You’ve been there before, whether it’s with a prospective employer, a potential client or a likely customer.
You’ve practiced your perfect presentation for hours. You’re certain you’ve researched the company, crafted the right messages and fine-tuned your delivery.
Full of confidence, you give your well-practiced spiel, nailing it exactly as you had hoped. But instead of wowing your audience, you get in return a sea of blank stares.
You did everything right, but still, you didn’t succeed. But why? Maybe they didn’t understand your message. Maybe they were distracted. Maybe it was just bad luck.
Or maybe you didn’t understand the importance of persuasive conversations.
Because the art of persuasion is so important to marketers, the American Marketing Association Chicago recently offered an online workshop with Steve Yastrow, best-selling author of Ditch the Pitch, who talked about the importance of tearing up your pitch and improving conversation that matters to the customer you are speaking with.
Yastrow wrote Ditch the Pitch and developed an accompanying online sales practice program after years of working in marketing as a former vice president of resort marketing for Hyatt Hotels and senior vice president of marketing at Sunterra Resorts and as the president of Chicago-based consulting firm, Yastrow & Company.
Yastrow said traditional pitches don’t work because most people don’t recognize the power of improvisation in sales, and they underestimate the importance of building relationships through conversations.
“I don’t know anyone who likes to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch,” Yastrow said. “You need to turn every presentation into a conversation that matters to your customer.”
The power of the persuasive conversation
The foundation of Ditch the Pitch and its online sales practice program rests upon six habits:
- Input Before Output
- Size Up the Scene
- Create a Series of Yeses
- Explore and Heighten
- Focus the Conversation on Your Customer
- Don’t Rush the Story
Developing fluency with the six Ditch the Pitch Habits liberates people from the need for a script when persuading their customers, Yastrow said.
“Preparation isn’t about creating a PowerPoint deck,” Yastrow said. “Preparation is about developing strong conversational habits, and then using those habits to create a conversation your customers cares about.”
Customers choose you over others when they think they will be better off if they work with you, Yastrow said. Your customers want to believe you understand their unique challenges.
But if you genuinely don’t know, but are only guessing, what potential clients’ exact problems and challenges are, your odds of success is far less than it’d be otherwise.
That’s why typical pitches don’t work, he said. If you don’t know what others want, then giving them a presentation – no matter how well crafted – won’t work.
But how do you know what your clients truly want before you walk into the room to present? You don’t. That’s the problem. But this is where one of Ditch the Pitch’s habit – input before output – becomes critical, he said.
Instead of launching into a sales pitch, rather engage customers and clients in conversations and delay presenting until you really know what they truly need and want. The point is to listen to the prospective clients and engage in meaningful conversations to find that information out before moving forward.
“You need to get them talking first,” Yastrow said. “You need to know what they want first.”
The art of improvisation in sales
Now that you know what your client wants, you can’t simply leave the meeting, craft the perfect pitch and return.
At this point, you must use what you already know with what you’ve just learned, Yastrow said. This is no easy trick. While some people are masters of thinking on their feet, most aren’t.
Yastrow said for this reason, marketers should invest in learning the skill of sales improvisation, which is another cornerstone of Ditch the Pitch.
Yastrow said improvisation isn’t about winging it. Rather, it’s a set of guiding principles and techniques that actors and comedians have studied, practiced and implemented.
Knowing the importance of this sales skill, Yastrow interviewed artists in Chicago’s improv scene for his book.
One of the people he interviewed was Mick Napier, founder and artistic director of The Annoyance, an improv comedy theater, who defines improvisation as the art of not knowing what you’re going to do or what you’re going to say next but being completely OK with that.
“Of course, you need to do your research before talking to a client,” Yastrow said. “But you need also to be alert and really listen to your customers to let them know we are both in this together.”
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