Nobody likes a pitch. Not anymore. I’m sure there were times when it was effective. I’m also sure that there are people who watched Alec Baldwin’s stunning performance in Glengarry Glen Ross and thought to themselves: “Bad ass. He’s right. Coffee IS for closers!” But not anymore. Not in an era of such transparency and parity. Not in an era of deeply empowered, networked consumerism. Customers don’t have to tolerate a pitch any longer–they can do most of the research and leg work themselves.
The pitch fails because it is, at it’s core, a threat with a smile. It is a threat to one’s normalcy–be it financial, time, schedule, lifestyle, comfort, safety. As such the pitch man is reduced to little more than The Great Persuader–sprinkling dust and debris on the carpet before vaccuuming it all up. He’s equipped with a quiver of tactics that, in today’s world, are scant more than manipulative devices. Which people are hip to and easily side step with a ‘No thanks’ or ‘I need to think about it.’ Thus, the pitch fails. It fails because it assumes and outside-in perspective toward customer alignment rather than the opposite. It fails because the balance of power is misconceived as being in the hands of the Pitch Man rather than the other way around. And, finally, it fails because it assumes that if the Pitch Man talks long and hard enough about enough (hopefully) relevant topics that the customer will finally relent and place an order. The experience? Non-existent. A simple pitch will never create an experience. True to it’s name, a pitch is sort of like saying “If I throw enough mud on the wall eventually some of it will stick.”
Many of my clients are B2C Owners and salespeople. They spend countless hours in strangers’ homes, explaining products and services. Listening, evaluating, proposing. It’s a very difficult job if you’ve never tried it. It’s also highly competitive and opportunities for a win are hard earned. But as such, these same clients are taking the first nascent steps towards a re-shaping an Experience based proposition. They’re dumping The Pitch and replacing it with things that are far more meaningful to a customer.
To begin, they’re moving radically away from a product-centric proposition. This is not to say that they’re not integrating product into their discussion. But their customers are both increasingly well researched and increasingly uninfluenced by product brand and traditional talking points. Instead, these clients are beginning to recognize that, in order to charge a customer for your time, you have to create a proposition that has real value and significance aside from the nuts-and-bolts product discussion. For example, in a recent planning session I sat with a group of Owners, managers, and salespeople and asked them a simple question: If you consider yourself NOT as a member of your current industry but as a father, a mother, a member of the community, or church, or neighbor…than WHAT are the topics that you’re keenly interested in? And why? It was challenging at first, but also illustrated how deeply entrenched we all are in our jobs–to the point that we eventually wear our own set of blinders. The answers were along these lines:
1. I want to be safe, and I want my family to be safe.
2. I want to feel secure, financially and personally
3. I don’t want to feel remorse when I make a major purchase
4. I want to live in a thriving community
5. I enjoy technology and the ways it’s (mostly) improved my life
6. I want to have control and choice when it comes to spending money
7. I need to trust the people in my outer-to-inner circles
It was a fascinating exercise. It also had nothing (at least at first blush) to do with buying a product or service. The next question was simple: “If we assume that we’re very much like our customers in terms of needs and wants, how much time do you actually spend connecting with the customer on THAT level and with topics like these?” And it got a little quiet. For us, the group, it was an important realization that the things we care about as people and consumers are highly emotional and equally personal. A widget is a widget. But in order to create an Experience people were going to have to let go of their widget-pitch and speak to customers in a way that was new and highly unfamiliar.
In the end we agreed that the best thing to say to a customer was something along the lines of “We are a reflection of the people we serve.” We agreed that to elevate the Experience and to truly charge for our time we were going to have to abandon the old talking points and build everything around the only perspective that matters: The customers.
In the months since this initial planning meeting there have been stellar examples of small business Owners that have moved in an Experience direction.
Project Ripple is one shining example. Ripple is a community based services and sharing program started by a small business Owner outside of Toronto. Recognizing that, like herself, many of her customers were increasingly committed to supporting local business, service, and support, this particular Owner uses Ripple as a way to invite customers in to the community support network. Obviously it creates real differentiation as well. Her business is slowly earning a reputation as a community-based change agent in as much as a place to purchase a product. The financial reward is there to match, as top and bottom line profits have never been stronger in the company’s seven year history. It’s a small example. But it effectively illustrates how a small business Owner who builds her sales model around the customers’ priorities (in this case community support) can surprise and connect a customer on a more meaningful level. End game: Project Ripple will be spotlighted on the Oprah Network. I’m sure that will help their business more than a little.
There are many, many other examples of small business’ that are recognizing that The Pitch is a dead horse these days. Instead, they’re asking better questions about what really matters to people in a personal, emotional level. And they’re radically revising their market strategies accordingly. As these business’ continue to move forward I believe we’ll see an Experienced-based era of kitchen table sales in which ‘the first person who talks loses’ feels like some sort of bad joke.