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This is why you're having a hard time convincing your boss

A SALES PITCH. Your eyes are probably already rolling at the idea of a salesperson presenting a product and trying to convince you to purchase it. However, what you don’t necessarily realise in the moment is that you probably have a lot more in common than you might think. Every day, you speak to your colleagues and loved ones, and you present them with your ideas and knowledge. You try to gain attention so that they may listen to you and believe you. Ultimately, you want the people who are listening to adopt your ways of thinking. Salespeople do the same thing; the only difference is that they have made a career out of this desire.

The art of pitching goes much beyond selling a product. It is to know how to sell an idea, a vision, that will make those who listen jump on the bandwagon. So, what does it take to present a successful pitch? This is what Pixonality learned from Jean-Jacques Stréliski and Olivier Offman on April 10, 2019, during a workshop organised by Parcours Innovation Montréal.

Assimilating an Idea

The first part of the day was dedicated to the process in which someone obtains new information and integrates it with his or her existing knowledge. This process is categorized in three states in which the receptor (the person who learns the new information) will find him or herself: rationality, reactivity, and reflection.

The state of rationality is represented by the field of knowledge that the receptor possesses before assimilating the new information. It is a structure that is already in place, information that is taken for granted for a certain time now. You have had the time to understand and apply this knowledge in everyday situations. You are ready to defend this knowledge when confronted.

The state of reactivity is created when the receptor receives the new knowledge, which questions the existence of the current existing knowledge. We often witness this state when the receptor resists the change, or even refuses to listen, because of the dichotomy between the new and existing information. In this state, a verbal reflex would be to say “Yes, but…”

When a pitch is successful, the result is the transition from reactivity to reflection. The goal is to stimulate a motivation within the person who is listening to doubt the existing knowledge and be curious enough to want to answer the question that will remove this doubt. The state of reflection is one of questioning, and transforms the reflex of saying “Yes, but…” into “Is that really possible?” This state is concluded with acceptance and empathy arising from a revelation after assimilating the new information.

The Success of a Pitch

As Mr. Stréliski told us, there is no secret recipe for the success of a pitch; otherwise, it would have already been shared with us. However, there are three elements that contribute to a pitch that works well, represented by the 3 A’s: aptitude, attitude and altitude.

Aptitude is the questioning of the self about mastery of the pitch delivery and whether you have attained the maximum ability of the said skill. What can you do to improve? What are the elements of differentiation that make you stand out from all other topics and people offering the same ideas?

When it comes to attitude, the word is exactly what it stands for; with what attitude are you performing the pitch? Are you finding the problems, or finding the solutions? Are you avoiding the issues, or do you solve them immediately? Mr. Stréliski gave the example of a situation in which Picasso found himself in his Blue Period. Picasso simply didn’t have any red paint at that moment, and instead of not painting or waiting to purchase red paint, he simply painted everything in blue. If your attitude is centered on resolving issues, your pitch will be a lot more convincing and motivating, which facilitates the task.

The last A is altitude – the vision of the ideal world that you share. Imagine being on top of a very high mountain and looking out over the distance to see every single detail. In the pitch, you must paint a picture of an inspiring message that provides a glimpse of this ideal work and creates a desire to want more. This desire will inspire the receptor to act on the proposal without any additional effort on your part.

The Why is What the Receptor Will Retain

The last portion of knowledge for the art of pitching was a TED Talk video by Simon Sinek, on the topic of the Golden Circles, a very important concept in sales and marketing. Essentially, there are three categories of messages when selling a product (or an idea, such as a brand): the what, the how, and the why.

Simply said, the what is the object proposed (for example, a phone, a pen, a political platform – there are millions of examples). The how is the element of differentiation that allows it to be better than the competition’s. Some examples are a drink that contains fewer calories than the others in the same genre, or a sofa made from a more resistant material than the others in the same price range. Finally, the why is the benefit that the user draws from the object of interest at the end of the day. This is the portion of the pitch that speaks to the values and motivations held by the receptor. If we continue with the idea of the sofa, the why portion could be that the material’s resistance prevents the sofa from being damaged, therefore the owners may let their children and/or pets on the sofa with no worries, enjoy great times on the sofa, and make as many memories as possible. This type of selling point speaks directly to the values of someone who might be family or pet-oriented.

What sells an idea is not the what or the how; it’s the why. The why conversation is directly about the intrinsic motivations of someone, it creates an emotional and personal reaction. The best pitches start with why, followed by how, and finish up with what; that’s what Apple does. They say that they create an easy and pleasurable experience for the user, by offering the latest and most powerful technologies, when they create computers. It is not the inverse order which would state that they create computers with the latest and most powerful technologies to create an easy and pleasurable experience. The emphasis on the “easy and pleasurable experience” attracts attention much more effectively and keeps the attention until the what is answered.