Or… How to pitch your business the right way.
What’s the biggest lie in business? That people actually care what you do.
Let’s be real. If you’ve started a business or are running a business, you’re the one that believes in it. The general public, not so much… at least until you give them a reason to. The trouble is, everyone’s already consumed by the noise of other businesses, their own lives and their own priorities. They have very little reason (or capacity) to care about what you’re saying and what it is you do. Ignore that fact, and you’ll fall victim to the noise. Accept that fact, and it’s on you to get people to care.
Investing in how you pitch your solution (specifically, what it is you say) is a task that takes more energy than most execs are willing to spend. And, it’s something that can’t be delegated. This is the CEO’s job from day one! I’m not saying she can’t get help from others – but she needs to OWN it. From my experience, that’s not usually the case. Or, put another way, in successful companies (the vast minority), it’s almost always the case. When the CEO isn’t taking ownership of it, there are usually two reasons at play:
1. You believe a basic description of the business gets the point across
2. You haven’t experienced the impact of a great pitch
The fact is, your pitch affects your success across the business as a whole. It’s a make or break factor for an audience much wider than your prospects.
Existing team members
Potential channel partners
Journalists, bloggers and influencers
The list goes on…
All the people above, need to know why they should care about your business immediately. Don’t leave it up to them to infer it as a result of what you do, because you’ll end up with a huge disparity in beliefs and a massive lack of focus on consistent goals. Remember, focus is your friend.
In PivotDesk’s case, we sank our teeth into our pitch almost immediately because of three drivers:
1. I have a background in PR and Marketing
2. I’ve seen how focus on a specific message can turn a small budget into a market leader
It’s instinctive for me to want to solve the pitch first (my entire career has been focused on message!). Couple that with the fact that we were part of Techstars ‘12, and thanks to the hammering away from Nicole Glaros (and many other mentors), we had no choice but to narrow in on our message.
Shows like Silicon Valley portray prepping for demo day as scrambling to get your product functional, but I can tell you that’s only a fraction of the experience. In most cases, your product is actually far from functional come Demo Day and that reality only emphasizes one thing: your pitch.
We worked on our pitch nearly all 3 months of the program.
Let that sink in. 3 months.
Were we confused about the value of the business? No. Did we know our audience? Yes. So why did it take us 3 months to craft our pitch?
Because simple is complex.
Getting down to a simple, effective message is incredibly difficult and complicated. You need to throw out many, many things you want to say, but aren’t the most important things to say. You need to say things differently than you have before and those things need to mean something — not just to you, but to your audience. In order to do this, you may need to start with things you haven’t thought of before.
A good writer knows that no matter how much you know about writing and no matter how clear you are on what it is you want to say, it’s a guarantee that if you attempt multiple drafts (I’m talking 5-10+ versions), you’ll end up in a much stronger place than where you’ve started. Read your top versions outloud and I promise you, you’ll find another 5 ways to improve them. Try it. Try reading them to other people. Even if you’re just working on the title of your next blog post. By the time you get to the 10th version, you’ll look at the first and think to yourself, did I even write that?! (I’m kicking myself now for not saving the early drafts of our pitch but you can watch me live on Demo Day below.)
As a Techstars mentor, I watch a lot of people present their early drafts (versions 1-5) and that’s led me to believe the following:
Pitching is an art — an art that does NOT come instinctively for most.
Pitching takes dedicated practice. More than you actually want to believe. I joke around with some, and remind CEOs that if someone wakes them from their sleep at 3am and asks, “What do you do?” their job is to sit up and pitch. It should be as natural as breathing. If you ask me today, I could give you the exact pitch from a business I co-founded in 2005.
And if you think this is just for early stage or startup businesses, you’d be completely wrong. I still remember a conversation I had with the Global CEO of Deloitte Consulting in the late 90s. We had launched the global brand and were taking on Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and McKinsey & Co. He lamented the fact that he had to say the same thing over and over again every time he spoke with the media about the company. After about eight months of the campaign, he pulled me aside and said, “You’re right, it’s finally working.” And I can guarantee you that even though he retired years ago, if you saw him now and asked what Deloitte Consulting did, he would say the exact same thing.
It’s hard to repeat it over and over. It’s also hard to get specific and focus on the why as opposed to the what. But it’s a must.
Let me give you an example. Below is a real pitch I heard recently with names and details changed to protect the innocent. Read through it.
“XXX, is an operational software platform that creates efficiency for the XXX investment professional. It was developed by key individuals from the XXX technology team and is a commercially available, cloud-based platform that supports the “life of the asset” from acquisition, to disposition and everything in between.”
Now, without reading it again, if I were to ask you to repeat back to me what it is this company does, could you do it? Did you absorb any of it? My guess, even though it’s only 2 sentences, is that you hardly remember a thing. And there’s a reason for that. The pitch was a regurgitation of information with no respect to whether or not it’s important to the person reading/hearing it.
Largely due to the fact that you are inundated with information, you forgot it as quickly as you read it.
So as a business, how do you correct this?
You have to make a memory.
Think of a memory as an imprint. If you can create a memory, you will have successfully imprinted yourself and/or your business in the minds of your audience.
How do you create memories?
Emotion. (Not logic!)
An emotional experience will trap a person’s attention. People make decisions and judgments first based on emotion — on how something makes them feel. They then use logic to justify those decisions and judgments. And when that happens, a memory is made. If you can accomplish this (and quickly), you drastically increase your impact and lessen your chances of fading into the noise.
If you can’t make that emotional connection and provide a clear differentiator, your audience will self-categorize your business (which you clearly don’t want them to do) or, even worse, file you in the “more noise” category — even if they don’t mean to.
Understanding the why of what you do before the what is how people will connect with your business. Remember, the what supports the why, not the other way around. The why addresses your audience’s pain. It connects with their life and their struggles or desires. It bridges the emotion between their lives and your solution.
It’s also the best way you can keep your business focused when struggling with resource allocation, product roadmap prioritization, strategic investment, hiring, etc. If you start with the emotional connection and address the why first, your efforts become more aligned and focused against a consistent goal.
Here’s a very high level look at the framework we use to guide this process:
For: (target audience)
Who: (pain point)
Company Name: (Solution provided)
As opposed to: (Competitive company/solution/alternative)
Do this for every audience you want to speak to. Create a high-level message and then craft unique versions of it for your audience of choice. It’s key to be as specific as possible with each category.
Here’s an exaggerated (and surprisingly not that uncommon) example of a logical pitch:
“PivotDesk is a web-based marketplace platform that uses a matching algorithm to match companies with short term space needs, with companies that have excess space, handles monthly license agreements, payments processing and communication management for office sharing engagements.”
And here’s what happens when you inject emotion:
“Your business is dynamic – real estate is static. You shouldn’t have to bet your business on a long term lease. PivotDesk helps you grow your business the way it needs to grow, not the way real estate dictates, by matching companies that need a flexible solution for now, with great culturally-compatible companies that have space that’s just not getting used right now. As opposed to risking your runway on a lease you don’t need yet, camping out in a fraternity-like coworking space, or renegotiating a lease or sub-lease every year, PivotDesk gives you a flexible solution, and provides all the tools you need to focus on your business, not being a landlord or tenant.”
Of course that’s not our exact language, but you get the jist. We’re connecting with our audience based on a pain we know they have.
How has our investment in our pitch payed off? I’ll give you real numbers:
Year 1: the initial pitch (see video below) helped us lock in our first round of seed funding.
Year 4: our latest pitch has been adjusted to connect with executives at enterprise level businesses. Our focus on that market over the last year increased the lifetime value of our customer base by 306% and brought on well known brands like Tough Mudder, AOL and more as a result.
People (especially in larger corporate environments) are scared of pigeon holing themselves by getting specific. They take comfort in irrelevant buzz words like ‘innovative,’ ‘world-class,’ ‘ground-breaking,’ ‘leading edge,’ etc. They try and make everyone in the organization happy instead of focusing on the people that really matter, the target audience.
But if there’s one thing I know well it’s this:
If your target market is ‘everyone,’ it’s really ‘no one.’
Check the website of any major corporation or high growth business. Read the descriptor and decide if you have a clue why you should care about what they do. Go ahead. I dare you. Play some buzz word bingo and realize how little you actually give a shit.
Then, go back and think long and hard about why your audience should care about you. Why you’re different. And rewrite everything.
Demo Day gave us 6 minutes to share our vision but it served as far more than that. It was an exercise that prepared us to relate to people (and businesses). I hold much of our success to the effort we put into crafting our pitch and connecting with unique audiences. I suggest you do the same.
And if it helps your process, you can watch PivotDesk’s live 2012 Demo Day pitch here.
I believe this is a message every entrepreneur needs to hear. If you agree, here’s an editable tweet you can use to help me spread the word.
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