Are You Brave Enough to Stop Pitching and Start Selling?

There’s a brouhaha about traditional pitching practices causing consternation in the advertising industry. And there should be in other industries too.

Pitching is NOT Selling

See, most people equate pitching with selling, but everyone goes about it the wrong way.

In no other sales situation would you ever present a solution without first understanding the client’s problem, desired outcomes, and decision-making criteria, among other things.

It’s a tremendously costly variation on the very inexperienced salespeople role playing with me in a workshop and spewing out their sales ‘pitch’ with no regard for what I actually want to hear or achieve.

Or even worse, responding to an RFP. It’s a terrible feeling not being sure that you really, truly understand what the prospective customer wants and needs and then spending hours (days?) crafting a proposal that you send off into the ether, usually never to be heard of again.

Current Pitching Practices are Bad for Clients

Turns out major players in the advertising industry are finally taking a stand. ID Comms, in partnership with the 4A’s (an advertising industry association), released a study late in 2018 that conclusively showed advertisers (the CLIENTS) are not getting the best results from the current pitching process. Given the time and expense invested on both sides, this is nothing short of criminal. It’s time to improve the process.

Stop Pitching and Start Selling

So let’s go back to sales school. The basics that apply to any industry.

In a piece from June 2018 I wrote:

“Successful salespeople open the sales conversation by asking the prospect how things are going. Probing for pain points and areas of concern.

They continue asking questions, both to draw out the prospect and to clarify for understanding.

Only when the prospect has begun to articulate a possible solution to the problems that have been identified, maybe for the first time, only then does an experienced salesperson provide a ‘pitch’. But it isn’t a pre-prepared pitch; it’s tailored to the needs that the prospect has just identified.”

There’s a little more to it than that. Through simple conversations successful salespeople determine these factors:

  • What is the problem requiring immediate attention?

  • Are there any bigger scope issues?

  • What is currently being done to address the issue?

  • What is the client’s desired outcome?

  • How will the decision be made?

  • Who will be involved in the decision?

  • What is the timeframe for the decision?

  • Has a budget been established?

Most importantly, compelling questions are asked to really get at the heart of what the prospective client is trying to achieve.

A New Way

Why couldn’t the pitching process be inverted to work this way instead? Wouldn’t everyone get more of what they need from the whole experience?

I’m afraid it will be a bit like turning a container ship; changing something as entrenched as the existing pitch process will not be easy nor happen quickly.

Who Will be Brave Enough to Change?

Perhaps with the support of major industry associations like the 4As a few brave souls on the supplier side will publicly refuse to pitch this way. And perhaps a few enlightened buyers will recognize that the existing system isn’t working and be willing to adjust to a sales based approach instead.

Mike Weinberg, in his excellent book New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development proposed this as a way to take control of a creative pitch:

“We're thrilled to be considered as a potential new agency and business partner for your company, and we look forward to discovering if we are a good fit for each other. Here's how we like to work.

 We brought all kinds of goodies with us . . . Case studies, storyboards, comps, a few examples from our portfolio. We have a few slides outlining our philosophy and approach to helping clients grow business, and we have about a dozen client websites that we can pull up. Honestly, we probably have four hours of content we could share. So, in order for us to present the most relevant and valuable information to you, we'd like to take the first fifteen minutes to get a handle on why you invited us in and what you're facing in your business today - including threats, opportunities, shifts in the marketplace. And, if you're willing, we wouldn't mind hearing about your experience with the current or previous agency. We understand if you may not want to 'go there', but sometimes clients like to share on that point so we can incorporate the pieces you like and stay far away from those you don't.

 Then, based on what we hear, we will be able to spend the remaining time presenting our best and most appropriate stories, examples and methodology, and we can skip over areas that we don't think would interest you. So if that's ok, let's do this: I'm going to ask Stephanie, our CEO, to take just three minutes and share the highlights of our agency, why she started the company, and the reasons many of our clients selected us to help grow their business. Then we'll spend some time asking a few questions and hearing from your team so that we can decide, on the fly, what makes the most sense to present. We have found that our prospective clients appreciate this approach. Plus, it provides a little bonus entertainment as you get to watch us create the pitch in real time and argue among ourselves which are the most relevant stories and ideas to share.”

 Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if you could come to the ‘pitch’ already knowing the answers to what the client is expecting from the process and eventual outcome? Failing that, Mike provides a pretty strong template for how to pitch when you’re still in the dark.

Folks, it comes down to conversations. And asking the right questions.

Let’s do everyone a favor and make pitching more productive by making it more sales-like. Who’s going to be one of those brave souls to try it first?