Why do sales pitches often leave us frustrated? Because salespeople are often chained to a script and are under pressure to convert prospects. But if we view people as prospects, we often forget to have a human conversation and leave our audience feeling undervalued. A two-way dialogue will increase your success rate. Here, founder and director of The Speaking Clinic Celia Carron reflects on a recent experience and gives her top tips for success.  

I was recently looking to sign up for a one-on-one service that I felt could help with my personal development. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve and I contacted a company who were highly recommended and well qualified. They seemed perfect on paper and in theory, I was ready to buy. Of course, I wanted a quick call beforehand – just to be sure that I was the right person for them and their approach would work for me. 

I was looking forward to this conversation. After all, their brochures, website and testimonials had excited me and made me ready to take the next step. However, what I got was as far from a conversation as you can get – I got a sales pitch. 

So, what went wrong? 

Firstly, our ‘quick’ call was over an hour long. I could have forgiven this if it had been a two-way, engaging conversation – but I quickly realised this wouldn’t be the case. The person I was speaking to immediately went into the sales script and hardly stopped to breathe; there was little time for me to interject or ask questions about the points being raised. I wasn’t being invited to participate, so I didn’t feel acknowledged

Throughout the hour, I was only asked two questions about myself. The answers I gave could have provided them with valuable insight into my motivations and goals, allowing them to engage with me on a personal level – but I was sadly interrupted each time as we returned to the sales pitch. There was no curiosity about the person they were talking to, so the information they were giving was irrelevant to me and my needs

Needless to say, throughout the entire call I couldn’t wait to leave. No further appointments were made and I wouldn’t consider their services in the future. Above all, it felt they valued me more as a prospect and not as a person.  

This experience isn’t anything unusual. Whatever our trade or profession, there is often pressure to convert prospects to sales – and too often this can create one-way, frantic dialogue. In truth, if we ditched the traditional sales pitch and facilitated a two-way conversation, our pitches, presentations and discovery calls would be far more successful. 

Five simple ways to improve your pitches

1. It’s about them, not you

Remember, when pitching or presenting, your focus should be on the person or people in front of you. You’re there to help them solve a problem – not to prove how good your ideas or services are. Drop the sales pitch and shift the limelight to the person in front of you and you’ll have a more natural conversation that will help you understand their needs. 

2. Listen

In your pitches and presentations, how much time do you spend describing, explaining or selling? If you’re spending more time talking than listening, then switch it up. Practice active listening, summarising what your audience tells you and repeating it back for clarity. The person you’re talking with will feel valued and you’ll be able to tailor your approach to their specific goals.

3. Be curious

Drop the insincere flattery and build a solid professional and personal relationship by being genuinely curious about the person you are talking to. Show interest in the person you’re talking to, their problems, and their personal and professional lives. They will feel valued and you’ll be building the foundations for a solid working relationship.

4. Ask open-ended questions

Your goal when pitching should be to find out as much about the person you are talking to as possible, but it’s not an interrogation. Asking open-ended questions takes the conversation forward. There are open-ended questions that can be used in all situations and are great for those occasions where the conversation becomes stilted. You can avoid awkward silences by having some open-ended questions ready. We recommend you always have at least three in your arsenal before pitching. Take a look at our free resource for a comprehensive list you can use

5. Acknowledge

If you’re practicing active listening and showing genuine curiosity, you should be able to respond sincerely to what your audience tells you. Showing that you have listened to what has been said will show your audience that their issues are acknowledged. Avoid judgement or offering instant solutions – use language that shows you have understood and digested their problems. For example, “It sounds like this created a problem for your department?”, “I can see how that experience would have been difficult”. 

Celia Carron is the director of The Speaking Clinic and coaches business people and individuals to prepare conversations and presentations meaningfully.