"Aren't insurance companies and cabinet makers the same?"
When listening to any pitch, the first thing I listen for is relevancy. Are you making apples to apples comparisons, or are your comparisons completely irrelevant?
As a financial service marketer, I want to hear about examples of direct response success within the financial service sector. At the very least, I want to hear about a comparison to another highly competitive and heavily regulated industry such as healthcare or pharmaceuticals.
Speaking with one of my insurance marketer colleagues, he gave me a recent example of a pitch where he was being compared to a lawn care company. The person making the pitch couldn't understand why he was receiving pushback, and the connection wasn't being made between the two completely dissimilar industries.
The area where I receive the most unrelated pitches is from search engine optimization (SEO) firms. I receive an average of four to six pitches each month from SEO firms trying to show me how they have the "secret sauce" that will land us the No. 1 spot in Google for all of our keywords. With eyebrows raised already by this claim, the calls typically follow the path of examples being shown to me by having me type keywords into Google.
It is very rare for any of these examples to be for competitive keywords. One of my favorites was when I was asked to type "Oak Cabinet Makers Chicago" into Google. After listening to expressions of the rep's pride in how his company was able to occupy the third spot for its client, I asked if he had any experience with financial service companies, companies operating in service businesses nationally, or heavily competitive verticals. The lack of understanding demonstrated in response to my question was more a reflection of poor training and direction than it was of the company not being a good fit. I couldn't get this guy off the phone fast enough. As a result, I won't even consider working with like companies, and I ignore subsequent phone calls received.
"I didn't bring my A game."
Whenever you run advertising campaigns, some of your media placements are going to work and others won't. That's why you must measure everything and quickly shut down non-performing media. When this happens, you need to have a discussion with an account rep regarding whether to kill the placement entirely, shift dollars to better-performing placements within the plan, or try a different optimization approach.
In the case where the first campaign attempt fails miserably, Katelyn Watson from Shutterfly shared one of her biggest frustration points with me. She noted that it's not necessarily that the campaign failed. Rather, it's that the account rep's follow-up pitch is often something along the lines of, "I figured that one wouldn't work so I was saving this new one because I know it will work much better."
If you didn't put your best foot forward first, you're not going to get another shot.
"Work with me... or else."
Several years ago, I was going through a WebEx presentation from a company that audited your affiliates and other email partners and ensured they were properly utilizing your suppression list and managing your unsubscribes. The presentation itself was good. But at the time, our affiliate network had a similar tool it was using, and we were satisfied that we didn't have an additional need.
At the end of the presentation, when I passed on the service, the sales rep got angry. He told me that if I didn't sign up for the service, he was going to plant email addresses, claim that we weren't handling unsubscribes properly, and report us to the Department of Justice. Shocked and in disbelief, I politely told him that I still passed.
A few hours later, our CEO forwarded me a voicemail from the same rep blasting me and my team for putting the company at legal risk. He then reiterated the same threat he had made earlier if we didn't work with him.
Because I knew others involved with this company, I was able to handle this issue discretely. With that said, it left a sour taste in my mouth, and I have never worked with that company or its associated companies since.
Nobody should have to say this. It should be a given. But trying to extort a prospective client is a bad idea.
"Why do we need to use your metrics?"
Since most of my company's advertising is done through a direct-response lens, our metrics are key. We know what metrics work for our business, and we hold all of our advertising campaigns to strict performance standards.
When salespeople don't think they can hit our metrics, they commonly focus on their own metrics. My company's metrics are based on click-through conversions. While talking to an ad network recently, I let the company know that we needed to measure the campaign success or failure based on the click-through conversions. The ad network insisted that it needed to be measured on view-through conversions. The company was unrelenting to the point where it became clear that it didn't believe it could deliver on the click-through conversion targets we needed.
If you can't hit your clients' numbers, let them know. Don't try to apply fuzzy math or circumvent the issue with metrics that are not relevant to your clients.
"We know your competitor's secrets."
I hear this pitch weekly. The publisher, network, or vendor lets us know how much it wants to work with us because it does a great job for one or more of our competitors.
As Shutterfly's Watson pointed out, brands don't see this as a plus. If you have had great success with my competitors, I don't want to work with you. The strong results are good, but why do I want you to use my competitor's tactics with me and vice-versa?
Confidentiality issues often doom this sales approach as well. Many publishers share creative and tactical ideas under this guise: "Don't tell anyone, but here is what your competitor did that worked well. I can sell you the same placement so that you can have success too."
Our former radio agency worked with a couple of our competitors after we had already been a client for a few years. It drove me nuts when I heard the ad copy I had personally written dropped into a competitor's ad in the same markets and stations where we had seen success.
Not only should you refrain from sharing among clients in the same vertical, but you shouldn't be pitching competitive details to prospective clients.
"I want your business, but I'm lazy."
If you want to make someone feel their business is really unimportant, be sloppy in your presentation when it comes to repurposing previous presentations.
I understand some elements will be taken from previous presentations, and I'm OK with that. The problem is when you leave in the company name and metrics meant for another company. The worst that I ever saw was when we were pitched with a deck that had been used for one of our competitors. Approximately half of the information in the deck read for our competitor instead of my company.
Laziness also rears its ugly head when a generic presentation is put together that really doesn't have any relevance to what we do as a company. It's nice that you do really well in travel, CPG, and healthcare, but we're in financial services -- and you didn't mention anything about that vertical in your presentation. Basically, this shows us that you're not going to pay attention to detail if we do work with you, so we'll run screaming in the other direction instead.
"You don't know me, and I don't know you."
Cold calling is one of the most difficult sales approaches to master, and I can appreciate its difficulty. The key is to put your best foot forward and avoid some common pitfalls.
The most common pitfall of the cold call pitch is when salespeople introduce themselves, and then ask me to tell them all of the marketing tactics we use and where we advertise. If you do this, you're telling me that you didn't want to actually take the time to find out what we do in order to be relevant to our business.
Another cold-call misstep is not knowing the type of business you're calling. For example, every week I receive cold calls from people telling me how great they are for auto insurance, banking, and stock trading. When I let them know that we sell life insurance, the response I usually get is, "Oh -- well, we're good with that too."
Another favorite of mine is when I receive a call from someone calling on behalf of their boss, who would like to set up a call to speak with me. My response is always, "If he wants to talk with me, then tell him to pick up the phone and call me himself."
Finally, when it comes to cold email introductions, use common sense and good business etiquette. Do not send cold Outlook invites. In addition, do not blast out email to my entire marketing team, executive team, and other random people in the company so that your email is forwarded to me by 25 people.
A good solid pitch is something that I respect and will give my full attention. Use common sense, pay attention to details, and show through your words and actions that you are genuinely interested in helping me reach my marketing goals. Doing so will earn you plenty of business and keep you from creating unnecessary and unproductive work for yourself.
What examples do you have of pitches that have left a sour taste in your mouth? Please leave a comment below to share your experiences.
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You have no agenda
People -- especially people in this godforsaken business -- are busy. We all have a mountain of work to do, and meetings take us away from doing that work. That being the case, those meetings had better be worthwhile because their very existence makes the rest of our day harder.
If you plan a meeting and it's not worthwhile, the people in it will hate you. And if you don't have an agenda, you're running the risk of running a worthless meeting.
Agendas don't have to be complex. You should have an objective, and you should have a plan. Sure, nicely formatted agendas in the company template that list all of the attendees and have to-the-minute time allocations delineated for each bullet item are nice to have. But what really matters is that you know what you want to achieve and that you have some sort of plan for how you'll achieve it.
Sound like a chore? Sound like something you don't have time for? Well, you can spend a few minutes of your time preparing an agenda, or you can waste an hour of theirs. That's your choice. And when you look at it that way, they should hate you if you don't show up prepared.
You talk at them (not with them)
It's very good of you to be prepared. It's very professional of you.
But be careful you don't prepare so much that you turn yourself into a robot delivering a script.
Too often, people come into my office to give a presentation. They have their slides. They know the words that they're supposed to say on each one. And they hurl them at me. Like rocks.
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
I'm a person. Talk with me, not at me. Look at my eyes. Am I engaged? Am I interested? Is what you're saying even relevant to me?
The first step in communicating is listening. Make sure that you bring your ears to the conversation. Nobody enjoys a monologue.
You barrage them with data
People in this business love statistics. They also love to show they did their homework.
The result is an industry-wide pandemic of PowerPoint slides crammed from top to bottom with numbers, percentages, facts, figures, and stats -- and communicating nothing.
I know you work hard on your slides. Don't you want people to remember them? The way to do that is to communicate one idea on each slide. You want to support it with multiple data points? Great. Use three.
But realize that as soon as you start putting a laundry list in front of a people, they don't see your lovely blouse; they don't see your cool new jeans. All they see is a pile of dirty laundry.
You're overly familiar
All good salespeople know that relationships are priceless. They are worth investing in. They are critical to success.
It's not what you know; it's who you know.
So, I appreciate that you want to have a relationship by the end of this meeting. But don't confuse that with us already having one.
It's just icky. It turns people off, and if you cross that line too early, there's no turning back.
That is not to say that love at first sight does not happen in business. Just last week, I had a meeting with a potential new client. Right away, we knew we were cut of the same cloth. I instinctively knew that not only could I be myself, but that I could be the myself I am with my buddies. Within 10 minutes, I was dropping f-bombs all over the place.
But that's rare. If you are wondering if you're crossing boundaries, ask yourself if this is something that's been happening a lot lately.
If the answer is yes, tone it down.
You look at your phone, not at them
Really?!?! You're looking at your phone? I'm sitting here. I'm talking.
Do I bore you?
Am I an insignificant speck on your radar of self-imposed magnificence?
Can you simply not control yourself?
Of course I hate being in this meeting with you.
You talk over people
I have to admit -- I have been so guilty of this one so many times.
There's an irony to business. If you're to succeed, you want to find smart, creative, passionate people.
The problem with many smart, creative, passionate people, however, is that they just can't wait to share their brilliant ideas with everyone else in the room. They have an answer to every question. They have a hammer for every nail.
Sadly, that's often at the expense of everyone else in the room.
But this is a meeting. People -- multiple people -- have come here to meet.
Sometimes, the question isn't yours to answer -- even if you have a terrific response in your head. Sometimes, the other guy's contribution to the brainstorm needs to be considered before you toss another iron into the fire. Sometimes, you don't have complete information, but you would if you'd just shut up for a second.
Let other people talk. Or don't be surprised that they hate sitting across from you.
You talk just to show that you have value (even when you don't)
There is a word for people who do this. It's called being a blowhard. I think it comes from the notion that one constantly feels the need to try really hard to blow some proof of the value of his existence out of his mouth.
The problem with blowhards is that they often prove the exact opposite.
There's a fine line. When you speak not to add value, but to show you add value, you're probably not adding value.
What's more, what you're doing is transparent -- whether the others in the room call you on it or not. And they're irritated as hell.
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"Angry business man" image via Shutterstock.