Ditch the pitch

Ditch the pitch

When I was younger we used to ‘pitch’ for business.  Skill was seen as the greatest number of words fired at a potential client in the shortest possible time. Sheer stamina was admired as proof of intellect, in spite of evidence from the racecourse that the fastest horse was usually the stupidest. Confirmation of the validity of this approach to selling was the vast quantity of beer a salesman had to consume to ‘whet his whistle’ before a marathon sell-in.

Amazingly, I still hear the word ‘pitch’ frequently. I still get salesman targeting me like a plump pheasant ready to be shot and cooked. I even see courses that promote speed-speaking, rather along the lines of the BBC who appear to measure success by word count not comprehension. Worst of all, I still get phone calls which start ‘And how are you today, Mr Bittleston?’  I don’t know the sequel to this threatening introduction because by then the phone is back on the hook. Or lying at my feet, a broken wreck.

A word of advice to all those who would sell in today’s competitive world: Ditch the pitch. This applies not only to conventional salespeople but to the finer selling situations like job interviews. How often have I heard a candidate post-job-interview crowing with success at how much s/he was able to tell the interviewer(s). ‘I fired my message at them, good and proper,’ I heard one person say recently, adding, ‘they were so impressed they didn’t even fire back.’ No, sonny, they didn’t fire back because they were saving their ammunition for someone worthwhile.

Men have long since known that to acquire the favours of a lady they don’t tell her how great they are. They tell her how great she is. Even that is a fairly amateur approach in a world where the secret of success is engagement. Trouble is, we all like to Trumpet (pun intended) our success, to let it be known how hard we have worked to get where we are, to make it clear that suffering to achieve is not the exclusive property of Ranuph Fiennes. In a competitive world if you don’t shout your wares, who will?

And that is where the key is. Shouting is not a good way to communicate. Go into any pub on a Friday night to observe the relaxing office workers starting their refreshing weekend and what do you find? A throng of noisy, deaf, exhausted middle-aged hooligans making the traditional cocktail party look like a church service during the sermon. I think most people understand this part. What some don’t understand is that shouting has little to do with noise and a lot to do with presence. A silent scream is as impactful as many decibels.

Top of the list of things to help you make selling successful once again is the Question. People love being asked their opinion about things. It doesn’t matter what, really. If I ask you what you think of the political future of the United Arab Emirates it is of little concern whether you even know who they are. Unless incredibly honest, you will have a view for sure. “This gaggle of Middle-Eastern Potentates with more money than sense,” you will begin – and from there you are off, as it were, to the races. I may leave and catch my train home. You will still be talking.

Of course, relevant questions rate even better. “Do you think we will all be blown to bits?” may be slightly aggressive. “How will you cope now the local post offices are to be closed?” is a sure conversation starter and may result in lifelong friendship, if not marriage. Questions about interests, opinions about the most hated group – currently politicians, practical advice concerning one’s future jobs, and, of course, the buzz of the moment, climate, are all good bases for a chat. Like Oscar Wilde, never let the facts get in the way of a good provocation.

My approach may be somewhat dilettante; my intention is dead serious. It reaches its climax in the job interview. For 30, 60 or 90 minutes your future is concentrated in the hands of one or more people who are bored with repetition, fed up with missing their dinner party, sick of CVs that owe more to their interest to creativity than to fact. Candidate after candidate has paraded before them, smile rehearsed, pitch polished, confidence confirmed. Who on earth is this?

Surprise, surprise, this is someone who is interested in your company. You know that because they start by asking you questions about it. They are polite but not egregious, smart but pleasantly so, above all, curious to learn about your amazing business and what they can do for it. They relate the outside world, about which they know as much as you, to the inside world about which you know more than they do. They make you feel you are a breath of fresh air – and so are they.

When your interviewers get that, they get you.

Why wouldn’t they?