“A good sales pitch has science at its heart, not art”
Bold. Ingenious. Myth-busting. All these adjectives perfectly define Oren Klaff’s ‘Pitch Anything’ – an engrossing but an unconventional sales book. It sidesteps the traditional ways of making a pitch, almost blowing them to bits. Though Klaff is iconoclastic in his approach, there is a method to his madness. He believes that the traditional pitching techniques are so commonplace that clients have developed strong defences to block them.
Klaff is an investor who raises capital for companies. He typically takes his pitches to CXOs – the big shots with bloated egos and towering personas. When pitching to these C-Suiters, Klaff deploys a specific technique he calls STRONG. It is an antithesis of what most salespeople do every day. As per his Twitter account, this technique has helped Klaff raise over $450 million till date.
Klaff’s technique is a solid one. It has its origins in neuroscience and evolutionary
psychology. It’s an acknowledged fact that the moment our brain senses an inkling of a threat to our life or our possessions, our survival instincts – fight or flight response – kick in immediately. This is our primitive brain or the Croc brain at work. Then, there is the Neocortex, the more evolved part of the brain, the part that does all the analytical work. When you make a sales pitch, you do it from the Neocortex and expect your client or buyer to reciprocate, i.e., receive your message via his Neocortex. This is where the entire fallacy lies!
The task of deciphering a sales pitch, Klaff says, lies squarely with the croc brain, not with the analytical brain as many tend to think. You must first convince the croc brain of the merits of your pitch in order to fetch a substantial result.
Croc brain, on its part, is a cognitive miser, always short on fuel; it has a limited analytical prowess. It shuns, right off the bat, anything that involves formulas, complicated calculations and analyses. Croc brain, nonetheless, likes novelty, excitement and urgency. Unless your pitch contains these elements up front, the croc brain won’t send it upstairs to the client’s neocortex for further assessment. Period.
How many times have you been to a meeting where, despite your gung-ho attitude and full product knowledge, the client overwhelmed you in no time? Imagine this: You come to meet a client at a set time. The receptionist in the lobby makes you wait until you request her for the third time to remind the concerned person. The concerned person responds and asks you to wait in the conference room. More waiting ensues. You console yourself, it will all be worth it in the end. The client, finally, shows up and shoots,” I only have 5 minutes, so please be quick.”
A typical salesperson would either run through his pitch, knowing deep down inside that the meeting has already gone for a toss or he’ll supplicate to the client for his precious time next week, again putting the client on the pedestal as a coveted trophy. Trust me, the client will be more than happy, allowing you to chase him.
Klaff teaches you how to lead the meetings and come across as a total pro. Sucking up to the clients, giving in to their whims and notions only dilute your status, something he dissuades throughout the book.
Klaff strongly advocates setting frames in a meeting. A frame is a point of view, a social perspective. Whenever two or more people come together in a business meeting, their frames square off and the stronger frame often absorbs the weaker one. If you do business from a subordinated or low-status position, client’s strong frame might just vaporize your weak frame.
The first thing you got to do in a meeting is to seize the alpha status. And, you don’t become alpha by being deferential, by chasing the client around, by giving him trial offers and price discounts. Compromises set the stage for an unhealthy, lopsided relationship, marking you as a beta, a low-status variable in the equation. Klaff avers,”You don’t earn status by being polite, by obeying the established rituals of business, or by engaging in a friendly small talk before a meeting starts.”
Counterintuitive, though it may sound, Klaff urges salespeople to use a little defiance and denial, advocating a low-level conflict with the client. He stresses that conflict is the basis of interesting human connections. A little dissent sets the stage for all future discussions. The author fesses up to his own ignorance in his early days to drive it home, “If there’s a single reason why some of my most important pitches failed, it’s because I was nice and the audience was nice.” A bent jaw is better than broken confidence after all.
In brief, this book is all about how to persuade the croc brain to see the same picture as you want it to see. Klaff advises the reader to integrate the elements of storytelling, tension and desire in the pitch. Leave your target on the edge of excitement, itching for more. Unravel your deal in a tantalizing fashion, at the same time, not allowing the croc brain to perceive any threat from the numbers.
Simply, the more you allow your audience to run the rule over statistics, the more excuses you will have to put forth. Again, Klaff doesn’t imply that all mathematical discussions are forbidden. All he emphasizes is that until the croc brain is satisfied, no pitch can reach a rightful fruition stage. In the later chapters, he walks the reader through a number of case-studies and actual presentations from his personal repertoire. All worth imbibing.
I will end the review on the same note I started it with. This is a sales book unlike any other. The practicality the author brings to the book sets it apart from several others of its ilk. Klaff is not some babbling street corner salesman. His insights into the human behavior in a sales situation are spot on. Though some would be tempted to question his methods, he is to be recommended for breathing new life into the timeworn pitching methods. By the time you finish the book, Klaff will have instilled in you the same conviction that drives him to accomplish million-dollar deals.
The biggest takeaway from this book is the freedom from the traditional sales trappings. You learn to switch from ‘Always be closing’ to ‘Always be leaving’.