Is there a formula for a successful sales pitch?
So many questions have been made. So many books have written. So many pieces of research have been done. All try to find a magic formula for effective communication and a successful sales pitch.
Communication is one of the most fundamental, complex and essential parts of everyday life. It’s the ability to communicate effectively that differentiates us from other creatures (Littlejohn & Foss 2008). Mastering the art of communication can give you a big advantage in many jobs, career prospects and other aspects of human life and sometimes make you world famous. Due to the great impact that communication has on our lives, it’s no wonder why this issue has gained so much attention from scholars.
A number of ‘recipes’ and ‘equations’ has been formed in order to help people improve their pitch. But is there really one? The communication process isn’t a static and simple thing. In contrast, it is too complex and variable to apply rigid formulas. However, the real impact of communication theories and models on improving sales pitches is not deniable in many circumstances. Therefore, besides studying formulas, it is always a can’t miss opportunity to hear some real experiences of making a successful sales pitch from practitioners in the field of client service providing.
Personally, I’m always curious about the effectiveness of sales pitch tips and formulas in real-life practice. And so in my quest for the truth, I met up Mr. Sang the other day to discuss this issue with him. Mr. Sang had a long time working experience as the Chief Liaison Officer for Celadon International – Vietnam’s leading international real estate development, marking and asset management group.
Talking with him was a memorable experience. He is knowledgeable and straightforward person. After knowing the focus of this interview, Mr. Sang went straight to the point.
“When we mention the word communication, it comes to my mind that we’re trying to deliver a message from one person to another,” he says. “So it is very important to make the message that we want to deliver clear and simple (Tran 2012).”
As quick as a flash, it reminded me about a recent school lesson. Around 2007, the two bothers Chip and Dan Health wrote a book called “Made to stick”. It is a 336 page book that can surprisingly be summarized in a single word “SUCCESS” (Kiviat 2006). These are the first letters of 6 principles of how to leave your client with your “sticky idea” stick beyond the presentation. They are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Story (Health & Health 2007).
Leaving me surprised by what he just said, Mr. Sang continued his turn, mentioning some other tips that he often uses while making a presentation.
“Begin your pitch with an ice breaking message,” Sang says. “You can tell a humorous story to attract people (Tran 2012).”
Finding two out of six principles of how to make your idea sticky in his words, I decided to bring the six principles of the Health brothers in the discussion. Although he has never heard the idea of “made to stick”, Mr. Sang agreed that the theory would probably work in reality. Then he added other practical tips that the “Made to stick” failed to mention.
“You should speak loudly, slowly and clearly with intonation. This is to make your pitch interesting and awake the client (Tran 2012),” he smiles.
“Besides evidence to support your idea, your appearance can make your pitch more credible,” he advises. “You need to dress formally, nicely and professionally so that people can trust you (Tran 2012).”
Communication isn’t simple as it seems on static paper. So many exciting stories and experiences that Mr. Sang have had throughout his life-time working period still linger in my memory. However, the strongest impression to me is nothing but the way he answers questions from clients.
Hearing his stories, I remembered another formula that aims to help people improve their pitch and communicate effectively, the T.R.I.U.M.P.H.S model. In terms of answering questions from the client, the model advises us that we should not think that we need to answer the question immediately (Singer n.d.). Instead, if the question is too difficult, we should ask the client to give us some time to research and address their question later. However, Mr. Sang says that sometimes we cannot answer a question not because of our lack of research, knowledge or professionalism but because of the sensitivity of the question. This is the kind of question that you cannot avoid.
“You should not answer the question directly all the time,” he says. “You have to know how to answer the question indirectly (Tran 2012).”
These words sounded vague and generic to me for awhile. Then everything is shed light on by his story.
A few years ago while Celadon was trying to develop its hotel in Hue, the company faced a shortage of workers with high expertise in the local area. Mr. Sang contacted his old employee who was working for Furama Resort in Da Nang at that time. After some negotiation and persuasion, five employees of Furama Resort decided to move and work for Celadon Hotel in Hue. Then, in a later conference, a representative of Hue Tourism Association asked Mr. Sang.
“Do you think that it’s wrong for a hotel service management company to steal employees from another hotel, making the labor market unbalanced? (Tran 2012)”
“That’s why we hope that the Hue Tourism Association will provide more job training for local people in Hue (Tran 2012),” to that question Sang calmly answers.
He also said that sometimes there is a hidden message in the client’s question; therefore, we need to realize and make it straight to the point or the client will continue to chase us with endless questions. His advice reminded me that sometimes in high-context cultures like Vietnam, people tend to read between the lines. Things are not always expressed straightforwardly. Communication would become more effective if we are able to spot the hidden message from clients.
Despite the fact that communication theories and models such as “Made to stick” and “T.R.I.U.M.P.HS” are useful tools for that can help people enhance their presentations. However, client managers need to know that these “recipes” cannot be effective in all circumstances due to the complexity of the communication process. Also they need to be aware of factors such as context, culture, and listener while practicing communication. Ultimately, the most valuable lessons about communication would not come from the text book but real-life and workplace experiences.
Health, C & Health, D 2007, Made to stick: why some ideas survive while others die, 1st edn, Random House, New York.
Kiviat, B 2006, ‘Change Agents: Are You Sticky’, 29 October, viewed 04 September 2012, Time Magazine Business, <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1552029-1,00.html>.
Littlejohn, SW & Foss, KA 2008, Theories of Human Communication, 9th edn, Thomson Higher Education, USA.
Singer, J n.d., ‘Consistently Outperform Your Sales Competitors’, Add Sales Triumphs Models to Your Selling Skill Repertoire, <http://www.businesslinknewspaper.com/publications/files/BLB-july10.pdf>.
Tran S, 2012, interview, 28 August.