What is selling?
Selling is the act of trying to persuade someone to think your way. If you have a spouse, you sold yourself to him or her when you persuaded him or her to accept your invitation to a first date. If you have children, you already know how they try to persuade you and your spouse to decide on things for their benefit. Ever try to take a young child to a supermarket?
In the many years that I’ve worked in business, advertising, and sales, I have seen the countless hours spent creating an offer for a potential client get ultimately wasted by a weak presentation effort or sales pitch. If you have only 15 minutes to convince someone that your idea or your plan is worth their time, money, and attention, then you should invest the time necessary in preparing and practicing your sales pitch.
In an educational context as it relates to educators or researchers, selling is an essential tool in order to convince others that your ideas are worth considering. In the education sector, your big, new idea may be a new course you’d like to start up, a project application, a research proposal or lobbying for funding and recognition. Here, the best chance for success comes from advance preparation. Here, the educator must think like a sales professional.
In my opinion, simplicity is the key.
The Sales Pitch: Simplicity is king
You have probably heard of an elevator speech. If you have only 2 minutes to tell someone what is it you do for a living and why you are passionate about what you do, what do you tell and what do you cut out? You can’t begin with “I was born in this city, I went to that school, and I worked at these places”. No matter how interesting your life may be, this approach would bore the other person to tears or worse, they will get off the elevator quickly. You have to simplify your message to get to the meat of the topic.
For example, let’s say you have spent the last couple of weeks working on a proposal of which you are passionate about. You need to get someone to sponsor your solution, or buy into your idea so that you can start the project. In your proposal you have all the details with facts and research to back them up. You state the problem, offer a solution, outline implementation, propose who would take ownership and be the ambassador of the solution (hopefully you!), recommend a timetable for completion, and you explain what results would be expected and what is needed from your institution in order to support your endeavor and get started.
When it comes time for your sales pitch, you have a limited amount of time to give your presentation and close the deal. In this case, closing the deal means helping your audience come to a decision such as yes, no, or maybe so. You cannot just cut and paste your proposal onto 75 PowerPoint slides and read them off one by one in hopes that the depth of information and your knowledgeable prowess would be enough for the audience. Oh no! Please don’t do that. Simplify it all!
I recommend considering these steps when preparing your sales pitch.
Step 1: Define your goal
How do you want your audience to feel? What do you want them to do? This is your objective. What decision do you want your audience to make? You should always have this goal in mind. Getting to yes is a priority. I want Mr. or Mrs. Boss to say, “Yes, let’s do it!”
Example goal: If my sales pitch is about asking my son for a loan of 10€ so I can buy lunch tomorrow because I don’t have time to run to the ATM machine, then I can define my goal as: I want my son to feel that loaning 10€ to me is a good investment.
Step 2: Make a statement
Once you define your objective, you must get to that objective by clarifying a thesis statement that will be presented at the end of the introduction to your sales pitch. This strong statement should list briefly your 3 supporting points as to why your solution should be considered. This outline is your main structure of the body of your sales pitch.
Example thesis statement: I would like you to loan me €10 now so that I can buy lunch tomorrow for these three reasons: (1) there is a profit motive for you, (2) there is a partnership opportunity for you, and (3) there are consequences of inaction that I will outline.
Step 3: Declare your supporting points
If you have 3 reasons why your solution is the best option, then you can list those in your introduction. The body of your sales pitch will then follow each point one by one with further explanation, more details, and possibly examples. This is a structure that is easy to follow. Points that can be followed by the count of fingers on one hand.
Example supporting points:
Reason #1: If you loan me €10 today, I can pay you €12 after two days. You would be making a margin on what you let me borrow and I would be happy to pay in exchange for this convenience. There is a profit motive for you!
Reason #2: If we become loan partners, I will also loan money to you whenever you have the need, within reason of course. This will keep you from having to ask your mother. Partnership motive, conflict avoidance.
Reason #3: If you don’t let me borrow €10, then I won’t be able to have lunch tomorrow and after work I may feel quite tired and perhaps not be so receptive to your requests over the next few days to watch your favorite TV show, or to play your favorite video game, or to give you permission this weekend to do something with your friends. There are consequences to inaction.
Step 4: Build your introduction
Now that you have your goal, your thesis statement, and your three supporting points, you have all the pieces for a very strong sales pitch. Work on your introduction next. Your introduction should be clear, well-rehearsed, and memorable. You can start by outlining the problem and finish with your thesis statement that includes the supporting points that support your solution.
Step 5: Deliver a strong conclusion
Your conclusion will re-emphasize the need for your solution to the problem. You will touch upon each one of the supporting points one by one and finish with a call to action.
Example conclusion: In summary, I have explained to you what my problem is and how you can help me solve this problem. I have given you three strong reasons why it is in your best interest to consider my solution of you letting me borrow 10€. There is profit for you, a partnership opportunity for us and there are consequences if you indeed decline my proposal. Do we have a deal? Can you decide right now? If not, what would be the next steps you’d like to take?
Step 6: Call to action
Near the end of your conclusion, you must have a call to action. This means asking your audience to make a decision. Be open to answering any questions they may have. If you don’t know an answer to a question then say so. If they require more time to make a decision, then ask them for a deadline. You will have to seek any verbal or non-verbal cues from them to determine how far you want to push. If it is obvious they can’t make a decision today, then kindly ask if they have any further questions or simply thank them for their time.
Step 7: Practice your pitch
If you wait until the day before your presentation to work on your sales pitch, then you have already set yourself up for possible failure. It is essential to know your objective, your thesis statement and supporting arguments forwards and backwards in order to convey sincerity and conviction. Your aim is to persuade your audience to agree with you. This means you should practice your delivery many times beforehand. You are your own sales professional. You should practice your body language, your vocal variety, your tone and use of natural pauses. Give each audience member strong eye contact. Face them and do not stare at your presentation slides. No one wants to see your back.
Step 8: Presentation tools
If you have a PowerPoint presentation, then make each slide relevant. If your sales pitch will last 10-12 minutes, you may only require 6 or 7 slides in addition to your title slide. Keep your slides easy to read. Use graphs in order to simplify complicated information. If necessary, switch to a dark screen in between slides so that audience can focus on you and not on your slides when you tell them more details. For added affect, go to a dark screen and go straight to your conclusion and call to action so that the audience can see your face, your eyes and feel your passion about the topic. Use a remote control for changing slides if possible so that you don’t feel the urge to turn towards the screen every time a new slide comes up. You should already see them on your laptop in front of you.
In conclusion, a sales pitch can be a challenging experience for those not accustomed to sales or speaking in front of a group of people. That is why practice is necessary. You will not be an expert in giving sales pitches and presentations immediately. It takes repetition and witnessing professionals in action in order to improve oneself. If you consider the steps above in order to improve on what you are currently doing, then you already have succeeded.
Improving oneself can be one of the greatest challenges. There are several books on the topic and online videos regarding tips and best practices. (See my recommendations below.) Hunt them down. Don’t be afraid to try something new. There are also Toastmasters International clubs of public speaking located around the world. Seek one out and visit as a guest.
After all is said and done, practice as often as you can, take a deep breath and realize right before it is show time that you are there for a reason, you are there at the right time and the right place to make an impression and gain agreement. You see presentations and sales pitches around you in everyday life, now it is your chance to seize the moment and make things happen. Good luck.