Live @ LBCE: How to Develop a Profitable Pitch

April 6, 2017

If you want to get somebody interested in buying your product, whether it’s a book, a print, or even your services, you need to start with a dynamite pitch.

In my experience, you don’t have much time to catch somebody’s interest. Luckily, I’ve perfected the steps to a good pitch so you can gain somebody’s attention in a minimal amount of time. Once they’re hooked, you can spend as much time as you want with them. The trick is getting them interested in the first place.

 I’ve tailored this formula through dozens of shows, but it can be used on social media, in meetings, or basically anywhere you need to get somebody’s attention.

A pitch needs to be simple and concise with specific appeals for your intended audience. There are tons of steps that go into a great pitch. Don’t worry if you get frustrated with it. Pitching, like any art form, gets better with practice.

Step 1: The question

The first step in any good pitch is the question. This is where you get your potential customer to engage with you by answering a simple yes or no question.

My first question to passersby at a convention is usually “Do you want to see a cool comic?” However, as the variety of titles at Wannabe Press grows, my pitches vary depending on what I am trying to push on any given day. If I want to sell more of my murder mystery novel, the question is “Do you like murder?” If I am trying to sell kids’ books, the question is “Wanna see something that will put your kid to sleep?”

The people who stopped and replied “yes” were immediately self-identifying that they were interested in what I was pitching. I knew they were in my target market because they said “yes.”

One of the most important concept in sales is the idea that many small yeses lead to one big yes—the big yes being a sale. If you can get people to say “yes” over and over again, they are confirming their interest in your product, and you have positioned yourself well to win their business.

If you are selling yourself and not your product, your question might be, “Are you sick of freelancers that bail?” or “Are you having trouble making people notice your brand?” If you are selling prints, you might ask, “Are you looking for a new accent piece for your bedroom?” or “Are your walls annoyingly bare?”

You won’t know exactly what works until you get out into the world and test several possibilities, but the idea is to get somebody to say “yes” to you right off the bat with a simple, innocuous question.

Step 2: The option

Once your potential customer is engaged with your pitch, you need to give them a simple two-choice option to move the conversation along to the next step. This option is another way to make your potential customer self-identify their preferences. When there are two comic books on my table, I ask “Do you like psychological mind screws or girls that kick butt?”

By giving them the choice, I’ve forced them to buy into their preference. Psychologically, this puts people in a more receptive mood to buy. By choosing their favorite, they agree they are interested in what I am selling. Now, all I have to do is make my case and hope they bite.

The beauty of this option is that I know every possible outcome and can plan my pitch accordingly. You know what your pitch will be if they say option one, and you know your pitch if they say option two. Even if they don’t pick either option, you know your next step because you’ve limited their potential responses.  For instance, if they say “both,” or if they pause for more than a second, I always pitch my best seller.

Some people prefer to ask their customers open-ended questions, but that is a dangerous game. If you ask a question like “What are you shopping for today?” or “What do you like?” you are giving the power to the buyer. They could say anything. For all you know, they might say, “I’m here because goats are cool.” By using the two-choice option, you get all the advantages of engagement with none of the risk posed by open-ended questions.

By narrowing down your potential customer’s options, you can nail your pitch every time. With pitching, even a few seconds’ delay can be the difference between a sale and the customer walking away in disgust.

Step 3: The pitch

Did you notice there are two steps before we even get to the pitch? This is called “priming the customer,” and it allows for you to get a couple of yeses before you even pitch the product. It also forces the customer to self-identify as a member of your ideal audience—twice. This leads to a more engaged listener and higher overall sales.

Your pitch is a simple one-sentence summary of your project’s biggest hook. For example, my pitch for Katrina Hates Dead Shit is: a woman gets sick of living during the Apocalypse so she sets out to Hell to Kill the Devil.

It’s short, sweet, and to the point. Most importantly, it creates an emotional connection with my ideal customer. The perfect customer of that book will hear my pitch and have a visceral reaction to it.

That’s the most important part of your pitch. It’s not about what your product does. It about creating an emotional connection to your customer. People make purchases based on emotion, so you need to make an emotional connection to the buyer. The good news is they’ve already self-identified that they want to hear your pitch. Now, all you must to do is nail the emotional hook.

Emotional connection is a powerful thing, and it’s the most powerful buying trigger you have to help boost your sales. When somebody doesn’t know you, they must be able to connect with your product emotionally in order for you to make a sale. 

Don’t worry if you don’t have this down perfectly at first. Discovering the emotional resonance of your product is difficult. You should write out ten to twenty potential pitches and then start delivering them to people to find the one with the best emotional connection. Most likely, you will need to combine the best parts of several pitches for the best effect.

Before a product ever even launches, I spend hundreds of hours developing the exact wording of its pitch. I show people our in-progress work, tell them as much as I can about it, and watch how they react, noting which parts of my description light them up. I mold that all into the perfect pitch. By the time the product launches, I know the exact emotional beats necessary to maximize sales.

Step 4: The flavor

Once you finish your pitch, let it settle in for a moment with your potential customer. Let them look at the product and turn it over a couple times. Once they’ve looked at it for a few seconds, you should start adding on some flavor elements to spice up your pitch. This is when you start peppering in some unique selling points and your value proposition for whatever you are selling.

These flavor elements are things they can’t find easily by looking at your product, like where it was made, why you made it, or who worked on it with you. Every product is different, and you need to find the right “spice” to resonate with a product’s ideal audience.

For my graphic novel, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, people respond when I tell them about our influences for making the book, that we used a single artist for everything, and that it’s a complete story. With Katrina Hates the Dead, I know they respond when I talk about the artist going on to work on a Star Wars story and that we have additional process images in the back showing how we made the book. Each of these bits of flavor perk up the reader and strengthen their desire to buy the product.

Step 5: The acceptance

Before you ask for the sale, you want to get them to agree once again that the product is cool. This can be as simple as “Pretty cool, right?” You are priming them one more time before asking them to buy. They’ve agreed this is a product they want—three times—and now it’s time to ask for the sale.

Step 6: The ask

Ask for the business by stating the price of your services and giving them another optional close. For instance, you could say, “This book is twenty dollars or two for thirty,” or “Will that be cash or charge?” This final optional close once again primes the customer that they are going to buy. Instead of the option being yes or no, it’s, “How do I want to pay?”

Don’t be too pushy here. You’ll see their reaction when you state the price. Most people will back off, some will buy, and some will be on the fence. For the people who back off, exchange cards and add them to your mailing list. For the people who buy, have them pay and add them to your mailing list. For the people on the fence, move on to step seven.

Step 7: Objection handling

Most people aren’t going to buy your project. Some will flat out say no, but others will sit on the fence waiting for you to convince them to buy. They want your product but you haven’t given them a strong enough reason to give you their hard-earned money. So, you have to give them a good reason to buy.

With these people, you want to give them another question, like “What’s stopping you from buying this right now?” However, a better question would be, “I know you want this, but you’re trying to save your money to see if there is something better, right?”

They will almost always agree with this, and then you can make them a special offer, something like, “What if I gave you a money-back guarantee? If you find something better at this con, come back and I will give you your money back.” I’ve been making this offer for years, and nobody has ever come back to get their money back.

Maybe they will have a great reason, like “I’m not getting paid for two weeks.” Maybe they have a crappy reason you can easily overcome and make them a customer. Perhaps the pricing is too high, and in that case you can lower the price slightly, or maybe they really want multiple pieces, in which case you can offer them bundle pricing.

If you can overcome these objections in one round of objection handling, then you should have a customer on your hand. If they still have objections, try to flush them out with one more round before giving up.

You want to do at most two rounds of this objection handling. If you can’t make a sale by then, exchange cards, add them to your mailing list, and make them a future prospect. You can keep going for as long as you want with objections, but I’ve found if you can’t convince them with two chances, then they most likely won’t buy, at least not until later.

In practice, this entire pitch, from meeting a customer through objection handling, takes no more than a couple of minutes, max. It’s the whittling down everything you want to say into a couple sentences that takes forever. The actual pitch should be no more than two minutes.

The first time you do it, it won’t take two minutes. It will take forever, and you’ll get everything wrong. You’ll sound terrible. You’ll say things in the wrong order. You’ll say things you didn’t mean to say. You’ll ramble on forever. You’ll be…just awful.

That’s okay.

It’s unnatural to talk about your project. Nobody likes to do it. Since you don’t want to do it, either, you’ll stop after two or three attempts. Then, you’ll hang your head in shame and never want to do it again.

Don’t give up.

That’s the key to this. You can’t stop. You have to keep going. Over time you will get better. The more you practice your “pitching muscle,” the better you’ll get and the more natural you will become. The key to a pitch is that it can’t sound like a pitch. It has to sound natural, and it can’t sound natural until you’ve done it a thousand times. You can’t do it a thousand times if you stop after the first attempt.

You’re supposed to suck at this at first. Sucking at something, as Jake the Dog from Adventure Time says, is the first step to being kind of good at something. If you want to be kind of good at pitching, you have to do the work. There are no shortcuts in coming up with and practicing a compelling pitch. The only secret is to do it a whole bunch of times.

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