BOOK REVIEW: Don't earn money - make the money earn you

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal by Oren Klaff

As part of your professional life, you are undoubtedly required to sell something – a product, a service or an idea.

Knowing "the right pitch" (an Americanism for a presentation to obtain a contract or other business,) can be the difference between progressing the project and killing it. Unless selling is what you do for a living, you probably spend less than 1% of your time doing it, but it may well be the most important thing you do.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the way we pitch anything and the way it is received by our audience.

Author Oren Klaff has been very successful at selling very wealthy investors profitable deals that involve Wall Street banks. "The numbers show I am consistently one of the best," he asserts. While his context has informed the examples he uses, it doesn’t limit the value of his approach.

Better method, more money

Pitching is one of those business skills that depends heavily on the method you use, and not how hard you try. Klaff succeeds because he has a good method, one I have not come across before.

"Better method, more money. Much better method, much more money," he writes.

The traditional approach to selling, stated simply, is to make your most important points clearly, even with passion, and in a very well-organised manner.

After the presentation you ask yourself the questions: Did I get through? Was my message well received?

However, if your idea was good, and you didn’t stumble, and you showed a winning personality – why doesn’t it work every time?

The reason is because a great pitch is not about the process. It’s about getting and keeping the prospect’s attention. The view of the brain as having three layers explains the reason.

The brain's three layers

The most primitive layer of the brain is the reptilian brain. It has limited capacity and is devoted primarily to what it takes to keep us alive. The second layer, the midbrain, determines the meaning of things and social situations. The third layer, the neocortex – the most evolved layer, is where we problem-solve, think about complex issues and produce answers using reason. The tripartite brain works both independently and together.

As a species that is soft, weak, and slow compared with just about all others, we survived for millions of years by viewing everything in the universe as potentially dangerous.

As such, is it vitally important to make certain that your message achieves two objectives: not triggering fear alarms, and being recognised as something positive, clear, intriguing and novel.

The problem is that our presentations are the product of our highly evolved neocortex, which deals with details and abstract concepts, and is addressing the reptilian brain.

This level of the brain is afraid of almost everything. It needs very simple, clear, direct, and nonthreatening ideas to accept our proposal.

Pitches go well when they adhere to the rules of brain functioning.

Doing it beta, targeting the alpha

Another facet of Klaff’s method is his notion of "frames". I will share just one aspect – frame control. This involves seizing high social status so that you have a solid platform from which to control the pitch and how it is received.

In every context there is the 'alpha' – Mr or Mrs 'Big'. Alphas call the shots, give the orders, and create the outcomes they want with a minimum of effort. This is the person who is instinctively respected, listened to, and whose opinion is accepted without question.

And then there are the 'betas' – never taken very seriously, no matter how well they pitch.

Corporates seem structured to make salespeople into betas. Consider the array of "beta-traps" that ensure you are always held in a subordinate position to your prospect, and that you never control the meeting.

"A beta trap is a subtle but effective social ritual that puts you in the low-status position and works to keep you there, beneath the decision-maker you have come to visit, for the entire duration of the social interaction," Klaff explains.

You enter the reception area of your prospect’s office. As you approach the receptionist, she looks up and says "Morning, can I help you?" — then takes a call before you can answer.

"I’m here to see Bill Jones for a 2 o'clock meeting…" The receptionist looks past you.

"Sign the visitor’s book, please. Here’s your visitor’s pass. Keep it with you at all times. Please take a seat. Bill’s assistant will come get you in a few minutes."

At 2:10 p.m., a young aide approaches you. "Hi. Bill is running a little late, but shouldn’t be more than another 10 minutes." You blink, she’s gone.

Your prospect arrives late, offering a mock apology for his impossible schedule, telling you that he now has only a few minutes and still hasn’t had a chance to review your materials, and you may wish to reschedule.

You have been beta-trapped and are completely defeated. You may as well go home. Yet this is how many 'Bills' set and conduct business meetings.

Let the money earn you

With the presumption that you have a product or service of value to the prospect, Klaff suggests starting the meeting with a different mindset.

It’s commonly believed that you must earn the investor’s approval to win the money. The correct frame is that the money must earn you, not the other way around. The money cannot do anything without you. Money is a commodity available in a thousand places, and is the same no matter where it comes from. But there is only one you. Your deal is unique among all others.

The moment you enter a room to present is a good example of how the social animal works. In those first moments, the alpha and beta social positions are up for grabs, and within seconds, we decide who in this room is the dominant alpha.

Our position in the social hierarchy is not locked in place. Setting the correct mindset is an invisible defence that is designed to protect our conscious minds from sudden intrusion by ideas and perspectives that don’t accord with it.

Klaff teaches: Protect your status! Make the buyer qualify himself to you. Withdraw if the buyer wants to force any change to this status.

Consider the impact of saying to Mr Big: "No. I don’t work like that. There’s no sense in rescheduling unless we like each other and trust each other. I need to know: are you good to work with, can you keep appointments, and stick to a schedule?"

The probable outcome will be: "Okay, you’re right. That’s no problem. Let’s do this now. I have 30 minutes. Come in."

No too dissimilar to Klaff’s approach is BMW’s requirement that you sign a contract promising you’ll keep its special-edition M3 clean and take care of the special paint. The company won’t even let you buy one until you promise this in writing.

Klaff’s line of thinking about making a pitch is clearly effective. He agrees that the first time you attempt it, you will be terrified of overwhelming consequences. It rarely happens. He has much to teach, and this book is a tool that should not be overlooked by anyone who sells anything in any way.

Readability       Light --+-- Serious

Insights                      High +---- Low

Practical           High +---- Low

  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.
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