The sales pitch is dead; here’s a new way to sell

, ,

What do you do with your ideas? How do you get them traction? It used to be you made a sales pitch – to venture capitalists, to customers, to your boss.

But today young people are deconstructing the sales pitch – paring it down to its core information and parodying the BS that surrounds it.

The nail in the coffin of spin might have been last Tuesday, when Google purchased You Tube, and the twentysomething founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, made a home video to announce one of the most significant corporate acquisitions of the year to consumers.

The video starts out with the two of them talking about the benefits to the consumer – lines that may or may not have been scripted and sound a lot like spin. But then Hurley says of YouTube and Google, “Two kings have gotten together.” He appears to realize he has lost himself in generic salespeak, and he laughs.

Then someone says, “Just keep going.”

So he does. He makes a Burger King joke.

Among young people, there is a general dislike for the classic idea of sales. “Our company is not a sales-based organization,” says Siamak Taghaddos of GotVMail, a virtual phone service for small business. “Not in
the typical sense. We educate people. I’m a firm believer in letting someone make their own decision.”

Sales spin only works if you have a monopoly on the real information. In an era where information rules and everyone can get it whenever they want, there are scant opportunities to credibly slant the truth. Instead, you
just have to put it out there and hope it works.

Spin doctors on sales teams are out, and authentic communication is in. This is why many companies do not have a sales button on their web site, but they do have a blog. The blog is a way of getting out information in an authentic, efficient way, which is the best path to acceptance.

The power of authenticity for the new generation cannot be overstated. Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Computer evangelist and founder of Garage Technology Ventures, is a notable voice of authenticity on his blog, Signal Without Noise.

Most people with Kawasaki’s experience rely on their authority — the power of their reputation — to push through their ideas. Kawasaki, however, is not afraid to rely on authenticity — a dedication to providing genuine and useful information that has value to his audience.

As a blogger he initiates conversations with his readers rather than issue one-way declarations. His daily posts reflect an understanding that his resume is not as important as the power of the information he provides right now. The tacit agreement is paying off: in the pool of millions of blogs, his is one of the 50 most popular.

So what do you do to both act on your idea, and then be able to convey it effectively, with authenticity? Here are six things to consider.

1. Jettison the stupid stuff.
“Ninety percent of selling an idea is having a good idea,” says Kawasaki. “People think that the difficulty is marketing and sales. But if you have a good idea then you can really screw up in marketing and sales” and still succeed. So stop focusing on how you are going to pitch, and come up with the ideas that pitch themselves by
virtue of their genius.

2. Become the anti-salesman and slip under the radar.
One of the common complaints young people have about working in big companies is that no one listens to their ideas. Outside a company, entrepreneurs have a good idea and move on it. But inside a company there are customs and guidelines for starting new products. Kawasaki says, “Being an entrepreneur and an ‘intrapraneur’ are more similar than different. The key for an intrapraneur is not trying to get permission.” He concedes that you
will have to step on peoples’ toes, but you should do it only after you have a version of the product ready to go.

3. Start a conversation instead of a canned speech.
People are looking for information and have little tolerance for fluff. So if you want someone to believe in what you’re doing, be a good on your feet. “It comes down to being able to handle questions quickly and well,” says
Brian Wiegand, CEO of Jellyfish, a shopping search engine.

Because the Internet turns the idea of authority on it’s head, people want to contribute to a good idea instead of being handed a good idea. So when you want your idea to have traction, “let people add their ideas to your
own so they like the idea more,” says Wiegand.

4. Find people who need you.
Kim Ricketts creates book events at corporations. Like most good ideas, bringing authors to companies fills a need – in this case to give employees the chance to hear new thinkers. Ricketts also fills a void for publishers, who are looking for new ways to sell books. Her events are a great example of how good ideas gain traction quickly, with little or no marketing, because they answer a customer’s problem.

5. Focus on the information.
Often, an in-person sales pitch to a young person is like an IM message blinking on-screen to a baby boomer: Unwanted interruption of information processing.

If you’ve been selling for decades, tone it down, because you sound desperate to a new generation, and also a little dishonest. If you really have a good product, the facts will speak for themselves.

And pay heed to people such as David Hauser, CTO of GotVMail: “I don’t want to be told what to buy. I can research online myself and make the decision on my own.”

6. Be your true self.
Taghaddos says you should worry as much about yourself as your product. “Be authentic: Lay a foundation for a company and yourself. If you are how you want people to perceive you, then people will like you and they’ll buy your product. They’ll do it without any pressure.”

20 replies
  1. CrankMama
    CrankMama says:

    Thanks for summarizing what to my mind has been various disparate new sales theories… I like the notion that this next generation is keyed into authenticity and real information rather than the schmooze. Gives me hope.


  2. Dave
    Dave says:

    A long time ago…in my marketing 101 class…the professor started off by telling us the difference between marketing and sales is that marketing determines what the needs of customers are and fulfills those needs, whereas sales, by itself, tells people what they need and coerces them into buying it with advertising.

    Unfortunately, in many people’s minds, marketing = sales and both are tainted. Especially in technology firms, marketing people are often viewed with suspicion, disdain, and skepticism by the developers working on the product. But all the authentic things described here are a part of a marketing strategy. In order to work, in order to be authentic, the solution/product/idea must solve a real consumer need; it is not good enough to just be a good/clever/innovative idea, developed in isolation from real users.

    The internet makes finding “like minds” much easier and empowers product developers with the means to collaborate from the beginning with people who need the product–bypassing traditional hierarchical market research methodologies with direct access to consumers…”How do you know something is a good idea? Because the potential customers are telling us what they want as we build it.”

  3. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Thanks for the comment, Dave.

    You give us a nice primer on marketing vs. sales, which is especially important to people in large-company environments.

    The last paragraph, on the other hand, seems like a good little recipe for today’s entrepreneurs.

  4. Max Leibman
    Max Leibman says:

    GREAT post! I especially love the list–I just wrapped up/am wrapping up my first real sales position. My stats weren’t always the best, but I consistently made my monthly sales goal for the entire year I was there (averaging 122%), something no one else in my city did.

    My secret? Kind of a mix of your numbers 2, 3, 5, 6–as often as possible, I would engage people in a conversation about what we loved about the product. It was always about what they needed–not “Something they didn’t know they needed,” but what they really needed, and as often as it could be about our shared enthusiasm (it helps that I really loved the product).

    Looking back, the great sales never felt like sales; they felt like connections, like two fans of a great product coming together to co-enthuse and share tips.

  5. Anton Chuvakin
    Anton Chuvakin says:

    He-he-he, off the mark :-)

    Spin is not dead; it is waaaay too tough to kill the beast. I think this blog post is one of the 80/20 ones. I.e. 80% wishful thinking and 20% reality.

  6. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Anton, thanks for the input. I’m not sure what I think about your comment. I think there might be some truth.

    The reason I love writing about the workplace is that the revolution going on right now — with work and life and authenticity and passion — is exciting, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. I find that I’m constantly balancing being a cheerleader and a reporter.

  7. Sheamus
    Sheamus says:

    Loved this post… Deconstructing the (now changed) ways of the past and helping to design and construct a (better) way of doing things in the new future that is now!

  8. Dan
    Dan says:

    Thank you, Penelope for opening up this discussion. Can you point any references to selling ideas to upper management?

    I examined the discussion here and absorbed material. It was new to me, but probably not
    what I am looking for…

    I do like your blog organization, where you list possibly related other blogs. Very nice.



    Hi, Dan. Here are a few blog posts I’ve written about managing up:

    — Penelope

  9. Therms
    Therms says:

    Well it all sounds fine and good, but I am not convinced. I think Machiavelli had it right all along: appearance is the only thing that matters.

    Maybe customers value authenticity, but a salesperson can take appropriate actions to appear authentic, even if he is not. A liar who seems authentic will win over an authentic person who seems like a liar.

  10. Gary
    Gary says:

    This is extremely helpful. As a sales professional who would be considered a betweener (34 years old), my sales approuch I realize is somewhere in the middle & breaking old habits are difficult, but nessasary…

  11. Nick Moreno
    Nick Moreno says:

    Today's world requires salespeople to achieve "expert status" if they expect to succeed. Prospects want advice from experts – not salespeople. The reps that evolve will succeed.
    Great article.

  12. Hilary
    Hilary says:

    Authenticity and capitalism don’t mix. So what if some sales guy authentically wants to make a buck off of me? People know you’re not “just starting a conversation” with them for your health. You’re doing it for money. It’s transparent. It’s phony. It’s the elephant in the room. Why beat around the bush? The sales mind-set (no matter how it’s manifested) continues to permeate American society. We exist in a flood of mediocrity because all we care about is schmoozing for money. It’s disgusting.

  13. Sales Training `
    Sales Training ` says:

    Enough With the Canned Pitches

    Do customers today really expect to be schmoozed by salespeople? How about in the course of this schmoozing, the salesperson will at least pretend to take an interest in them as individuals. They expect to be asked a few questions about their situation and their individual needs. Then the product presentation begins, perhaps with a demonstration, and guess what? The customer’s individual needs are forgotten as the demonstration turns into a canned sales pitch that addresses all the glories of the product with no regard to which features this person actually might care about. That’s like throwing darts in the dark, hoping something will hit the target.

    Schmoozer vs. Partner
    If you really want to distinguish yourself, here’s how: Conduct sales calls in which the focus on understanding customer needs never goes away. Act as if you’re a trusted partner.

    In any relationship, sales or otherwise, it’s not much of a meaningful relationship unless you take the time to fully understand your customer’s world even if the “customer” is your friend. And how can you fully understand without the use of the open-ended question? If you want to gain your customers’ loyalty and trust, behave like a business partner instead of an ordinary vendor. How would you feel about a “partner” whose concern for your actual needs suddenly evaporated while he gave you a canned product demonstration? If your focus on the customer’s needs comes and goes, you’re just another vendor, and the customer knows it. A partner is committed to the customer’s success. And that focus doesn’t waver.

  14. Rajesh
    Rajesh says:

    Sales pitch is not making word to word, but
    having bullet points and expressing them in
    your own words and language.

  15. Pixel
    Pixel says:

    The article is somewhat informative and entertaining but your bold and italic font style is too painful for my eyes to bear and i stopped reading halfway.

  16. Paul Boross
    Paul Boross says:

    I’n not sure that I agree with the definition of sales and marketing. I believe that marketing is to a generic audience, sales is to a specific person, both have the same intention, to encourage customers to buy.

    As for youngsters deconstructing the pitch – isn’t this just a sign of the age old practices of not being very experienced at something and mocking the establishment? And hiding your inexperience with parody or sarcasm? I think we only have to watch TV shows like The Apprentice to see what younger professionals think of pitching.

  17. Steve
    Steve says:

    I always like to ask the customer, “what are you looking for?”, or “is this something that can help you?” Of course, after I give the sales presentation in an informative type of format. Not like a salesperson looking to make a quick buck. If that fails then I ask the customer, “if this doesn’t meet your needs, can you tell me what you would like to see your ideal product have in order to make it functional for you?” Sometimes I will have something for them and sometimes I will not. If I don’t, then I am truthful and honest and let them know that I don’t have what they are looking for. Selling, as far as I’m concerned, is all about giving people what they want at an affordable price, and that’s different for everybody. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You can’t win them all. Just focus on being genuine and helping people get what they want. That’s it. It’s really that simple folks. Sure you will make friends along the way but not everyone is interested in being your friend and that’s OK too.

Comments are closed.