Have Your Say: To Pitch or To Sell22

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There is a multiple choice question at the end of this post, but here is the background to help you vote:

I was sitting with a sales person last week, not a client, a successful rep by some measures; he has been in the same industry for a number of years, though he has moved around between some of the leading providers. We were strategizing about a specific opportunity we were working together, when I realized that we were looking at the same thing in very different ways, addressing the situation in different languages, probably with a different objective in mind for the same meeting.

We were preparing to approach senior team at a company, a meeting with an all ‘C’ level audience. As I listened it became clear that he was gearing everything to “Pitch” the audience, and I was trying to create a flow that would lead to a buying discussion focused on the buyers and their objectives and goals.

He was thinking that since he is an expert, he is, that he will impress them with his understanding of the trends and challenges he has been able to address for similar situations, and get the group to buy in based on that. I argued we should use our assumptions to create questions that would allow the group to tell us the situation from their point of view; questions that would stir discussion among the group that will reveal more issues, and things that they may not easily communicate with us, but bring up in the context of a discussion amongst themselves; and questions that would demonstrate the expertise Dean was so ready to lead with.

As is often the case, Dean did understand basic concepts like “value proposition”, ROI, and relationships. But these were all signposts on the way to his moment in the sun, the minute he gets to pitch, deliver his presentation. The client need only provide the cues, and off he goes delivering his well rehearsed soliloquies.

He wanted impress and conquer, I wanted to engage and discover. The “discover” here is not me discovering, but helping the audience discover where they are really at before we begin to “pitch”. If they themselves did not yet have consensus on where they were and what they wanted to achieve, pitching them on how was not going to be effective; it would lead to a lot of work, and more to a lot of revision, and perhaps elimination as they would in the end blame the twists and turns caused by their buying process on us. In some ways they would be right since we did not manage the process.

The challenge for me is that we are two halves of a solution, both he and I are firm in our stance, what should I do:

1. Split the team and go in alone?
2. Concede to his approach?
3. Hijack the meeting and do it my way?
4. Slip him a knock out drug in the parking lot and win the deal and split the money and the glory?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto


  1. Ian Brodie

    I vote 4, with 1 as a back-up. Another alternative is to split and let him do it alone – spend your time on something else.

    Pitching sometimes works. SOmetimes it’s what the clients expect and want.

    But not that often.


  2. Anne Perret

    Excellent article Skip – a very erudite articulation of why so many pitches don’t win the business.

    The clue is that ‘To Pitch’ is a verb. It means ‘to throw’. In other words, it’s one-way traffic. And yet the greatest compliment a client can pay a supplier is ‘They really understand me’. How to get to that compliment? Listen first and talk later.

    I’d vote 4 as well.

  3. Pardeep

    I have seen sales gys come in to make pitches to me, only to be dismissed from my short list process. I’d normally opt for #1 but given that you are preparing for an iminent meeting in the next few minutes to hours, I’d in for #3. It will become clear to the “C” levels that you have their best interests at heart and will dismiss the pitch.

  4. Ramon Vela

    Very good article and an all too common example. I would vote for #1 but number #3 would be a close second. # 4, although rather attractive, would be illegal.

    Keep up the good post.

  5. admin

    Thanks for you comment Ramon,

    I too prefer to keep it legal.


  6. DonnaM

    Great article and example!
    I would prefer an answer #5….do both.
    Have a mini discovery by someone other than the rep (you can quickly discern depth of questions needed) and then have the rep show expertise by showing well thought out solution he wanted to show in the first place.

    Does three things- 1/ensures client knows what they want to do and no changes have happened between meetings. Many C types are not available for preliminary meetings and have different needs and this gives them the opportunity to let us know what they are.
    2/shows that rep is clearly knowledgeable about the client and their goals
    3/shows true collaborative efforts and keeps everyone out of jail….
    As professionals we should be able to juggle/change a meeting to accomodate many types of thinking and opinion.


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