How to Neutralize a Software Pitch

Originally posted on April 21 2011

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Few days ago, INC.com published a slide show on sales pitching techniques. They are a short abstract of “Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal” by Oren Klaff. The slides describe some tricks to gain advantage on the audience while pitching.
There was a time when I was the one being pitched and, working in the IT of large multinational company, I was considered a potentially rewarding target. At that time, my boss and I, developed a sort of unwritten protocol to deal with software pitches. We needed it because we used to run a rather complex business and we needed various pieces of software; thus, we made a lot of selections. I’m going to share with you a few of the techniques we used at time. Be aware that here I’m leaving aside all the considerations stated in my previous post and I’m focusing on evaluating the software itself.

Try to avoid pitches. When you get a cold call or an email or a tweet asking for your time to review a new piece of software, say no. This is the most basic suggestion. Ask for documentation and, when practical, for a functioning demo you can play around with, alone. Then state clearly that, if you’ll need that kind of software, you’ll contact them. Also clearly state that there’s no point in contacting you further, just to phase out future calls.

Do not be emotional. Klaff suggests to keep the pitch as emotional as possible. When you spot this behavior break immediately the speaker and make a sarcastic comment, even if it were not justified. This is intended to break the rhythm and prevent the emotional build-up. You do not need to say “oooh!” to evaluate a software. Your mood should be rather skeptical than engaged.

Do not let the speaker go on with their intended agenda. Professionals will likely try to show you a long  presentation, or more than one. At the beginning, make clear that you expect to receive a clear and concise information in 2 or 3 minutes then you’ll start making questions. After 3 minutes, interrupt them and make questions and see how these are handled. Do not fear of being not polite, there’s nothing personal in that.

Do not accept generic answers. Never accept answers like “There are functions to calculate the manufacturing standard costs”. Ask to be shown with exactly that function, make a quick business case and see how they can manage it (this works better in demo).

Do not trust those who always say yes … because somewhere in their replies, there’s at least an omission or an actual lie.

Do not trust those who have all the answers. … because they likely invented some answers on the spot just to reply something. Telling “I do not know this particular. I must check and I’ll let you know later” is actually being professional.

In general, do not let the salesman drive. Keep making questions, explore the points that appear obscure, speak of the things that they do not want to speak about and do not left any stone unturned. Often many try desperately to stick to a script designed to expose strengths and hide weaknesses. As you need to know the weaknesses, always try to break the script when you see it emerging.

A salesman undergoing this treatment is going to have a tough afternoon and only the most experienced can handle graciously such a strafing. Just give for granted that they’ll look worse than expected and try to stick to the hard facts as they emerge.

On your side, you have to be prepared too. If you have to make questions, it’s up to you not to make pointless questions. You have to get informed enough before meeting the salesmen, for example, to avoid making comparisons with the wrong competitor. 

Be careful if someone from the line of business is present; make sure she will not start telling all the minutiae of her job to the salesman, taking time away from the presentation.

Last but not least, never never never take a decision upon the pitch. Always evaluate thoroughly by a trial and make your own opinion. After all, your opinion is the one that counts, for you.

Thanks Adriano for teaching me this. I still feel an immense regret that our routes parted.


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