Everything Follows the Pitch

If you asked me to point to the heart and soul of a startup company, I would not say it's the people, the culture, or even the product. I would say it's the pitch. The pitch is that one message that, when delivered, makes people say "wow, that's a great idea!". The pitch gets everyone in the room excited about getting on board with your product and your company. It's the inspiration that carries everyone along for the ride.

The pitch also determines whether or not the company's offer has any viability in the market. For this reason the pitch should always precede any other developments or decisions. Your pitch is your divining rod that helps you make decisions on where to go next. So working on the pitch should always be the first step toward introducing any new concept.

Pitch Early

Pitching early is about as close as you can come to having your own crystal ball to see into the future. Getting a customer to say "yes" today, even though the product may not exist yet, is as important as getting them to say "yes" when it's actually available. This process allows you to probe your customers' objections early and understand where the fatal flaws in the model or product offering exist. Better to find out now that customers aren't dying for your product than after you've mortgaged your house to finance your idea!

Pitch Everyone

For the pitch to work, you need to see how it resonates with all of the usual suspects - customers, investors, and employees, in just that order. Each of these constituents thinks about your pitch slightly differently and for good reasons. Customers are interested in how your service improves their life. Investors want to know that your idea can turn into a profitable enterprise. Employees want to know that selling your service will create a great (and steady) place for them to work.

The reaction of each member of this trifecta merits careful consideration. For example, if your customers love your product but investors don't see how you'll ever make money, you have a potential problem. You will need to successfully pitch all of these groups eventually, so pitching them effectively early on is critical toward refining your offering and insuring its later acceptance.

Build the product with the pitch in mind

Knowing the pitch allows you to make much better decisions when developing the product. If what you're building doesn't add to the pitch, think twice about adding it at all. In a startup environment you have limited resources, so you need to concentrate your time and effort on features that will lead directly to the customer's, investor's and employee's decision to say "yes". Your product should always be built with the pitch in mind.

Sculpt the pitch

French author and aircraft engineer Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Sculpting your pitch is no different. Keep paring your pitch down to just the most critical elements that make or break a customer's decision to buy. Anything else is just excess waiting to be scraped away, or worse yet, confuse the customer. Your pitch has become a masterpiece when it is as short and to the point as possible. The faster it hits home, the more powerful it will be.

Keep it flexible

A good pitch is like a chameleon ? it adapts and responds to a changing environment. You may find that what you once thought were the perfect selling points get morphed into a message that sounds quite different but is more effective. Don't sweat it. There's nothing wrong with changing the pitch over time as long as it continues to be more effective. There are no points won here for "getting it right the first time", but there are plenty to be lost for never fixing it. Some of the best pitch masters out there are not only great at speaking, they are great at listening to what customers say and modifying their pitch accordingly.

If they won't buy the pitch, they won't buy the product

It's rare that you will be present every time your customers are considering whether or not to buy your product. That said, if you can't convince someone to say "yes" while you are standing there giving your pitch in front of them, you can rest assured you're not likely to get a "yes" when you're away. A good pitch should be so tightly integrated with your offering that it's able to sell itself without coming from you. And it should be so infectious that customers can't help but sell it to their friends.

Remember - if you can't sell it, it doesn't really exist!

- Wil

Wil Schroter is a serial entrepreneur, author, and public speaker. Wil has been recognized as U.S. Small Business Person of the Year, twice as the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (1999 & 2004), and is a member of the Business First Top 40 under forty. Connect directly with Wil at [email protected]. Visit http://www.goBIGnetwork.com.

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