Great sales pitches are a real art.

It takes creativity, skill, brainpower and lots of research to create a great sales pitch — which these days is probably a misnomer, anyway.

Today, salespeople have so many tools at their disposal that they don’t need to pitch a product or a service. They can understand the needs of potential customers to an unprecedented depth, and this moves the sale from a single-direction pitch to a two-way conversation.

Here is how to set up those conversations, and how to set your sales team up for success.


The Preparation


You are trying to open up a conversation and begin a relationship with a potential client, and that’s how you should frame your preparation. Step One, then, is thorough research so you can “understand the customer and bring value to the conversation,” as our VP of Sales, Armando Mann, wrote recently.

When you do deliver your pitch, this legwork will prepare you to speak knowledgeably about the potential client’s needs, and far less about your own. “You have to quickly figure out how your business is relevant to that exact person you are speaking with,” Teresa Nelson, professor of entrepreneurship at Simmons College in Boston, tells Entrepreneur magazine. “It’s not about sharing what’s interesting to you about the company, but what’s interesting to them about it.”

Knowing what is interesting to the potential client is the real differentiator between a successful pitch and an unsuccessful one. As Jenna Hanington points out in an earlier blog post, nearly a quarter of B2B buyers report that “the biggest obstacle to making “good” purchase decisions was that vendors didn’t properly understand their needs.”

“B2B buyers are going to become harder and harder to reach as the amount of information at their fingertips grows,” she writes. “Relevant, contextual, and intentional sales conversations will go from a nice-to-have to a necessity, and the sales reps that are making this a priority are the ones that are going to be successful in the future.”

When you understand the other person’s needs, you will then be able to figure out what facet of your offer to communicate to them.


The Value Proposition


“A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered,” marketer Peep Laja writes at his blog, ConversionXL. “It’s the primary reason a prospect should buy from you.”

Laja and his team builds websites for clients that are based on strong value propositions, and they’re very good at it. While a website isn’t a sales pitch, the value propositions communicated in both have the same basic structure. Here is Laja’s three-point outline for a value proposition:

  1. It communicates relevancy by explaining how a product or service solves a customer’s problem or improves their situation.
  2. It communicates a specific, quantified benefit.
  3. It communicates why your company’s offer is different from everyone else’s, which describes why the customer should buy from you and not the competition.

The research you’ve done into a potential customer should help you plug in those three elements. Here is an example of how this information could be structured as a script for a prospecting call, courtesy of Anthony Iannarino at

“Hi, Mary, this is Anthony with XYZ Inc. My company helps people deal with the challenges of low productivity, high consumable costs and employee dissatisfaction. I am calling to ask you for 20 minutes to share the three biggest trends impacting your business and give you some ideas that help our clients produce better results at lower costs. Could we meet for 20 minutes on Thursday? I’ll share these ideas with you, and even if you never buy from me, they will help you and your team.”

Notice the emphasis on the circumstances affecting Mary’s business. This frames the call as an opportunity to address some specific pain points, and it helps Anthony establish a personal connection. That focus on a personal connection is why Anthony stands a good chance of getting 20 minutes of Mary’s time.


The Delivery


Here is where the pitch moves from preparation to performance, and there are many things to consider: Visuals, supporting data, the storytelling aspect.

We’ll get to all that. First, however, it’s important to realize your pitch will have a psychological phenomenon on its side. It turns out that humans have a bias toward spoken language, and speaking makes you appear smarter than writing does, according to researchers Juliana Schroeder and Nicholas Epley.

“This insight comes out of our broader research investigating how people discern what’s going on in others’ minds despite the fundamental human inability to directly observe another’s thoughts, beliefs, or motivations,” they write at the Harvard Business Review. “We’ve learned that spoken language is a highly effective tool for this. It’s the communication form that most clearly reveals not only what people are thinking but also their thinking ability.”

This is a strong incentive to get out of your inbox and move the conversation to the phone or an in-person meeting. A spoken pitch is more likely to succeed.

But if you’ve got the attention of a potential customer, you can do so much with it. Tim Riesterer, the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions Inc., recommends using visual storytelling tools in your pitch to tell a story.

“Keep in mind that a unique visual story needs a unique vehicle to tell it,” he writes at CMO. “Whiteboard-style presentations — not traditional PowerPoint — can give your message the engagement and visual dynamics it needs.”

Through this verbal and visual engagement, you can then drive home the hard data that supports your value proposition. Entrepreneur Danny Wong has an excellent post and infographic on the Salesforce Canada blog on nine stats that will support a sales pitch.

Wong suggests you try any or all of the following:

  1. Demonstrate how your product or service will save the customer money.
  2. Likewise, show how it will save him or her time.
  3. Show how it will make his or her team more productive.
  4. Use market trends to indicate where business is headed.
  5. Use testimonials from other customers.
  6. Be transparent about how long it could take for the customer to see returns on your offer.
  7. Use social proof to show how many other customers use — and value — your product or service.
  8. Introduce the customer to who specifically is on the team that will be serving his or her company.
  9. For startups, it might be helpful to mention how much funding the company has received, and thus how much investors believe in the idea.

You can find that infographic here for quick reference later when you’re scripting your pitch.


The Introduction of Unexpected Value


Shelly Lucas at Dun & Bradstreet has a tip so useful that it deserves its own section.

“The secret sauce to a winning sales pitch lies in perfecting the art of persuasion, which requires a solid understanding of decision-making psychology,” Lucas writes. This goes beyond understanding the pain points and needs you mapped out when you crafted your value proposition.

You need to catch the customer off-guard by introducing an unexpected need, moving the conversation away from their current reality and into new territory.

“People are open to persuasion only when there’s uncertainty,” Tim Riesterer, quoted above from the CMO piece, tells Lucas. “Don’t tell them what they already know. Set yourself apart by messaging to what they don’t know. Talk about needs they’ve overlooked, underestimated or don’t know about.”

So, how do you go about uncovering a need a customer doesn’t even know about? Start by tracking everything and knowing how to make better decisions with your data.


The Call to Action


Finally, be sure to close your pitch with an invitation to the customer that spells out exactly what steps he or she should take next to move forward. This is how you capitalize on the interest your great pitch has created.

A call to action sounds easy enough, but most good salespeople have had to learn how to do this the hard way.

“This is where so many people fall down,” entrepreneur Natalie Sisson writes. They do every other thing really well and then leave people with a wishy washy ‘So if you like this, you know, you can maybe buy it, or only if you want to….’

“Don’t be that person. You’ve put in the work. Close the deal.”