How to Craft a Better Pitch

If you’re in business, you’re in the pitch business. You have a product and/or service that you’re offering that you want someone else to purchase. In order to communicate that to potential customers/clients, you have to make a pitch.

But beyond the typical pitch, there are classic pitch moments when you need to have a great pitch. For example, when you’re pitching an idea before a group of potential VCs or angel investors. Or when you’re pitching in front of a group of bankers for a loan or line of credit. Or when you’re pitching your business in front of a group of other business owners or potential B2B clients/customers.

In those moments, you have to have a great pitch because an average pitch just won’t do. So, how do you go about crafting a great pitch?

1. Know Your Audience Inside Out

The biggest pitch mistake I see over and over again is the business owner or entrepreneur pitching from their perspective, irrespective of their audience. “We are Acme, Inc. We make ABC, that does XYZ. We’ve been in business for X number of years. We have X degrees and Y experience. We’ve helped DEF and GHI …” Blah, blah, blah. It’s all about them.

But effective communication always begins with knowing your audience. In fact, I was at an event recently where we were getting ready to coach some entrepreneurs for a pitch contest and one of my first questions was, “Who are the judges?” Why? Because the who always determines the what.

There is no one perfect pitch that fits all people for all time. Every pitch has to be adjusted for the group of people who will be present. The more you know your audience, the better your pitch will be.

So, what kinds of questions should you be asking yourself and them? Note: All of these won’t be appropriate for every audience.

  • Who will I be pitching to?
  • What are their needs and wants related to this?
  • What are their problems and obstacles?
  • What are their fears and frustrations?
  • What are their major concerns related to this?
  • What are their professional backgrounds?
  • What are their personality types?
  • What are their pet issues?
  • What don’t they like?
  • How much do they know about this subject?
  • What businesses are they in?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What will reduce their fears/concerns?
  • What are their educational backgrounds?

The more you know, the better your pitch will be. For example, if you know you’re pitching and there’s an IP (intellectual property) attorney on the panel, you know you better address the patent issue during your presentation. If there’s not, you could address it during the Q&A time, if the subject comes up.

If you’re pitching to a VC, then you want to focus on the scalability and upside potential of your product or service. On the other hand, if you’re pitching to a banker, you want to focus more on reducing perceived risk than on upside potential. Why? Because most bankers have no real incentives related to your success (other than possibly doing more deals). As long as you pay back your loan, they’re happy. But they do have a serious disincentive related to you defaulting on your loan.

Remember, the who always determines the what!

2. Be Absolutely Clear on What You’re Going to Ask For

It’s unbelievably amazing to me, but frequently people will construct 20, 30, 45 and even 60 minute pitches and still not be clear on what the outcome is that they want. That makes no sense to me. The point of a pitch is to make an ask.

And when you make an ask, it needs to be specific. For example, a bad ask is, “We’d like some money to fund an expansion to the midwest.” Well what exactly is, “Some money?” Do you need $10,000, $100,000, $500,000, a $1,000,000 or …? Technically, one dollar is “more money.”

So, if you’re going to make a pitch, make sure you ask specifically for what you want.

  • We want $250,000 in exchange for 20% equity
  • We want a $500,000 line of credit
  • We want $50,000 to fund new product development for XYZ
  • We want you to sign up for a three-year project for $XXX
  • We want you to join our team as our _______ starting no later than the 15th of next month.

Great pitches are always clear on what the exact desired outcome is.

3. Throw Out Anything That Doesn’t Move Your Audience From X1 to X2

One of the other classic mistakes people make in pitching (or any form of communication/speaking) is that they like to throw in extraneous material that doesn’t really move the listener from X1 (which is where your audience is starting out–our point one above) to X2 (which is what you want your listeners to do in response to what you’ve just said–our point two above).

When I train speakers I always tell them that the best speakers think like a lawyer presenting a case. They want to take their audience on a journey from where they are (X1) to where they want them to be (X2), everything that doesn’t help move the person or people they’re trying to persuade to accept X2 should be thrown out and saved for another day.

For example, let’s say you’re a scientist and you’ve created a new pill that can help people lose weight without changing their diet. As a scientist, you love the science. You love how you came up with the idea. You love the process of creating and testing your hypothesis. You love data that confirmed and data that didn’t confirm your hypothesis. This is all fascinating to you.

However, if you’re pitching a group of angel investors, as hard as it may be to believe, they really don’t care about the science (though some may). What they care about is the potential upside to their investment. They care about the numbers. They care about the market. They care about the defensibility of your intellectual property. They care about price points and margins, etc.

In other words, if you’re pitching business people who want to make money, don’t confuse them with science and recombinant peptide chains. If they ask, you can elaborate. But if they don’t, don’t talk about the science. Talk about the numbers. The science is simply getting in the way of your argument. It’s hindering your ability to move the people you’re trying to convince from X1 to X2.

4. Be a Master Story Teller

While we like to focus on our content, most listeners like to hear stories. While we like to say, “By using our Acme Widget, studies have shown that 90% of users will experience a 35% decrease in paper usage and a 18% increase in their productivity,” most listeners prefer to hear something like this.

“For example, two months ago, Joe Schmo, the COO at ABC company called us because they had no more room for file cabinets. They had more paper than they could handle. Paper was everywhere. Cabinets were everywhere. People were cramped next to each other because of all the paper and filing cabinets. Even worse, because of the amount of paper and file cabinets, most of their admins couldn’t find what they were looking for in a timely manner, which not only cost staff time and productivity, it also cost them lost jobs and reduced their customer service rating.

So, Joe asked us to come in and digitize all their content, create a new knowledge management system and put everything in the cloud so all their documents were available 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

It took our team four weeks to complete that whole process. But last week when I sat down to talk with Joe, he told me that over the past four weeks, their average customer service ratings have gone from 4.1 to 4.5, they were able to donate 128 file cabinets to nine different local charities, which also allowed them to rearrange some work space and create 10 new offices. And while it’s too soon to get any data on staff productivity, the anecdotal stories Joe’s been hearing about how much faster his people are able to find what they’re looking for have been overwhelmingly positive.”

In other words, whenever you can “show” someone what you want to “tell” them, opt for showing them what you’re talking about because everyone loves a story! If you make sure you have at least one story for every major point you’re trying to make, you’ll be a far better pitch person than most.

5. Help Your Listeners Imagine a Better Future

One of the things that differentiates average communicators from great ones, is that the great ones help other people see a better future. In other words, they’re master vision casters.

In the classic Steve Jobs pitch to John Scully back in the 1980’s (when he wanted Scully to leave Pepsico and come work at Apple), what did he say? Did he say, ” Come to Apple and make some good money?” No. He cast vision. He said, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling colored sugar-water? Or do you want to change the world?”

If you struggle with this whole concept of vision casting, one key word that you’ll want to master using is the one word, “Imagine.”

For example, if you’re pitching a new product for elementary school teachers to some investors, you might want to say (at some point in the presentation, typically toward the end),

“Just imagine what it will be like when you walk into your child or grandchild’s classroom and you see a teacher smiling because she’s using XYZ product. Or imagine with me what the workforce in our community will be like five or ten years from now because we were able to get this product out of beta and into the hands of every teacher in our county so that they could devote more time to teaching their students rather than spending their time on a computer entering data.

Or imagine with me what it will look like five years from now when our school test scores go up and we’re able to attract better talent to move to our community. Just imagine what could happen if every teacher had this product in their classroom. And while everyone around our community will benefit from that, imagine how proud you’ll feel knowing that you played a part in making that happen because you were an early stage investor in this product …”

Remember, most people make decisions based on emotion and then try to justify their decisions with facts. If you don’t tell stories and  cast vision that connects with them emotionally, you’ll hinder the effectiveness of every pitch.

However, if you become a master caster and help the people listening to your pitch imagine what the future could look like if they do what you’re asking them to do, then you’ll radically ratchet up the results you’re getting from your pitches.

So, if you want to craft a better pitch, I’d highly encourage you to follow these five guidelines.

1. Know Your Audience Inside Out
2. Be Absolutely Clear on What You’re Going to Ask For
3. Throw Out Anything That Doesn’t Move Your Audience From X1 to X2
4. Be a Master Story Teller
5. Help Your Listeners Imagine a Better Future

If you do, you’ll be amazed at the results. In fact, you just might end up being pitch perfect!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some additional ideas on how to craft a better pitch, make sure you add them below in the comments section (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed).

Flickr photo from DemoConference

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