But there are some basic things you can do. While on video calls, always switch your camera on. Smile, make jokes, ask them how they are, or what they have planned for the weekend. Be genuine, your are trying to build real relationships based on trust, so your cannot have enough empathy here.

The aim is to get them to like you, and feel comfortable in your company. They should be happy to see you, because you make them feel good. Thank them when they help you, compliment them when they do something great, and follow through on any commitments you make to them, however small, to prove that they can trust you.

The best working relationships are based on both parties feeling like they are winning, always remember that.

Advocates and detractors

In your audience, there will typically be advocates, detractors, and a large majority who are neither.

It is your job to identify who is who, then amplify the advocates and neutralize the detractors. Sounds easy, right?

The good news is, identifying who is who is usually easy, as both advocates and detractors are vocal, and will reveal their positions pretty openly. In a funny way, I worry about these guys the least.

The silent majority worry me, because they can decide the outcome. You need to worry about these guys, in case they are listening to the detractors, instead of you. So you need to go after your detractors with no mercy.

You will need to neutralize your detractors as quickly as possible. Your detractors will only harm you if their credibility is greater than yours, so you need to undermine their credibility in kind, by pointing out the flaws in their arguments. Attack their ideas, not them as people, because if you make it personal you will only make yourself look bad, and rightly so.

Remain detached, display no emotion, just systematically dismantle their arguments against you in public. Your defensive arguments must be strong to be compelling, so be ready.

As for your advocates, no action is required here as they are already on your side. Simply ensure your give them the time and space to speak on your behalf.

Closing the deal

Your start-up pitch will resonate more when it confirms a bias that already exists in your audience. Nobody resists something they already believe in. Therefore, you need to find the right people with the right bias.

Converting someone to be a believer is much harder than pitching to someone who already believes. This is commonly referred to as “preaching to the converted”, and it will make closing the deal so much easier.

Find the right audience first, then sell to their bias.

Latter on in the sales cycle, closing the deal is all about trust. There is a big difference between someone listening to your pitch at the beginning, and signing a large purchase order at the end: they must trust you and your product offering enough to part with a large amount of money.

Confirmation bias will help them get over the line. Remember they are not just staking company funds on the purchase, but they are also staking their reputation on selecting you, as the vendor, to deliver on the company requirements.

All along in this process, it is your job, and indeed the whole team’s job, to ensure they feel that they have made the right decision. They must have no doubts. When there are doubts, closing the deal becomes next to impossible.

Wrap-up:

Lets recap what we have covered today:

  1. Firstly I discussed how pitching skills are applicable to many aspects of life, and not just direct sales engagements. However, weirdly we never receive any training on this important skill.
  2. I also covered the mistakes I made in the beginning of my career, when I tried to convince my fellow engineers to follow a certain direction, by pointing out everything they were doing wrong right now. In seems obvious in hindsight, but when I was nagging my colleagues, they have no reason to like me, and I was actually diminishing my influence with this negative behaviour rather than increasing it! Clearly this is not a good strategy.
  3. Selling ultimately means the selling of ideas: you need to have the idea crystal clear in your mind, and then have the communication skills to get that idea crystal clear in the minds of your audience, via your explanation.
  4. This is not easy, but I shared a few tips that I have learned over the years to help you. I would summarize these as keeping your presentation human-focused, telling a relatable story, and explaining the problem you are solving firstly before selling your solution.
  5. When selling a product, it will be much easier to sell a product that you actually believe in. Life is too short to spend time selling something that you don’t believe in, and furthermore it will impact you pitch as you won’t seem genuine.
  6. You should also learn the product inside out, from the frontend UX to the backend architecture. To be credible, you need to be an expert on your product.
  7. Your product must fit the market. If that need does not exist in the market yet, then you need to be able to create it, which is much harder.
  8. You need to think about the different types of people you are selling to, or personas, and map them out on a whiteboard with your team. You need to identify what attributes them have, and what makes them tick.
  9. The persona exercise is useful because it will get everyone focused on the end user, which is where your focus should be.
  10. Once your understand your end user, you can then start to identify what buttons you can press during your pitches in order to get the desired reaction from them.
  11. People buy from people they like, so you must build the friendship first.
  12. The best working relationships are based on both parties feeling like they are winning, always remember that.
  13. In each audience, typically there will be detractors and advocates, plus a neutral majority in the middle. You will need to neutralize the detractors in order to win the middle.
  14. Every audience has a bias. The secret to successful pitching is to find the right audience firstly, and then confirm a bias they already share. This approach will greatly reduce the amount of resistance you experience.
  15. Finally, your whole team must gain the trust of your customers, by building and maintaining trust throughout the process. They must feel like they made the right decision in choosing you.

I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I look forward to covering the next topic in this series with you! In the interim if you want to follow me online, you can find my blog at TechLeader.pro, or follow me on Twitter @TechLeaderPro.

Thanks for your time, take care and have a great week!