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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

27. New Business Pitches and Product Presentations

Thou art not for the fashion of these times, Where none will sweat but for promotion.

óWilliam Shakespeare

The close. The courage to ask for the order. The client expects it. As George David Kieffer points out, "You can't fear the no, it's part of the asking." Not only will the impression you make be much worse if you never ask, you won't get a clear yes either.

The audience is never more crucial than in a new business or sales pitch. The more accurately you can determine the client's true needs, the more likely you are to make the sale.

One director of corporate communications who was interviewing Ready for Media for speech coaching confided that she looked like she was failing at her job because of the way her boss gave briefings or remarks. He was convinced that he was boring and had nothing to offer an audience. Instead of

giving her the days and weeks she needed to craft a good speech and himself the time to practice, he avoided it until the very last minute, then asked her to come up with something.

In the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy, he read her hastily written words and he was boring, with nothing much to offer an audience. Once we learned why we were important to her, we had a much better chance of selling her a contract with us.

Very often, however, potential clients tell you what they think they want in either a product or a service. They either aren't aware of what their true needs are or they feel too vulnerable to let you in on them.

In a technique called Need-Benefit Selling, you need to discover the real needs and answer them with benefits.

Begin with active listening by assigning emotions to the wants. For example, when someone gives me a laundry list of wants, I answer with one or more emotions, such as frustration, embarrassment, mistrust, and disappointment, that the client must experience to make him want to make changes. If I've guessed wrong, the client will quickly correct me and we will begin to define the needs that he is experiencing.

Benefits are applied features. For example, a feature of my communications service is videotape feedback with constructive critique. Applying this feature as a benefit to the client means that Ready for Media's video capability allows the client to experience his speaking as the audience does. So if the client needs assurance that he is coming across well, the benefit is seeing himself as others see him.

List the features of your product, service, or self and translate them into benefits for your customers.

After defining several needs, answered by benefits, the client should have enough ammunition to convince herself that her needs will be answered by your product or service.

When a client is not forthcoming about his wants or needs, a general benefit statement is called for. This is also known as

an "elevator pitch," because it should not take longer to present than it takes to go from the 25th floor, where you may get on the elevator with a potential new customer, to the lobby, where everyone gets off. For example, "Ready for Media is a communications coaching firm that lets you see yourself as your audiences see you, whether you are presenting yourself in person or through the media. We've been giving clients confidence in communication since 1981."

The most important thing in an elevator pitch is to translate the features into customer benefits. For example, where is the benefit to the potential client in learning that the home you wish to sell them has ocean views, four bedrooms, skylights, and a three-car garage? It's better to put them in the picture by suggesting that the ocean view will provide them an opportunity to watch dolphins at play; four bedrooms means a bedroom for each child and even a maid's room;skylights throughout for a light, airy atmosphere; and extra garage space for a tool bench.

Color your sales presentation with interesting anecdotes and word pictures that help your potential customers put themselves in the picture of using your product or service.

At a greenhouse nearby, my favorite gardener tells the story of the couple who bought a plant for their herb garden one day and came back the next day for three more, explaining that they had eaten the whole plant in the salad the night before. I imagine that he tells that story every time someone comes to buy fresh herb plants. And every time it sells a new customer on cinnamon basil!

To sell a gourmet cook on trading a beach house for her farmhouse in Tuscany one summer, she was tempted her with a true story. Cinnamon and sweet basil and other fresh herbs such as curly parsley, thyme, lots of rosemary, and even chocolate mint had been planted in the window boxes in her honor. Then she was asked for other special requests. Who could resist?

Instead of badgering prospects with what you have to sell, entice them with something they need and will want to buy. And make sure you really know why people buy what you are selling. Stock brokers don't sell stocks, they sell financial security. Doctors don't sell medicine, they sell the promise of good health. Ready for Media doesn't sell communications training, it sells confidence in communication.

Easy Does It

One of my favorite T-shirt slogans exclaims that life is short, eat dessert first. But another school of sales recommends saving the presentation dessert for last, until after you have interest, qualified the budget, and gotten the decision. Too many times a waiter's recitation of all the specials confuses the poor patrons and leads to a lot of repeating.

In Hollywood, waiting tables is the day job of many actors and actresses who are hip to the practice of reflecting the question, "What do you suggest? with "What do you like?" So, begin the interest phase with leading questions to let the prospect paint a picture of the needs and desires that match your product and service. We do this with leading questions such as: Which of your executives will be spokespeople? Do you have a public relations firm to get coverage for you once we help you refine and know how to deliver your messages? What media are you interested in appearing on and in?

Not until the presentation phase will we tell him that Ready for Media has coached corporate executives, celebrities, and sports stars for interviews on the Today Show, 60 Minutes, Nightline, Q VC, PC Week, Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Fortune, People Magazine, and numerous infomercials, Webcasts and satellite media tours.

During this creation phase, listen for details in her scenario that you don't provide, and deal with them gently but firmly to determine her qualifications as a buyer for your goods or services. If it's not on the menu and you can't find a suitable substitute, they won't be having dinner in your establishment. And what menu comes without prices?

So, find out the budget, in round numbers. I usually ask, "Are we talking thousands or tens of thousands?" Sometimes, I simply tell the prospect that our services include...and typically range in price from...and ask if it is in his budget. If not, and they have already created a word picture of exactly what they want, next year's budget is probably already in the works.

Too many clients have heard that, "the first person to mention the price, loses," so they often won't tell you what investment they are willing to make. A good friend of mine calls her wardrobe consultation "investment dressing," implying that every piece in the wardrobe is a contribution to the whole of being well dressed. I do the same.

I once had a Fortune 500 company executive tell me, "I have exactly $1,000 to spend." It wasn't much, but his candor saved us time and was so refreshing that it bought him the two hours he needed because we wanted his company on our client list.

The Decision-Maker

Far too often, we spend time saying all the right things to the wrong people. And nobody wants to admit that they don't have that power or authority. One of the best ways to weed out the influencer is to meet him or her in person. When you are making a new business pitch or introducing a product, see who the audience looks to as the opinion leader. It happened for us in Tokyo when the general manager took a liking to media coaching and his lieutenants were not far behind. When you successfully engage the opinion leader, you've probably engaged the group.

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