Pitching to Win – Research and Insights

Pitching to Win – Research and Insights

Freya Owen

Freya Owen

Research Consultant

Andy Patterson

Andy Patterson

Partner and Head of Research

The power of an effective in-person pitch is immense. A charismatic salesperson who uses persuasive language and exhibits expansive body language is captivating. In this article, we start by revisiting tried and tested methods for persuasive and effective pitching.

But what ultimately leads to a winning pitch? We believe the differentiating factor between a good and great sales pitch is the ability to connect with the customer. To be human. To build trust and rapport and to exhibit emotional intelligence such that the customer feels valued, understood and persuaded to make a purchasing decision. In this article, we explore why harnessing this human aspect of sales is crucial for success.

Finally, we look at how the sales landscape is changing. Information overload, the growing presence and influence of artificial intelligence and the rise of omnichannel pitching 1 mean the road to a successful pitch is increasingly complex. In this article, we consider the implications of these changes for salespeople seeking success.

Delivering a Winning Pitch

The key to successful in-person pitching continues to rest on three things:

1. Persuasion

Using the following techniques can create a persuasive message which is significantly more effective than stand-alone facts and figures:

  • Scarcity and urgency: create a sense of limited availability or time pressure to increase the perceived value or attractiveness of an option.
    • For example, offering a limited-time discount or bonus
  • Framing and anchoring: present or compare options in a meaningful way to influence how people perceive and evaluate information, options and outcomes.
    • Framing is the way you present information to emphasise its benefits. Such as framing your product as a solution to a specific problem that your prospect is facing.
    • Anchoring is the tendency to rely on the first piece of information as a reference point for subsequent judgments. For example you could set a high initial price for your product, which would make your prospect more likely to accept a lower price later on, or to perceive your product as more valuable.
  • Social proof: present a decision as one taken by others. This can be leveraged in persuasive language by incorporating testimonials, case studies, or highlighting the popularity of a product or service.
  • Reciprocity: tap into the human tendency to feel obliged or inclined to return a favour or gesture. For example, an effective sales technique might be to offer free samples, discounts or rewards, due to these gestures triggering reciprocity and encouraging the customer to return the ‘favour’.
  • Loss aversion: pitch an opportunity as loss-avoiding as an effective tool that taps into the human preference to avoid losses over acquiring gains.
    • People are twice as likely to be upset over losing something they already “own” than the pleasure they gain from getting something new.
    • Show the prospect how much money or time they are losing by sticking with their current situation and how your solution can help them avoid or reduce those losses.
  • Emotion: utilise emotional appeals, such as using positive language to evoke happiness or negative language to elicit fear, to significantly impact the persuasive power of a message.

2. Delivery

Not only does the language used in a pitch matter but, importantly, delivery excellence requires consideration of body language, facial expressions, presence and more:

  • Body language makes up for more than half of how other people perceive our presence. 2 And, our body language is even more powerful through its ability to change our minds and in-turn, our behaviour. For example, assuming a powerful pose before giving a presentation can increase confidence and thus performance.
  • Non-verbal communication cues, the way you listen, look, move and react, signal to the person with which you are communicating whether you care, you’re being truthful and how well you’re listening.3
  • Facial expressions are particularly important; some interesting recent research found positive associations between the facial expressions of CEOs and company profits, even after controlling for age, affect and attractiveness.4
  • Presence when giving a pitch is crucial. Connecting to the audience in a way that portrays full-attention without being overbearing is a careful balance. Patsy Rodenburg developed a concept known as the ‘circles of energy’ which explains how the optimal state is where the presenter is exchanging energy with the audience, without being overly introverted or extroverted. 5

3. Mindset

Finally, pitching must be approached with a growth mindset, motivated by a desire to learn and improve and to understand and manage own emotions as well as those of customers. This is two-fold: first, the ability to manage one’s own emotions when delivering a pitch and ensuring the right mindset ahead of pitching. Second, the ability to empathetically address the emotions of the customer, building rapport during the presentation and thus increasing their confidence in your ability to meet their needs and alleviate their concerns.

Firstly, it is essential to embrace the right mindset ahead of your pitch presentation by establishing a ritual that utilises your physiology and gets you into a relaxed and winning mentality.

This could include:

  • Movement, go for a walk or dance
  • Breathing techniques to help regulate your internal state
  • Practice your posture in front of a mirror, utilising a super hero pose to elevate confidence
  • Warming up your facial expressions

Secondly, a proven technique to help manage your emotions when faced with unexpected problems, is to seek out the positive in every situation.  As opposed to taking an ‘outside-in’ approach to determine your level of motivation, the key to staying motivated is to proactively decide, irrespective of what happens on the outside, that you will choose to feel good and resourceful on the inside. This is the ‘inside-out’ approach to motivation.

Rather than reacting emotionally to an obstacle, you can stay resourceful in difficult situations by using a simple process called E+R=O.

When confronted with a difficult external EVENT (E) it’s easy, in the heat of the moment, to take this personally, get defensive, lose control and then REACT (R) in a highly emotional way.  After such an outburst you’re left with a highly undesirable OUTCOME (O) where the problem remains unresolved, and you’ve damaged the relationship.

E+R=O Process

It is important to remember that you have zero control over the EVENT (E), so pause… Start with the OUTCOME (O) in mind and then ask yourself, what do you want to achieve in this situation and choose the most resourceful RESPONSE (R) to ensure you achieve your desired Outcome.

Customer Connection

The differentiating factor between a good and great sales pitch is the ability to connect with the customer – to build rapport and establish trust:
  • People are more inclined to buy from individuals or companies they perceive as trustworthy. 6
  • A recent study by Salesforce found that 79% of business buyers say it’s absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor.7
  • Harvard Business Review conducted a survey with over 1.5k managers and concluded that the key differentiator between a winning vs losing pitch, is chemistry – both as a pitching team and with the audience.8
Arcadia suggest three key methods for establishing trust and building rapport with a customer:
  1. Facetime: whilst data analytics and insights are important, it is the human touch that truly connects with clients and influences their decision-making process.9 Almost two-thirds of customers say they will only buy if they’ve met the sales representative in person at least once before, and over three-quarters say that face-to-face visits are sign of how much a supplier values a relationship.10
  2. Know your audience: it is critical to understand your audience. In today’s diverse workplace it is particularly important to appreciate cultural and generational differences, and to ensure pitches are tailored accordingly.
  3. Referrals: an effective mechanism for building rapport and establishing trust is through referrals – for example, 92% of respondents to a survey of over 28k consumers trusted referrals from people they knew (compared to e.g., 58% trust in branded websites).11Salespeople should not be hesitant to ask for referrals; evidence shows that such requests are seen as flattering by the client and actually strengthen relationships. 12

Changing Landscape

The road to a successful pitch is increasingly complex. The sales landscape is evolving, with:
  1. an increase in the number of channels through which a customer evaluates a potential supplier,
  2. the rise of artificial intelligence, and
  3. a new type of customer, who demands data-driven evidence and a longer sales cycle.

1. Omnichannel pitching

Gone are the days where a pitch is won solely face-to-face. According to McKinsey, a ‘rule of thirds’ has emerged where customers employ a roughly even mix of traditional face-to-face, remote (e.g. video conferencing and phone calls) and self-service (e.g., digital portals) at each stage of the sales process. In some instances, B2B customers are using up to 10 different channels to interact with suppliers.13

To support this shift to omnichannel selling and multi-experience buying, sales representatives need to effectively pitch in-person and virtually, and work with their wider organisation to ensure digital portals and the alike are attractive to buyers.

2. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI)  is changing the ways in which sales representatives are trained and prepare pitches. A survey of hundreds of sales leaders revealed that representatives using conversation intelligence and AI-powered conversation guidance are more satisfied with their coaching.14 AI can be used to practise pitches, receive instant feedback and ultimately improve pitch quality. For example, Showpad’s ‘PitchAI’ analyses a seller’s pitch and provides direct feedback on four pitch characteristics: speed, body language, silences and enthusiasm. 15 AI can also be used to craft outreach to clients and to develop the pitch itself.

To stay competitive, sales representatives must be trained on how best to utilise AI in pitch preparation.

3. New Type of Customer

Finally, salespeople face a new type of customer: generationally diverse, ever more sceptical and increasingly informed. Millennials are generally sceptical of sales representatives and show preference for data-backed evidence. Even in the face of data, millennials will often do their own research, possibly as a result of growing up in the era of information abundance and reduced trust.16 Regardless of generation, customers have access more data and information than ever before, which can be overwhelming. Customers spend 15% of the buying cycle time deconflicting information, making sense of data from different sources.17  And finally, today’s buying groups are diverse; it is no longer the case that winning over a senior decision maker will equate to a sale. According to a Gartner survey, 75% of customers agreed that their purchase involved people from a variety of roles and locations.

The key to success amid these new demands is to take time to understand your customer and ensure information consistency: those who report consistency are roughly 4.5x more likely to successfully sell. 18

Conclusions

In the face of a changing sales landscape, the in-person pitch is even more important. Customers are better informed, more sceptical and face increased choice. Salespeople need to crank up the dial on tried and tested delivery methods, tools to build trust and rapport with customers and, finally, upskilling on how to successfully pitch using a variety of channels. Arcadia’s  Pitching to WIN solutions provide a proven methodology and specialist consulting services to teams and leaders who wish to increase the win rates of their new business pitches, helping them develop strategies for differentiation and providing tangible outcomes. In conclusion: for every pitch, there’s only ever one winner, how will you differentiate yourself to win more business, faster?

References

McKinsey B2B Sales: Omnichannel everywhere, every time – December 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/growth-marketing-and-sales/our-insights/b2b-sales-omnichannel-everywhere-every-time

2Allan Pease (1991) – Body Language: how to read others’ thoughts by their gestures. https://www.academia.edu/22610347/Allan_Pease_Body_Language?auto=download

3Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson and Greg Boose – Noverbal Communication and Body Language. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm

4 Rule, N. O., & Ambady, N. (2008). The Face of Success: Inferences From Chief Executive Officers’ Appearance Predict Company Profits. Psychological Science, 19(2), 109–111. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02054.x

5 Patsy Rodenburg – https://patsyrodenburg.co.uk/courses/discovering/

6 Leveleleven – The Importance of Trust in Sales (August 2018). https://leveleleven.com/2018/08/importance-trust-sales/

7 Salesforce – State of the Connected Customer 5th edition. https://www.salesforce.com/content/dam/web/en_us/www/documents/research/salesforce-state-of-the-connected-customer-fifth-ed.pdf

8 Harvard Business Review. What Makes a Great Pitch (May 2020). https://hbr.org/2020/05/what-makes-a-great-pitch

9 Lance Tyson, The Human Sales Factor (2022).

10 McKinsey B2B Sales: Omnichannel everywhere, every time – December 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/growth-marketing-and-sales/our-insights/b2b-sales-omnichannel-everywhere-every-time

11 Nielsen – Consumer Trust in Online Social and Mobile Advertising Grows (April 2012) https://www.nielsen.com/insights/2012/consumer-trust-in-online-social-and-mobile-advertising-grows/

12 How to Close the Referral Gap, Daniel Decker Texas Tech Today, 2018. https://today.ttu.edu/posts/2018/05/close-referral-gap

13 McKinsey B2B Sales: Omnichannel everywhere, every time – December 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/growth-marketing-and-sales/our-insights/b2b-sales-omnichannel-everywhere-every-time

14 Revenue.io – 3 Key Findings From the 2021 State of Sales Coaching. https://www.revenue.io/blog/3-key-findings-from-the-2021-state-of-sales-coaching

15 Showpad – How AI can make sales pitches more effective (May 2023) https://www.showpad.com/blog/how-ai-can-make-sales-pitches-more-effective/

16 Gartner What Sales Should Know About B2B Buyers In 2019 – https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/what-sales-should-know-about-b2b-buyers-in-2019

17 The Future of Sales 2025: A Gartner Trend Insight Report. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/future-of-sales-2025-deliver-the-digital-options-b2b-buyers-demand

18 The Future of Sales 2025: A Gartner Trend Insight Report. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/future-of-sales-2025-deliver-the-digital-options-b2b-buyers-demand

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