What is a Pitch?

I've been training in countries outside the U.S. recently, and have finally accepted a universal truth about sales people: you love to pitch.

For some reason, sellers continue to believe that knowing about a product solution - and all of the features, functions, and benefits it affords ? would lead a prospective buyer to change what they are doing, shift their status quo, place their usual habits in limbo, recognize that something they are doing is less than perfect, stretch their pocket books, and live on a sales person's time schedule.

SALES IS SALES IS SALES IS?..

No matter who is doing the selling, the patterns seem to be the same: whether it's a telemarketer earning $7.00 per hour, or a senior partner in a multinational consulting firm earning seven figures. Oh, there is a style difference, with consultants believing they are truly serving the customer, or only selling according to needs, and telemarketers trained to spout a script. But ? before you all get annoyed and defensive - let's look at the hard facts here. Here is what a 'sales call' looks like at the systems level:

* contact based on uncovering a need that the seller's product can alleviate;

* contact made with some form of demographic baseline that assumes the prospect would have a propensity to purchase;

* contact made for the purpose of introducing, or garnering interest in, the seller's product;

* contact leads up to a pitch (during this contact or subsequent contacts)that explains features, functions, and benefits;

* the baseline assumption that if the seller does a good job, the buyer will know they need the product;

* a close that rounds up the buyer's admitted needs or holes in their thinking, and proves why the seller's product would benefit the buyer;

* the belief that a good product, pitched or presented professionally to an appropriate buyer, should lead to a sale.

Note that all sales approaches ? from telemarketers to relationship managers to senior consultants ? contain the above characteristics. And if it were all true, you'd be closing a heckuva lot more sales than you are now.

So why aren't you closing all those people who seem to need your product? Why isn't your great pitch getting you the business you deserve? Why isn't your care/brains/Prada shoes/marketing/branding and knowledge of the prospect's business (not to mention that your brother-in-law knows the assistant to the CEO) getting buyers to recognize they need you? Or, to take it a step further, to choose you easily over the competition?

Because people don't decide based on information. Because having a need or an obvious problem doesn't lead to a purchase. Because an obvious problem is only a tip of the iceberg. Because the buyer's solution must contain all of the elements that created the problem. Because buyers must design their own solution. Because change and product purchase doesn't happen merely because there is a problem even if that problem is causing stress or costing money.

Buyers will buy only when they recognize, align, and manage all of the internal elements that need to be addressed that live with, created, and maintain the presenting problem. Not when they notice the identified problem ? which is only a part of the range of underlying issues that created the situation in the first place ? and not in the time frame you think they should solve it in. They will make a decision to fix or shift the problem in some way only when they make sure that a solution will not involve unmanageable disruption.

WHAT DO WE GET FROM SLOGGING PRODUCT INFORMATION?

When you pitch product, you have no idea how the buyer will perceive your pitch ? even if they think they need the product and even when the problem and solution are obvious. Just about the only buyer who approaches a seller to seek specific information and is ready to buy at the point of pitch is a retail buyer who has studied his options, knows the brand, price, and store, and is ready to buy. And that person doesn't even need a pitch by that time.

In fact, a prospect with a problem ? even a recognized one ? is not necessarily a candidate for your product even if you understand their needs, even if they understand their needs and they need your product, and even if you have a good relationship with them. And, knowing the buyer's pain and the decision makers still doesn't mitigate the basic problem: the buying environment is a complex system that can only be managed from within.

People do NOT change, or decide, based on information unless they have already figured out how to manage their internal criteria. Buying something new represents change. And the larger the item, the more complex the buying environment, the more internal change it will create when purchased.

Indeed, you've used 'pitch' as a way to sell only because you've not known how to manage the environment the buyer lives within ? that place they go after you've first approached them and believe they need your product. So you remain on the outside looking in ? even when you're convinced that you know what's going on within the buyer's environment, and have done all your homework: it's impossible to know all of the elements and politics and relationships involved ? and attempt to effect change externally by thinking you understand their needs and offering your considered opinion along with data about a potential solution.

But what do you get when you pitch? The following responses are typical for a buyer: agreement, confusion, doubt, reaction, or mistrust. When you pitch information ? even relevant information about an appropriate solution ? buyers don't know what to do with it.

You've even seen it all yourself hundreds of times: a great pitch gets ignored or given short shrift, and you never find out why they didn't buy.

I can't say this enough: information does not teach buyers how to make a purchasing decision. Your wonderful product is not the reason buyers buy. They buy merely to solve a business problem, and only then, when their entire internal system is aligned behind any change that results from solving the presenting problem.

THE BUYER IS IN CONTROL

For those of you who have read this from me a dozen times before, I'm afraid you're going to have to bear with me one more time: buyers have several layers they must manage before knowing what to do with your product data. Are prospects really missing something that they can't solve themselves? Are you offering information that would make them think about simpler solutions they already have on hand? Can their business partners fix it? Do they have to fix it now? Who must they bring in to the equation in order to ensure the appropriate people and elements get included in the solution? What are the politics they need to play internally ? the people, the rules, the relationships? What were the forces at play that helped create the problem that need to be managed before a solution sits comfortably within the system?

Indeed, you don't know where your information is going or how it's being heard when you give a pitch. Actually, sin! ce the listener of a communication is the one in control, the more you offer product data, the more out of control you are. Note how many centuries sellers have had to manage objections. [I believe an objection is nothing more than a prospect deflecting a seller's need to push data with the expectation that the prospect is supposed to do something with it.] And how many centuries sellers have closed only a fraction of the situations in which buyers actually really need the product. Or how long it takes for prospects to decide when it's costing them money every moment they don't.

The most interesting part of this is that the model of sales is not built to support the buyer's environment, since all of sales (sorry folks ? even those of you who think you're really doing consultative sales) is based on an outside force (seller, product, solution) trying to get into an existing, closed, system.

Why not base your sales skills on supporting buyers in recognizing their complex buying criteria? Why not offer buyers the skills to leverage the full range of their internal elements that created and maintain the problem? And, it's not you who needs to comprehend the fact pattern - it's the buyer.

Instead of using a pitch or your product as a sales tool, why not use your experience as a seller and your understanding of your product environment to lead buyers through and around the variables they need to manage? Buying Facilitation can give you the skills to do that for your clients. That way you can do your real job: supporting the decision-making process that will teach your buyers how to design a comprehensive solution. And then you can pitch.

Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of New York Times bestseller Selling with Integrity. She is the visionary and thought leader behind a wholly original sales model based on the systems of how people change and decide. She has taught this system to 13,000 people in the fields of sales, customer service, negotiating, coaching, and change management. Sharon Drew is a keynote speaker and decision strategist, helping companies change their internal practices to embrace collaborative decision making, ethics, values, and integrity. She can be reached at 512-457-0246 and http://www.sharondrewmorgen.com and http://www.newsalesparadigm.com

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