The winning sales pitch

Success in a sales meeting often needs a subtle touch. Here three entrepreneurs give us their top tips on how to close the deal.

In the debate on nature vs. nurture, Colin Gallick, CEO of document software company Invu, knows which sides he is on

Salesmen aren’t born, they are developed. The key to any good sales pitch is planning. It’s important to understand the customer, so run a background check and talk to companies operating in the market to see how they are using the products. Make sure you know the customer’s requirements and don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions.

If you’re a senior manager, you know a company is serious if it is well prepared. That includes small things, like spelling a name correctly. Every time I get a letter with my name spelt incorrectly, I just throw it away. You might offer a great solution, ahead of schedule and on budget, but if you’ve not
got the basics right, you can forget it.

I would also say that companies need to invest in sales training. Skills need to be refreshed every few years. In fact, salesmen who are in their 50s and 60s are often more likely to be in refresher courses than their younger counterparts, because they know how important it is.

Joëlle Frijters, CEO and cofounder of online advertising company Improve Digital, thinks rapport is essential

There are lots of tricks that people use, but really, no two pitches are the same. We soon learnt that it’s about building a relationship rather than selling. When you know someone, it’s much easier because they trust you.

We once had a pitch with a major UK publisher. We knew our technology was better than anyone else’s, so we talked it up. When the pitch was unsuccessful, we received feedback suggesting that the winning team seemed so much easier to work with. We were selling the technology, when we should have been selling a solution.

Don’t try and sell everything. People aren’t going to remember more than ten things in a meeting, so it’s up to you to make sure they remember the five most important things I think listening is absolutely essential. The ideal split is 70 per cent listening and 30 per cent talking. That can be difficult, especially when you’re enthusiastic about your product. Sometimes giving people time and space can make them more likely to share their thoughts with you, so don’t be afraid of having a quiet period in a pitch.

For Sandra Patterson, cofounder of courier website boxby, a winning sales pitch is all about backing up your claims

In a lot of instances, advertisers come to us. We can be quite straight to the point with our pitch as our average visiting time to the site is very long and we have a large base of regular users.

It helps that we are in the fortunate position where there are not any other websites offering a service for couriers. They tend to be a traditionally tricky audience to target for the obvious reason that they are a profession always on the move.

I don’t have a sales spiel as such. To be honest, I think a lot of people are jaded by hearing a pre-scripted pitch. Because we are talking to other businesses rather than consumers, they are perhaps more aware of when you’re being ‘salesy’.

Once we have presented the figures, I ask them what sort of thing they are after and who their target audience is. You can’t meet the customer’s needs if you don’t know what they are.

Related: The pitching errors small agencies should take care to avoid – sales expert Andy Preston explains the real-life mistakes agencies make when pitching, that often cost them valuable business.

Sell your way to success

A lot of owner-managers obviously know what it takes to set up and run a business. Where they can flounder is in the dark art of driving new sales.

Jenny Tooth, GLE Growth Capital’s business development director, explains how a review of your approach to sales can give a dramatic boost to your bottom line

A lot of owner-managers obviously know what it takes to set up and run a business. Where they can flounder, however, is in the dark art of driving new sales.

Fortunately, assistance is out there for those who are willing to admit they can sharpen up their skills.

Paul Drew, managing director of award-winning production company The Communicator has enjoyed one of his best sales quarters ever, despite being in a highly competitive business during a recession.

The company is one of 13 on the High Growth programme run by GLE Growth Capital, designed to put SMEs on the fast track. The London Development Agency is funding the programme, which was launched by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor.

London companies with at least £1 million turnover that intend to expand can receive nine months’ support from a coach who has been a chief executive of a growing and successful business. The course includes regular workshops on performing for high growth.

Drew says the company benefited from the advice and suggestions of a coach dispatched by GLE, who set about turning the company’s focus from selling glossy corporate videos to a sales pipeline that was product-led.

Keep it simple

The production team began an aggressive sales drive offering short, sharp videos that delivered tightly targeted messages. It was a campaign that struck a chord with many corporate clients who might otherwise have shied away from the prospect of expensive and time-consuming productions.

‘Our coach stopped us selling a service and treated it like a product. She coached us in sales techniques, so that we are now much better equipped, and we make the buying process much easier for our clients,’ Drew comments.

After launching a new product, the team had a reason to contact past and present clients to explain the benefits of a more cost-effective video package.

For Drew, the coaching was useful in that it concentrated on the mechanics of generating and closing sales rather than on sales presentation. Indeed, the coach encouraged the company to open up its old contact books, which provided sales leads for clients over the past ten years.

‘The work was much more about the analytical side of selling, and not so much about the presentation. We now look at where we are in the sales process, and how we should respond,’ he adds.

Following the sales training, Communicator’s new product quickly outstripped sales of the traditional video service the company had been producing since it started 21 years ago, doubling sales from the previous quarter.

Maximise what you have

Zubair Aleem, managing director of IT provider Quadnet, had an altogether different problem. The company was losing £30,000 per month during the last three months of last year, when a High Growth coach stepped in to help.

As a fast-paced entrepreneur, Aleem found himself constantly in conflict with his staff as he rushed from one project to the next.

‘I never managed my staff before,’ admits Aleem . ‘Sales is all about motivation, and if the team are demotivated they are not going to sell. We had to set clear and realistic sales objectives, and we had to make decisions quickly.

‘Now I write down what we agree and I check what people are doing. Once people know you are keeping an eye on things they don’t think it is worth giving you the runaround.’

Coaching the Quadnet team is already paying dividends; the company has stopped burning cash and is now back in profit. The company is expecting to increase profits by 20 per cent, despite a £1 million drop in turnover to £6 million.

‘I want to create an environment where people want to work, because happy people want to create wealth for the company.’

Related: Five technologies helping B2B sales teams in UK SMEs

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