15 Deal Breakers To Avoid When Pitching an Idea

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You’ve finally gotten a meeting with the people who can turn your dream into a reality. You can’t wait to walk into that room and sell them your idea. You’ve read up on the first part of this two-part series which covered the nuts and bolts of making a pitch, and you feel pretty prepared.

Awesome. But here’s one of the most important things you need to know: The buyer is not looking to say yes. They’re looking to say no.

This is hard for the seller to understand. You feel like the buyer is just waiting to hear your world-changing idea. You’re one guy, with one idea, and you’ve been working on that idea for years. It’s all you think about.

But the buyer sees dozens, hundreds, even thousands of guys just like you every year. You’re a dime a dozen. For them, saying no is the easiest option. Saying yes involves risk – of their money and reputation – and it involves time, hassle, and responsibility. Saying no simplifies their life and lets them get on with their day. Basically, buyers are looking for any reason to turn you down.

Because of the number of pitches they get, all buyers develop ways of slotting sellers into yes and no categories. Your train can be chugging right along, but if you raise a deal breaker red flag – they’ll throw the switch and put you on the no track. These flags can be really small things, but they’ve probably found that 8 out of 10 people who exhibit those traits end up being a nightmare to work with. And they’re not willing to gamble that you’re one of the two who are exceptions to the rule.

Sure, buyers’ deal breakers aren’t fair – not at all. Your idea might be truly fantastic, but you’re having a terrible day and thus blow the pitch. But buyers can’t give every pitch the same attention and thus develop a sorting system by necessity.

Even though buyers’ deal breakers aren’t fair, they are happily pretty easy to avoid. Here are 15 pitching pitfalls to avoid stepping into, as gleaned from Stephanie Palmer’s Good in Room (as an executive at MGM, she ruined many a screenwriter’s day) and my personal experience on both sides of the desk.

1. Arriving late. Showing up late demonstrates that you don’t respect the buyers’ time. Here’s a good maxim to live by: “If you’re on time, you’re late.” There are always going to be unexpected obstacles to getting into that meeting room – there’s surprisingly heavy traffic on the way there, you have to park a few blocks away, you have to go through a security check in the lobby, the office is on the 50th floor, and all the elevators are full. So you should plan on pulling into the general vicinity of the meeting place 15 minutes ahead of time. If you don’t encounter any of the obstacles just mentioned, then when you get to the office early, tell the receptionist you’re there, but that there’s no need to announce you until 5 minutes prior to the meeting time. Then just take a seat in the waiting area and review your notes.

2. Dressing inappropriately. Dress in line with the standard of the company you’re pitching to. If they’re a traditional, conservative business, wear a suit. If they’re a modern and casual business, wear khakis and a sport coat. Consider wearing something blue as this color engenders a feeling of trust.

3. Taking the wrong seat. People are strangely territorial about their seats. Just try sitting in the wrong pew at a small church (families actually used to “rent” a pew back in the 18th century for the privilege of having their name emblazoned on it).

Sit in the wrong seat at a pitch meeting, and someone may have to awkwardly say, “That’s my seat.” Or they may say nothing, but sit through the meeting feeling a bit put out by your perceived presumptuousness.

Where they’d like you to plant your kiester may be obvious – but if it’s not, then simply ask, “Where would you like me to sit?” when you walk in.

4. Getting their name wrong. Everyone loves the sound of their own name, which is why using someone’s name is one of the easiest ways to build rapport. Conversely, getting someone’s name wrong is one of the quickest ways to stop rapport-building dead in its tracks.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many emails we get addressed to “Brent and Kay.”

When you get someone’s name wrong, you show you really don’t know much about the company you’re pitching to or that you’re inattentive to details. It can also make you seem highly disingenuous if you follow your name-blunder with, “I’m such a big fan of yours!”

5. Not addressing the pitch to everyone in the room. If both the president and the VP are sitting in on the meeting, don’t only address your remarks to the president, and slight the veep. Talk and make eye contact with everyone in the room, from the lowliest note taker to the head honcho.

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