Sales Process

Tough Love & The Paradox Of A Successful Sales Pitch

Tough Love & The Paradox Of A Successful Sales Pitch

When it comes to pitching new business, what drives success? Often, it’s not about “nailing the brief,” but about leveraging the paradox of a successful sales pitch… showing a little tough love and respectfully challenging the prospect.

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A Tale Of Three Pitches

Once upon a time, three communications agencies made the short list for a prospective client’s branding campaign.

All three agencies had been given the same brief and were asked to present at different hours on the same day to the client’s marketing team.

The first two agencies’ presentations were similar in approach and format, albeit different in creative. They both proposed campaigns that nailed the brand briefing. They outlined future trends, provided agency credentials and showed case studies of their existing clients.

After the second agency left, the client team was divided as to which of the first two agencies had so far made the better pitch, but the momentum quickly swung toward the second pitch, which was edgier and appealed to the brand’s younger demographics.


Then, the third agency came in and did the unexpected…

… something that actually made the prospective client uncomfortable.

The third agency showed they understood the brief, and even proposed a campaign… but with a caveat. They had some concerns, and they challenged the prospective client on the brief itself and the strategy overall.

“Knowing what we know today, we actually see a gap between what you aspire to with the brand and what your product actually does. Don’t get us wrong. We actually believe in your product, and we think your brand aspirations are edgy. We just don’t think the two fully align. This could lead to bigger problems down the road.”

Then the third agency asked some hard questions.

The forthcoming answers were not always clear. The client team explained that some of the questions were being considered, while also admitting that the other questions had not yet been contemplated.

The meeting took a turn. It moved from a cookie-cutter agency pitch to a mini-workshop. It went over the allocated time, with no protests from the client.

Over the next 45 minutes, the agency scribbled on the white board and flip-charts, all the while prompting the prospective client with incisive questions, to which some on the client team answered not only with enthusiasm, but also with relief.

At the end of the meeting, the agency leader said, “Of course, we want your business but, above all, we don’t want you to build the wrong brand platform for an otherwise great product. We actually think that you’re not ready to move forward as is. I think we also agree there’s a more effective way forward. We’ll be happy to summarize this for you, and we’ll be happy to meet as soon as you wish.”

The client team was not exactly smiling, but they indeed agreed.

The third agency was escorted to the elevator by a senior member of the client team who whispered, “I’ll give you a call later.”


Guess which agency got the business!

The client team didn’t even take a coffee break after this third pitch. All hands on deck!

They put an urgent action plan in place, which included calling the third agency back for a meeting the following afternoon.

Not everyone from the client team could attend that afternoon meeting. Some were patched in by video conference and others were de-briefed the following evening, but they were all feeling that the third agency had gained their trust.

The third agency was given a mandate to start working within an initial budget that very afternoon. Two weeks later, the initial work turned into a formal agency selection with the full budget.


Tough Love

The third agency took a risk, indeed, but whenever you pitch against two or more competitors, the odds are essentially against you, anyway.

The third agency showed tough love.

They challenged their prospective partner’s thinking, but they did so out of total concern for the partner’s well-being. They didn’t want to become a strong partner in a toxic relationship and, yes, they also tactically planned their challenging questions as a competitive advantage in their pitch.

During his keynote at last week’s Inbound 2015 Conference in Boston, author and thought leader Daniel Pink said that great salespeople are not just problem solvers, they’re problem finders. Tough love does exactly that!

The third agency’s tough love caused the client team to think differently. The client team not only appreciated it, they valued it.

This led to a strong partnership and good business for both parties.


And herein lies the paradox

The best pitches don’t feel “pitchy.”

They don’t feel like you’re trying to seal the deal.

They feel like valuable conversations.

They feel like love.

Sometimes, you have to challenge a prospect’s thinking. Like romance, it’s sometimes better to lose a pitch than it is to get into a toxic relationship.

Stronger partner-clients will appreciate the fact that you’re not trying to just sleep with them, that you won’t do anything just to get a first piece of business. Stronger clients will value that you’re watching their backs, that you’re aligning with their interests to do things right.

That’s good for their business, and it’s good for yours. And it’s simply good karma.

Tough love gives you a competitive advantage. It builds trust, and trust is the biggest component in a sale… in love… or in any successful partnership.

Love more. Sell more.

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I help sales teams improve their performance by putting the “love” into the sales process. The tools and techniques vary, but the mindset is simply a heart-set.

Let’s talk about love… and your sales performance. Contact me here and let’s set up a call, or sign up for my blog posts below.

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Photo by Colaborative dot eu.