7 deadly excuses for an underwhelming business selling pitch

7 deadly excuses for an underwhelming business selling pitch
– by Matt English

“To be or not to be – that is the question” is that famous line from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It is surrounded by many deep meanings and perspectives. But at its core is the matter of stark choices and decisions. Which way will I turn? Which choice should I make?

Whilst perhaps less dramatic than in Hamlet, the business selling pitch is also about choices and decisions. The business selling pitch is far more art than science whether it be for choices and decisions regarding a new product, a contract renewal, a new services agreement or simply a new idea for investment. Those choices and decisions are occurring in a fast moving world which adds to their complexity.

The business selling pitch hinges around two key elements, namely the audience and the presentation. The interaction of these elements determines the extent to which value is delivered. In a previous blog, I described how a business presentation or pitch is frequently underestimated for its variability and what can go wrong.

Expanding this idea further, the diagram below shows various combinations of audience engagement and presentation quality, and how they impact value in different ways. The primary focus is on value, and how it can be comprised or lost in a business pitch.

Successfully blending these two elements is highly variable, and things do go wrong. But failure to be positioned in the top right quadrant above is all too common. Why is this so? To understand the pitfalls, it is worth considering some of the excuses we often hear when a pitch does not work as it should. There are seven deadly excuses to consider here.

Excuse # 1 “…but my value proposition was really good…”
Indeed, everyone considers their selling messages are winners, and their value propositions are crystal clear. But the question is why did the audience think they were less than compelling? All too frequently there is a misalignment of messages. This is where preparation becomes so important, and the keen understanding of how value will be seen and expressed in the eyes of the audience.

Excuse # 2 “…but I needed to show all that detail…”
An overload of data and detail is a doomed strategy in a business pitch. The key is to draw the implications or messages from the detail. This sounds simple, but it is amazing to see just how many business pitches are cloaked in detail that obscures the real message around value.

Excuse # 3 “…but the audience was different from what I expected…”
Welcome to the real world. Audience size and configuration are often major variables in a business pitch. Good presenters are agile enough to make the right changes to suit the audience.

Excuse # 4 “…but I should have had more time…”
Whenever I hear this, I think of the song by John Rowles “If I only had time”. The problem in a business pitch is that time is both friend and enemy. It is friend because it puts a natural boundary around the timing of the pitch and therefore provides an element of predictability. But sadly it is the enemy as well because the time can be truncated or other interruptions can occur which compromise the time available.

Excuse # 5 “…but the body language in the room looked so good…”
The body language in a room can be quite deceptive. Assessing how an audience is really feeling can be tough, but a higher level of engagement by using questions or discussion can usually help in this regard. Remember the quote from management guru Peter Drucker “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said”.

Excuse # 6 “…but I was competing with two hot presentations before me…”
While pitches are often part of a so-called beauty parade, it is your own pitch that must be the major focus. In one sense, this is a bit like a game of golf in that the golfers must focus and deliver on their own game. Of course, competitors cannot be ignored, but keeping the focus on one’s own game is crucial to delivering the right value messages.

Excuse # 7 “…but the audience was distracted by other issues…”
If the pitch is not compelling, the audience will be easily distracted. In fact, an audience that is easily distracted during a pitch can often be a pointer to the effectiveness or value of the pitch itself.

So as in Hamlet, the business selling pitch confronts real choices and decisions. How we execute on these is the key question. Dale Carnegie summed it up well when he said “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”


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