Life's a pitch ..

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 23 August 2012 08:00AM

Life's A Pitch is a catchy title, so it's perhaps not surprising that there are two books that share it.

Life's a pitch ..

Each of the books - one by Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity, and the other by Philip Delves Broughton, which came out this year - aim to give readers a unique insight into the pitching process. Here, the authors get a chance to practice what they preach and pitch their books.

Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity

Life's A Pitch, published by Bantam Press

We had a brief for ourselves. Write a book that took an emotional view of business and a businesslike view of the emotions. We aimed for originality, but certainly had our heroes from the past. Machiavelli, of course. Not just because he was devious, cynical and very effective, but because he was one of the first modern thinkers. Machiavelli, a true product of the Renaissance, knew that we are in charge of our personal destinies. Or Dale Carnegie. We hoot with derision at his famous book How To Win Friends And Influence People. But who on earth would not want to do what it says in the title?

Thing is, we believe a pitch is not just winning business in an airless meeting room. All of life is one long - wonderful and agonising - transaction. Hence our title. The date that leads to a passionate affair or even marriage is a pitch. That career interview is a pitch. Every time we meet someone, we are pitching. It's a competitive world, so learn how to be first, best or, if all else fails, different. Design yourself into a better, smarter, more interesting person. Get noticed! Make other people say "Yes". Win life's battles in business, at home and over lunch. Whoever could ignore such a book?

Philip Delves Broughton's book is a brilliant account of how other people became successful. Ours is different: it's a brilliant account of how you can be successful yourself. This is a difference that matters.

Life is not a pattern of slowly evolving improvement. It's a series of long fallow patches when not much happens. Then, suddenly, there are moments of crucial change. How you handle these moments affects the rest of your life.

The best pitches develop in the theatre of the heart, not the library of mind. Emotion is more winning than rationality. Trust your instincts.

You are an actor ... but you must also be the playwright. Make every performance a work of art. Or, at least, craft.

If you want to think unusually, shock yourself by going somewhere that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or do something strange. Who wrote the rule that everything needs to stay the same?

There are two basic principles of effective communication:

1. Tell people what you are going to say. Say it. Tell 'em what you said.

2. Simplify, then exaggerate.

You need confidence. Go out and get some. Start with a little and you'll soon find you'll be getting more.

Unless people have confidence in you, they won't have confidence in your ideas or your product. Never forget Kurt Vonnegut's warning: "You are what you pretend to be."

Never use PowerPoint: it is boring and encourages linear, conventional thinking.

Never take advice from McKinsey. Management consultants have got it 180 degrees wrong. McKinsey says "you can measure anything and, if you can measure it, you can manage it". That's true only up to a point. Only banal things can be measured - the height of your desk, for example. The most important things - beauty, peace, humour, love - are not quantifiable.

A pitch is a delicately balanced framework of vulnerability and power. But don't make the mistake of thinking that all the power is on one side and all the vulnerability on the other. In a successful pitch, things shift. The balance of vulnerability changes.

As Will Rogers, the Wild West vaudeville character, said: "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression." Make appearances work for you.

When in doubt, confuse the issue.

Always give gracefully what cannot be refused. Never tell a lie, but never the tell the whole truth. And never, ever miss an opportunity of going to the loo.

You cannot bore someone into saying "Yes". Be funny. Or, failing that, be interesting.

Lunch is a pitch. You are not paying £85 for two servings of fegato alla Veneziana. You are paying £85 to have someone listen to your pitch for an hour-and-a-half.

A little malice keeps relationships fresh.

Rearranging prejudices is not the same as thinking. Defeat habits. Accept mistakes - they are simply an opportunity to start again more intelligently. Your memory is a muscle: exercise it! The more ideas and information you have, the more creative you will become.

Ultimately, the secret of success is based in honesty and fair dealing. And if you can fake them, you've got it made.

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON

Life's A Pitch, published by Penguin Portfolio

No business happens without a sale. Financiers, strategists, lawyers and marketers all feed off the revenue booked when salespeople close.

I decided to write a book about sales because many smart businesspeople I knew could make spreadsheets dance and negotiate till the end of time - but ask them to sell and they'd hide in a corner. Selling is not even taught at most top business schools - a sign of the academic sterility of these institutions.

A lot of popular sales training, I found, focused on tricks and tips, or tried to persuade people to turn themselves into a slightly obnoxious sales "type". It just didn't resonate with the audiences who could use it the most.

So I travelled to meet salespeople in a wide variety of contexts, from Moroccan rug-sellers to Japanese life insurance saleswomen, Silicon Valley tech salesmen to New York art dealers, and infomercial pitchmen to the greatest aircraft salesman in history. I asked them about their lives and their work to try to understand how they did what they did. I also tried to make sense of the academic research on the psychology and practice of selling.

The British title was drawn from a quote from an American infomercial salesman, Billy Mays, who used to say: "Life's a pitch and then you buy." His English partner, Anthony Sullivan, is one of the great salesmen I profile.

Aside from its title and a shared view that sales is a vital skill in business and life, our books have a very different style and approach. Roger Mavity and Stephen Bayley's is two books laced together: the first, Roger's very practical advice on pitching drawn from his own very successful career in business; the second, Stephen's literary and philosophical tour of the subject.

Here are three lessons I learned:

The hardest thing about selling isn't the sale. It's getting your mind in the right place to sell. A survey of 20th-century academic papers on selling concluded that the single-most-important predictor of sales success was "role perception". Are you comfortable with what you're selling? Do you like how you're doing it? If how you sell is consistent with who you are, you will succeed. If not, you will fail. The greatest salespeople have a magical balance of ego and empathy. They are terrific listeners and empathisers, but they also have egos that need the satisfaction of closing. They listen patiently while they reach for the customer's wallet. This is a hard balance. But the best do it seamlessly, without tripping over the quandaries and contradictions that can destroy others.

Keep your robes loose. Even the best salespeople face a lot of rejection. The bad ones face it endlessly. How you cope with rejection is a huge determinant of success. A great carpet salesman in the Tangier souk told me that the secret is "loose robes". You have to find a way to learn from the rejections and then quickly let them go. Every salesperson I met had a way to do this. Some constantly reminded themselves of the odds of success. If you only close one in every ten pitches, don't worry if number six is a flop.

Others focused on keeping their perspective: a lost sale is just a lost sale; don't let it seem more than that. None liked failure, but they refused to let it overwhelm their sense of self-worth.

Don't always delegate selling to salespeople. Start-up entrepreneurs often make the mistake of hiring salespeople, when they would do far better selling their product themselves. It is the same at big companies. The role of the chief executive today is often that of the chief salesperson. When the stakes are highest, customers, investors and employees want to hear from the person who embodies the company. It is why Sir Richard Branson remains the face of Virgin and Steve Jobs always launched Apple's products. A great engineer who can sell is much more potent than a great engineer plus a great salesperson. The same with a great designer or film-maker or politician. Selling is the means by which all of us turn our talents and ideas into livelihoods. Even if we don't like it, no-one can afford to be squeamish about it.

There are many other lessons in my book - for example, the importance of telling great stories, of getting the small stuff right and of matching personalities to processes. A great one-off seducer type might be great at selling used cars but useless at selling construction equipment, where the sales process lasts months and the long-term relationships matter.

But if you start by getting your head right, keeping your robes loose and accepting that no-one can sell you better than you, you'll be a long way to mastering the art of the sale.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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