Seema Menon: How to improve your success rate when pitching an idea

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In HR you’re constantly having to pitch ideas and win support and approval for changes you want to see in the business. Often you only get one chance to make a pitch to an internal client or key decision maker. (I’ve referred to them collectively as clients below).

Here are some steps I’ve found useful in pitching that I hope you’ll find helpful as you prepare for your next pitch.

Start with a dynamic change story

I recommended that you don’t open directly with your pitch. Begin with a ‘dynamic change story’ (DCS). It must be an attention grabber and alert the client that if these changes are not embraced sooner or later, the firm will suffer.

Like a movie, the DCS must have intrigue, buzz, excitement, relevance and a little fear (if change is not adopted). With their undivided attention it is time to pitch.

Move into the pitch

As you’ll know the projection bias is the human tendency to project current preferences onto future events. The idea of Dynamic Change Story is to create a projection bias within clients so that they’re hungry for your pitch and want to hear more.

Keep a clear focus

Most pitches inundate the client with a multiplicity of themes and ideas. It’s necessary to discipline oneself to pitch a single enticing idea. This single idea is not an experimentation, it must make a difference to the client and the pitcher must have this conviction.

Overcome bias

When two professionals meet there is often an attempt at conversational dominance, impressions are created and challenged, rapport is built (or not) – cognitive transactions are going on both explicitly and tacitly.

Clients try to categorise the pitcher, the pitcher’s department and services from the start. Human beings can categorise others in less than 150 milliseconds. Imagine how many ‘judgements’ they are making during a 10-minute pitch!

Clients generally have certain presuppositions and biases prior to the meeting; they come to the meeting to validate their biases and are busy acquiring proof. Your pitch needs to overcome this and make it so interesting that the client will consider the new idea, process and procedure that you are putting forward.

Build expectancy

The pitch has to create expectancy in the client about what will happen if they adopted your idea.

The pitch must answer the key question; why should the client adopt the idea suggested “NOW”? What difference it will make to them and the business, and why waiting would be a mistake.

Introduce the blackberg

When the Titanic was sunk by the iceberg it hit, it had a surface which reflected the water and dark night sky, like black ice on a wintry road. This is a “blackberg”. It’s possible that the crew were looking right at the iceberg but not seen anything unusual. Introduce the “blackberg” in your pitch.

The “blackberg” is the risk, the market disrupter, that everyone is missing. Now suggest how the business is going to suffer if they don’t accept this reality and make the relevant changes you are suggesting.

Involve the senses

Take your single idea and pitch it to the five senses of the client. This is a way to develop emotional engagement.

The senses can be addressed by your visual slides, your own auditory speaking power and use of anecdotes. If certain senses cannot be invoked easily build in examples that you can speak about it in a way that the client can visualise, hear, feel and even subliminally smell and taste it, if relevant (e.g. if you are talking about Vegan options in a staff restaurant).

Keep a forward momentum

It is important to maintain momentum throughout your pitch. If possible, leave questions to the end, but if this is not feasible then provide a quick explanatory answer and move on – you can come back to it for a fuller explanation later. Ensure you keep control of the pitch – and don’t let others side-track you. A good pitcher keeps retrieving the control despite the attempts, through questions, to alter its course.

Once the idea has been pitched, it needs to be emotionally enhanced to induce agreement or a movement forward to the next phase.

Ending the pitch

Urgency precipitates action. It is a sales conversion optimiser. Deadlines, milestone dates, create a sense of urgency. Using words that induce scarcity such as limited availability, a few left, clearance, are gimmicks that may work for small retail deals but when pitching for larger ideas these techniques are too obvious.

However, urgency is a persuader, so how do we create it? By getting the client excited and a little bit scared. Provide examples of competitors that are flourishing thanks to embracing your idea and that your business can gain these benefits as well. Also give examples of organisations that are suffering due to procrastination in this area.

Heighten emotions

People buy emotionally and justify rationally. The end of the pitch must not make the client logical or rational, on the contrary it must build the emotional intensity of the client.

I hope these tips will help you to sell in your next idea and many more in the future.

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About Seema Menon

Seema Menon is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. Seema has over 18 years diverse experience in the Television and Radio industry predominantly in Advertising Sales. She has dealt with pitching for deals throughout her sales career. She fluently sustains her vocational gusto volunteering with Toastmasters International. Public speaking stirred her attention a few years back and she has fervently revved up this passion as a keynote speaker at various events e.g. 10 Forum Sales Performance Accelerate 2018 in Warsaw-Poland, Sales Innovation Expo 2018 & 2019 at Excel-London.

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