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Perfecting Your Pitch

As a business communications coach, I often meet with small-business owners who struggle to pitch their products and services in a way that engages their listeners. If you fail to grab the attention of your prospects, customers, or colleagues right out of the gate, you'll miss opportunities to generate leads, close sales, and advance your business agenda.

For most people, the problem begins before they say a word, with poor preparation or a failure to prepare at all. While conducting interviews for my new book, 10 Simple Secrets of the World's Greatest Business Communicators, it didn't take me long to figure out that successful business owners prepare diligently for presentations and meetings by getting inside the heads of their listeners.

WOOING LISTENERS. Preparation is such an essential quality, I devoted an entire chapter to it. Great business communicators ask themselves three questions before engaging in important conversations, whether it's a meeting, a client pitch, or a product launch:

1: What does my listener need to know?

2: Why should they care?

3: What action do I want them to take?

Answering them will help you master your material to captivate your listeners, strike an emotional chord with them, and persuade them to specific action after your conversation.

For example, I recently worked with the sales team for a value-added reseller (VAR) that assembles computer systems based on a client's particular needs. The VAR industry is highly competitive; presentations to prospective customers are their lifeblood.

HOW TO STAND OUT. This particular VAR had been in business a long time and had a great track record of success. But it was struggling to highlight key features and benefits that would resonate with its customers. Once we answered the three questions, however, the rest of the presentation fell into place. Here's how the coaching session went:

Carmine (Coach): So guys, what does your audience, in this case a prospective customer, need to know about your service?

A: That we can save them money by reducing their information technology costs. A LOT of money!

Q: That's not very unique. Every VAR says that -- you and the 10,000 others! Why should these prospects care about your message?

A: They should care because, as opposed to most of our competitors, we've been in business for 30 years and we're profitable in a down market. They can rest assured that we won't go out of business.

We're also experts in something called virtualization technology, which is a way to reduce server costs. If they haven't heard about it, they will want to learn more about it. And have we mentioned that our customer service is second to none? We have testimonials that will back it up.

Q: O.K., now I care. What action do you want your audience to take?

A: Set up a second meeting with our technical specialists. We know that after a second meeting, there's a strong likelihood that we will get their business.

Once this group of professionals answered these questions, the rest of their pitch fell into place. Here's how they kicked off their sales presentations, following our coaching session:

"Good morning. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to tell you more about our company. Who are we? We're IT cost-reduction specialists. We're the nation's most advanced integrators of virtualization technologies, which I can explain in a moment. Bottom line: We can save you a ton of money.

"We've been in business 30 years and we're profitable. Every one of our employees is empowered to do what's in the best interest of our clients, and that makes it extremely easy to do business with us. We'd be happy to have you meet the members of our team who will oversee your account.

"We also have an impressive list of Fortune 500 clients who will provide references for us. Let me tell you a story about how we helped one client avoid a potential disaster..."

It's that simple. By asking three questions about your listeners, you can easily establish a rapport with them -- and make them care about your message. Remember, your goal is get your audience to nod in agreement and to genuinely want to hear more -- it's to be heard!

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