Give Your Employees Tools to Ditch the Pitch

Adapted from DITCH THE PITCH: The Art of Improvised Persuasion by Steve Yastrow (SelectBooks, January 2014).

Whether they are in sales, customer service, or any other customer-facing job, your employees must communicate with customers in a way that is relevant to each individual customer. The last thing you should do is give your employees a script or a pitch. Why? Because scripts and pitches feel disingenuous to customers. Instead, give your employees the tools to ditch the pitch.

Why Pitches Don’t Work

In both our business and social lives, we do not want to be assaulted by one-way communication. We want to be invited into two-way conversations where we can be heard and understood.

But a “pitch” is inherently a one-way process. You pitch something over the side of a boat into the sea. A pitcher pours water in one direction—out. To throw a baseball is to pitch. What happens when a baseball pitcher throws a ball directly at a batter? The batter usually ducks or jumps out of the way.

Let’s explore why people are so averse to hearing pitches.

Reason #1: Your customer doesn’t care about your story.

As Aristotle said, “The fool tells me his reasons. The wise man persuades me with my own.”

Why is this so true?

I’m sorry to be the one to deliver the bad news, but here’s the unadorned truth: Your customer doesn’t really care what you have to say about yourself or about what you are trying to sell. Your story is not that interesting to him. He cares much more about his own story. This fact is at the heart of why sales pitches don’t work.

Your customer spends a fraction of his time thinking about issues that are important to you, but he spends all his time living his own life. He only cares about your story to the extent that your story can impact his story. Consider these two approaches to a sales situation: “You like this car? Let me tell you about it,” vs. “You like this car? Tell me what you like about it.”

The greatest myth of marketing, sales, and persuasion is that other people want to hear our stories, and for this reason, companies spend billions of dollars “getting the word out” with marketing communications and dumping sales pitches on people in sales calls. The truth is, customers care about their own stories, and a pitch is, inherently, the story of the seller. What do you think is more likely to catch the attention of your customer, a story about you or a story about him?

Reason #2: If you are pitching, your customer will stop listening.

Because your customer cares so much more about his own story than he cares about your story, it is really difficult to hold his attention as you deliver your pitch. If you give a pitch, it’s highly likely that your customer will be distracted by thoughts of other things, everything from his next meeting to making sure he gets to his son’s little league game tonight.

Your customer has many important things to do today. If you deliver a pitch as a monologue, those more immediate concerns will lure his attention away from you.

Reason #3: Your customer wants to talk.

Specifically, your customer wants to talk about himself.

It is not enough to ask questions during your pitch or to leave moments in your pitch for your customer to talk. This won’t feel like talking; it will feel like answering. It is the difference between a conversation and an interview.

Most people love to talk. And, they are much more engaged in the moment when they are talking than when they are listening. Especially when they are talking about themselves.

Reason #4: It’s a one-in-a-million chance that your pre-scripted pitch is what this particular customer wants or needs.

If you throw a pre-scripted pitch at someone, the odds of that message being the right message for that customer, at that particular time, are very slim.

Every customer has slightly different characteristics, needs, and interests, all of which can vary at any moment. A sales pitch is relatively inflexible, and will not be able to adapt to what a customer will reveal during the course of an interaction. And, if a customer doesn’t know what he needs, a pitch doesn’t give him a chance to discover it.

Most successful selling and persuasion isn’t about convincing. It’s about diagnosing. If you are pitching, it is only a coincidence if the pitch you toss at your customer lands in the right place. Unlike a sales pitch, a good persuasive conversation helps you identify the details that make this customer unique. And it helps you diagnose your customer's interests, needs, and opportunities.

Reason #5: You make the customer do the work of attaching your features to his needs.

What you are offering may be exactly what your customer needs. But your customer has to see the connection between what you offer and what he needs. This isn’t so easy.

If you are throwing a pitch at your customer, explaining how wonderful you are, and how your products or ideas benefit him, you are leaving it to your customer to bridge the connection between his specific needs and your offering. That’s a lot of work, and he’s not necessarily capable of or inclined to do it. Your approach to persuasion has to help your customer identify this connection.

Pitches are not interesting to customers. They don’t hold customers’ attention. They are not persuasive. So what are we supposed to do? Stop selling and persuading? Of course not. We just have to stop making sales pitches and presentations. Instead, we must ditch the pitch and create persuasive conversations.

Adapted from DITCH THE PITCH: The Art of Improvised Persuasion by Steve Yastrow (SelectBooks, January 2014).

Steve Yastrow is president of Yastrow and Company, a consulting firm whose clients past and present include McDonald’s Corporation, The Tom Peters Company, Great Clips for Hair, and Cold Stone Creamery. His previous titles include “Brand Harmony: Achieving Dynamic Results by Orchestrating Your Customer’s Total Experience” (SelectBooks, 2003) and “We: The Ideal Customer Relationship” (SelectBooks, 2007).


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