Kimberly D. Elsbach’s 2003 Harvard Business Review article “How to Pitch a Brilliant Idea” came across my desk recently – and irritated me greatly.
I teach state-of-the-art selling, and when I see the word “pitch” to describe a selling process I always ask, “Do YOU want something pitched AT YOU?” Of course you don’t. So why would you see yourself as “pitching” someone else?
It conjures up a bad image!
So I was prepared to dislike Elsbach’s article. But her research is compelling.
“Coming up with creative ideas is easy; selling them to strangers is hard,” she writes. And the problem has as much to do with the personal traits of the seller as the merits of the idea.
Buyers make fast judgments about who we are, and those judgments profoundly influence their buying decisions.
“Humans can categorize others in less than 50 milliseconds,” she adds.
Elsbach’s conclusion: buyers have no formal, verifiable, or objective measures for assessing creativity. They therefore apply a set of subjective and often inaccurate criteria very early in a selling conversation, and “from that point on the tone is set.”
How to counteract this? Elsbach says buyers respond well if they’re made to feel they’re participating in an idea’s development. It’s effective to enroll the buyer in the creative process.
For example, some people successfully lead prospects through a series of shared memories and viewpoints, and then ask for a reaction to their idea that flows from that background.
Feeling as if you’d rather not have your prospect’s input to your idea? Elsbach advises that you find a part of your proposal that you are willing to yield on, and invite your prospect to come up with suggestions in that area.
“Once your prospect feels like a creative collaborator, the odds of rejection diminish.”
So don’t see yourself as “pitching” – throwing information at a buyer – rather, collaborate with him or her to increase the odds of making a sale.
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