Of all the skills I’ve had to develop in my sales career — prospecting, qualifying, pitching, building executive relationships, negotiating, and closing — the pitch is one of my favorite parts of the sales cycle. Why?  

Because it’s a unique opportunity to demonstrate how much diligence my team has done to understand the customer’s business, to differentiate ourselves from the competition, and to leave the customer with a simple, lasting message they’ll remember long after the meeting is over. Too often in sales, we face the temptation to skip the pitch and jump right into a demo — but doing so is a big miss.

So what goes into creating a great sales pitch?

A great sales pitch is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, so think about what your competition is going to do and do something else. To start, don’t lean on the standard company deck. At Salesforce, we are lucky to have the best marketers in the world building our pitch decks. They are beautifully branded, modern, and engaging.  

I will typically borrow a few of these slides, but ultimately the presentation isn’t about me or my company or our products. It’s about the customer and the benefit they’ll achieve by leveraging our technology, so I think creatively about how I’m going to paint that vision. 

A creativity tip: Whenever possible, “secret shop” your customer and share your results in your pitch. I was presenting one solution at a lending organization and decided to take out a personal loan so that I could experience firsthand what it was like to be their customer.  

For a different prospect, a bank, I interviewed a number of its customers as part of my pitch preparation. Throughout my conversations, one theme emerged: Most of the bank’s customers never heard from the bank about important life milestones — a car loan after college graduation, a home loan after marriage, wealth management and college savings programs after the birth of a child. These were all missed revenue opportunities for which we could provide a simple solution and a crystal-clear ROI.  

In both cases, getting creative allowed me to show that I had done my research, which in turn brought tons of credibility and the opportunity to engage with executives at the highest levels of the firm. When it comes to creativity, go big.

Why is storytelling important? For one reason: People remember stories, not facts or slides. I once heard a story about a teacher trying to teach his American history class about Paul Revere. His students were struggling to memorize the facts (1775, the Old North Church, Lexington and Concord), so the teacher changed things up and took a different approach.

Did his students know that Paul Revere’s father died when Paul was 19 years old, and Paul was left to provide for his mother, 11 siblings, and ultimately 16 children of his own through his business as a silversmith? The students learned about how the economy then fell into recession, which was made worse by an oppressive British tax policy, and they understood the why of Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party as opposed to the what.

A recent example: I was once pitching Heroku, which was at the time one of Salesforce’s newer products designed for developers — and a much more technical product than our flagship customer relationship management (CRM) solution. I was struggling. I knew I couldn’t speak with authority about dynos and add-ons, so I decided to take a different approach. Instead of pitching facts, I told the story of an entrepreneur friend who started a software company in 2006 and then again in 2010.

In 2006, starting a software company meant renting a cage in a data center across town, walking over to that data center, unlocking the cage, installing hardware and software, tuning, patching — all before publishing a single line of code. In 2010 (just four years later), the world had changed with Heroku. My friend started his second company and didn’t have to deal with the old world of infrastructure. He could go to market faster, cheaper, and with more flexibility. The story hit the mark with the customer and gave them something memorable to take away, after we exhausted all their technical questions during the demo.

There is no shortcut to creating the perfect sales pitch. What’s the point of putting in the effort to create a creative, well-researched story if you fall short on the delivery? If you are doing your pitch in front of an audience once a day, your practice is built in. But if you’re like me, you might go for a month in between pitches — and because our messaging is always changing, practice is essential.

And when I say practice, I don’t mean running through your presentation silently in your head — I mean out loud, in front of a mirror, standing up, without notes. Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff recently revealed that he practices his presentations seven times before delivering them. I figure if Marc needs to practice seven times, I need 14.

Ultimately the presentation isn’t about me or my company or our products. It’s about the customer and the benefit they’ll achieve.”

Annie Simms | Vice President, Financial Services, Salesforce
 
 
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