How to Lose a Sales Pitch

I happen to go to different meetings, where I have to represent my company, to promote and finally sell training & consulting services. And, at least at the beginning of my activity as a consultant, I did not receive a lot of calls from big companies asking for offers. So, when such an event took place, I used all the necessary props in preparing the meetings, imagining different scenarios and finding out relevant things about my client.

But I’m not going to write about that. It’s not one of those How to… articles. This is one about How not to…. So I chose to tell you about what it takes to lose a sales pitch. Fortunately, nowadays I do not have such experiences anymore.

1. Have a bad hair day

I once had the chance to meet a training manager from an important banking company. We were going to talk about a Business Etiquette training program, meant for all their staff working in front office. Obviously, among other themes, during the training we were supposed to speak about dress codes and the power of the first impression, and I was the designated trainer for that part. Obviously, I was supposed to be an example for all attendees. Without a doubt, during the training my look would have been impeccable.

But how did I look on the day of that meeting, when I needed to convince my client that I was the best choice? Well, I had braided hair and it would have been OK if the wind hadn’t messed every strand. I looked more like Tina Turner than Sarah Palin.

Lesson learnt: when you really want to be persuasive, you have to walk the talk.

2. Be totally unprepared

At another meeting at the beginning of my consulting career, this time with an HR Manager, although I had prepared really good arguments, I was totally unprepared. I was presenting our very fine and interesting services and I was talking about the experience and the quality of our freelance trainers and consultants. I felt I really had a shot. I continued my pleading about the diversity of the projects we could implement, without knowing every little detail about them.

So, when a series of well targeted and overwhelming questions were asked by my client, I felt like I was on a very weird version of the Weakest Link TV show. And I was, well… the biggest loser.

Lesson learnt: when you are not well prepared, bring reinforcements.

3. Offer exactly the same thing as your competitors

I still remeber a meeting with another HR Manager from an important construction company. It all went very well, I was very confident, I had met that person at other events and I even managed to flatter her at the beginning of the conversation. We chatted for a few minutes and then it was my turn to convince her. I gave her details about what we knew best, how creative we are and how we deliver results. And then she asked: How do you top the offer of other training companies?

Flashback: I was on the Weakest Link again.

I mumbled something about the quality, about the prices, about our people… The others offer the same things. How are you different?. And then I froze for an instant; I managed to ask some questions and to find out more about what they wanted (considering that I should have created a need) and came out a bit confuse and rather humiliated.

Lesson learnt: create, sell or promote only products and services with real added value for your customers. Be different  and enhance your uniqueness.

And if you need a little help in creating your own pitch (maybe for an interview), Harvard Business School has created a very smart tool : Elevator Pitch Builder.

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