The Secrets to Pitching for New Business
All businesses, growing or not, should be actively looking at ways to attract new customers all the time. Those companies that ignore new business, believing that their established customer base is enough to keep the business ticking over nicely, will usually get a rude awakening.
New business development should start with your existing customers. The easiest way to attract new business is to build on the ones you already have and the quickest way for a business to fail is to lose existing customers.
You therefore need to build and maintain good relationships with your customers. A key part of that is listening carefully to their feedback, good and bad, even if it, at first, appears unjustified. If you get negative feedback, don’t respond defensively; bad feedback is incredibly useful in helping you improve your business, so try to recognise that in the way you respond. Other customers and potential customers will probably feel the same way. If the criticism is unjustified, instead of getting annoyed, try to establish why the customer feels this way. What can you do to change their perception? E.g. Do they have unrealistic expectations for their budget? Is there something they’re doing that is getting in the way of you being able to deliver what they want?
To sell to new customers you need to have a very clear idea about where your product fits in the marketplace, why people would buy from you and who your target customers are. This is something you need to review regularly as the marketplace evolves all the time, in some cases quite dramatically. A study by McKinsey found that the average life span of companies was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies in the top 500 will have disappeared. You can only be one of the surviving 25% if you keep adapting.
To start this process, you need to understand and be able to articulate the problem your product or service solves. This is not a list of features, but instead think carefully, from a customer’s viewpoint, how you can make their life better. You should be able to summarise it in a few sentences. This is often described as your ‘elevator pitch’ as you need to be able to say it in a lift before the person gets out, which is a really good discipline. If you find that yours is too long it’s probably because you’re trying to include the features. So remember, ‘sell the sizzle not the sausage’. i.e. You’re trying to tempt the prospect, not give them all the detail.
Once you have your elevator pitch you can then think about the features you offer. How do those features compare to those of your competitors? What are the benefits of these features?
Now you understand your offering, consider carefully who your target customers are. If you try and target ‘everyone’ you will attract no-one. Marketers often use ‘personas’ to help them understand their customers. This can feel a little ‘fluffy’ but let a senior accountant reassure you, it delivers results because it forces you think of your potential customers as people, not ‘prospects’, who have all the usual idiosyncrasies and prejudices. To give you an example, if you decide that you’re trying to attract other small business owners who are on the go, delivering services in people’s houses, then publishing regular blogs on LinkedIn is a waste of time, they’re not on their PCs all day as they’re travelling.
You’re now ready to write your sales pitch. Remember that most people (around 80%) won’t read beyond your headline. It therefore needs to encapsulate what you do and why people should buy from you (so a clear differentiation from your competitors). It also helps if you can make it emotionally appealing. E.g. “We make the best coffee for 20 miles” or “We will deliver your office supply needs within 24 hours”. Of course, cost is often used as the differentiator, but in most businesses, people don’t buy the cheapest, they buy the best value, so consider your customer persona carefully before deciding to fish in that particular pond.
Collect facts and testimonials (and case studies) to back up your claims. Around 90% of potential customers will be influenced by online reviews, so do all you can to encourage your customers to leave them. Collect the good ones and add them to your website (with permission) and pitch documents. As tempting as it is, don’t lie or exaggerate in your claims (or pay for reviews). That way leads to unhappy customers who refuse to pay and a bad reputation that will quickly spread online.
To get the pitch process right you also need to know how many customers you need to pitch to every month. To find out, ask yourself the following questions:
- How many new customers do you need?
- How long does it take you to close a sale?
- What is your ‘close’ ratio?
You now need to ask the customer to buy. It is surprising how often companies forget that part. Make sure you have a very clear call to action that makes it easy for your customers to engage with you. If you’re not sure, get someone who doesn’t know your business to test it. You then need to follow up and don’t be shy of doing that more than once. I don’t mean harass customers but do check in and remind them what you have to offer. So much of sealing a deal is about timing so just because you’re not right for them in March, perhaps when you drop them a line in September you might be. Make sure you keep on their radar and be persistent.