Selling Innovation: The Pitch (chapter 3)

Once you have designed a great product or service and determined the most effective path for taking it to market, selling your innovation will require creating a message that communicates the value proposition to prospective buyers.  Because both consumer and corporate buyers are far more sophisticated today with access to multiple sources of information – from product reviews to competitive pricing – your pitch can not be one-dimensional.  You must blend a simple, easily grasped and remembered tag line with feature-function lists, competitive product comparisons, and not a small measure of excitement.

The pitch should seek to make a direct connection between the customer’s needs/wants/desires and your innovation – demonstrating that your square peg fits into their square hole.  This basic connection also helps reduce time and cost of selling.  When you try to pitch a round peg to an audience that has a square hole no hammer can force it to fit.

The key to a great pitch is making sure you are saying the right thing, to the right person, at the right time in the conversation.

Your pitch should have four functions.  First, it must be relevant.  You want the right people to care for the right reasons.  You want to connect with people who directly experience the pain your solution is solving so messages of pain relief are quickly and easily taken in.

Second, your pitch needs to be comprehensible. You have to get people to understand that yours is the solution aligned with the problem they are trying to solve.  You spend a lot more time thinking about the problem than your customer has, but it’s essential that you boil those months and years of careful consideration into a short, simple, easy to understand message.

Third is credibility. In our media saturated, PR dominated, social media influenced world, every smart person is a genius, every movie is epic, and every innovation is the stuff of Leonardo.  Credibility is a function of managing expectations.  If you promise the cosmos and only reach the moon, you are seen as failing in your efforts.  If you promise the stratosphere and reach the moon, you have exceeded your expectations.  It takes great courage, insight, and not a little confidence to be an innovator, but your message must reflect a humble approach or you risk promising something you cannot deliver.  And when you fail to deliver for one customer, in this media saturated world, soon everyone will know about it.  Successful selling innovation means keeping the long-term view in mind, creating the movement, which starts with generating credibility from the start.

The fourth function of your pitch is urgency, getting customers to act – now.  Innovators love their own ideas, love talking about them with other people, and often mistake interest for sales traction.  Product feedback even from non-buyers can be important, but to cover your operating expenses, and pay your mortgage, you need to determine whether the person in front of you is willing to buy (having already established that they are able).  Understanding whether the match between the problem the listener has and your innovation is sufficiently urgent for them to pay you money is accomplished with one of the simplest, most avoided element of the sales process:  ask for the money.  “If my product can solve that problem you have, would you be willing to pay me $100?”   If you don’t ask for the money then it’s just a product research effort or networking.  As an innovation sales professional your job is to move the prospect from consideration to customer.

But as discussed earlier, your pitch is a constant work in progress.  How do you know when your pitch isn’t working?  There five clear signs your pitch isn’t working.

First, you don’t care.  If you go through the process of creating a pitch for your innovation but your focus is much more on the product rather than successfully communicating its benefits, if you don’t care about sales, your pitch will reflect that.

Second, you don’t understand your own message.  Pitch yourself in a voice mail message and then a few hours later go back and listen to your pitch.  Does it make sense?  Are you clear.  Will someone who is not as steeped in your innovation and the market problem grasp what you are saying?  Try it on a friend who is in a totally different business and get their reaction.

Third, you don’t believe it, or it doesn’t ring true at this stage of your development. While your innovation and personal goal is to disrupt a major industry, do you believe that when anyone else tells you the same in a 140 character tweet or 30 second elevator pitch?  If Google or Facebook says they have a new innovation that will change the healthcare industry, for example, most people will at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they have the network, capital, and resources to make that happen.  If a lone innovator or small team of five says they are going to disrupt the entire healthcare system they may be right, but they’re not believable at this stage of development.

Fourth, it doesn’t apply to the real world in which the listener is operating.  Innovation is all about vision, seeing around the corner.  But its application must be relevant to the problems people are facing today.

And fifth, it’s too easily confused with a competitive offering.  Complex words and phrases cannot mask an also-ran, an innovation that is in reality only incrementally different from something that is already in the marketplace.  As a simple exercise, post the slogans of your top ten competitors on the wall and list five ways that your solution is different or better, and then another five ways that your pitch conveys that message.

Read More about The Pitch…

  • The 30 – 2 – 30 Engagement Process
  • Rising Above the Noise
  • Your Sales Pitch isn’t Working if…
  • Elements of a Great Pitch

You can download the remainder of the book Selling Innovation using the discount code WD22R (enter in shopping cart after log-in, valid thru 4/31). You can follow on Twitter @sellingInno

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Selling YOUR Innovation Ken Smith, Business Plan Reviewer and Start-up Coach for Springboard Enterprises, served as Co-chair of CEO Service Committee for the MIT Enterprise Forum Cambridge; and is the author of the start-up resource guidebook Selling Innovation

Ken Smith




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