Why Most Sales Pitches Don't Work


The product being sold is unremarkable to whom it's being offered (which makes the salesperson annoying in the eyes of the prospect). This problem has two parts, the product is inferior and/or you have the wrong audience. Both are equally problematic. Having the wrong audience relates to the next item.

The sales person doesn't seek to understand the true motivation of the buyer. The best example of this is the unexpected telephone solicitation (usually done by a person you've never met, who hasn't experienced your product or service and who hasn't done any research to understand your goals...annoying and usually results in a hang-up).


Make stuff that the masses will ignore (because it's not easily understood), but a few will find remarkable. Make stuff that some people can't live without. Make stuff that is scarce. Make stuff that matters. Make something where the act of making it is appreciated (often more than the thing being made). Think handcraft. Think like an artist…because you are one.

Find the few who appreciate, enjoy and find meaning in what you do. Connect with them…exchange ideas. Build a tribe, an audience who trusts you. Then sell them your stuff. And don't bother anyone else…it's annoying.

Image credit to Hugh McCloud (I bought this print for a friend of mine…wish I would have bought two).

The Battle for Engagement

I've been in a battle...for a long time. Sometimes the battle is with co-workers, sometimes with bosses, sometimes with myself. Nevertheless it's a overcome tradition. All my marketing professors, virtually all of my peers and every marketing firm I've ever hired have spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that I'm somehow flawed in my thinking that engaging with people should take precedence over shouting at them.

My argument is based on a simple have a better chance of practicing art when you're engaged with someone than when it's a one way conversation. Engaged, I have a better shot at making someone feel comfortable, cared for and welcome. Engaged, I have a better chance of building a loyal audience of raving fans. And far less of a chance to annoy them.

Here's the problem...there are serious counter forces at work. Traditional marketing (specifically promotions) is simply easier and safer to do than engagement. There is a huge body of evidence (albeit outdated) and countless pundits that will convince you that banner ads, tv and radio commercials, billboards, email blasts and table tents are the answer to generating more customers and more sales. Generally speaking, this old way of doing things doesn't require much in the way of meaningful content as long a you have a big ad budget. Of course, most of us don't have that...a big marketing budget. Even so, we find our way to tradition somehow, some way. And the paradox the absence of remarkable content and engagement we're left with the only shout and hope for a favorable response.

For every dollar and minute you spend hanging on to tradition, you rob yourself of the opportunity to engage and build a relationship with a customer, to inspire front line staff to do meaningful do something that matters. I encourage you to begin replacing traditional marketing with engagement activities, perhaps slowly at first. But, later as you gain momentum and the word begins to spread, you'll find yourself measuring referrals, evangelist incentives and rewards instead of click through's and 800 number counts. And, you'll find yourself in a happier place.

Legacy work isn't born from tradition, it's born from hard, meaningful work, done by heretics that often scare others away.

One Click Wins

These guys get it...

Amazon, iTunes, Highlight Cam, 360 Panorama, Cat in the Hat

They understand that in a world of instant gratification, the company that makes things easier for the user gets the sale. They understand that anything that bogs down the experience causes them to lose customers.

Why ask a repeat customer for their address? Why ask a caller for an account number when they entered it while they were on hold? Why ask someone to upload their videos to a computer, open a program, edit and then transfer the project to Youtube?  Seemingly minor inconveniences become annoyances. Annoyances scare away customers and prospects. You can't eliminate them fast enough.

Work on making it easier for them...not for you.

It's a Remarkable Time

Fooling people used to work. Creating something average and telling people it was better than it actually was...worked. The majority of your time, cost and resources were spent on the message, finding enough customers, and the sale. Unless you were building a new plane or telescope, something requiring intense engineering, the big cost of delivery was in the lie.

Now, fibbing is easy and cheap. Websites are better and cost way less, finding and connecting with audiences is a click away and keeping in touch with customers is virtually free. So, what's the hold up?

There's still a hard part. In fact, it's gotten harder. With so many new ideas flooding the market, creating a remarkable experience, a story that's authentic and rises above the clutter, is now much more challenging. Not because it costs more or requires additional skill to create. The hard part is commitment...commitment to getting started and to doing it right. You can't win unless you do both. Get started with something that's significantly flawed or perceived as a gimmick and you fail. Wait until it's perfect and you lose out to someone else. The new skill requirement is knowing when...when to fire, when to release the next version...and when not to.

Develop a reasonably creative that solves a problem and is worth talking about. Make it better than average...something that has meaning and a soul. Show people you care by improving (or abandoning) it. And, don't waste people's time...sell it to someone who wants it. No embellishment, no bait and switch, no forcing the issue. If it's a remarkable story, it works. The only question is whether there's a big enough audience to support it. That's hard to figure out...called risk.

Fear is probably the only thing holding you back. Better move past that...someone else has.

Sell Care


Selling "at" people is at an all time high...and is likely to get worse. That's what happens when things get desperate. More cold calls, new mailers to chamber lists, a resurgence in billboards...get ready, it's all on its way. What's increasingly rare, yet more important then ever, is the art of getting personal...the art of showing someone you care.

Too often direct sales is about doing something, making a call, clicking on send and checking the name off the list. Too bad all that activity is the easy part. Actually connecting and engaging with someone is so much harder...and of course what really matters. Your chances of making the sale are much, much better if someone feels like you actually care about them...because not many people do.

Cold Calls Don't Work

Two gentleman representing a major and well known insurance company stopped by to sell me their product today.  Problem is...from the get go, they didn't stand a chance. They didn't bother making an appointment. They weren't forthcoming about what they wanted. They asked me for fifteen minutes of my time. And, when I said how about now, they said they couldn't. When I asked them for a business card, they didn't have one (I had to write their contact info on my own notepad...I'm guessing they didn't have one of those either). This was a clear example of a salesperson making a call just so they could say they did it, so they could complete their weekly call sheet to prove they did some work. They had no expectation to really get in the door. And, when they did, they weren't even slightly prepared.

The whole process was about them...and not at all about me. They hadn't taken the time to learn anything about me or my company, hadn't asked for permission to make a pitch...heck, they didn't even have a good reason to make a pitch. They were so busy trying to make the sale, they forgot the most important invest time to make a friend, to earn develop a meaningful relationship.

My guess is that this sort of failure starts with a company which is focused on the wrong things...a company which measures interruptive activity instead of relationships.

Stop worrying about the number of calls and e-mail lists you can generate and spend more time on what you can do to improve your value to each person on those lists. What are you doing to help move their organization forward? Can you help them achieve objectives that don't benefit you directly? Imagine my reaction if two insurance salesmen made an appointment to discuss ideas about solving my staffing problems, or how to get an insurance meeting held at the hotel next year. Imagine if they cared enough to ask whether or not I had any interest in a new insurance product?

Cold calls don't work because they put people on the defensive...they're insensitive, interruptive and presumptive....not exactly a formula for making friends.


David writes a really good article about the importance of referrals to a salesperson. Interesting that most of the key points relate to being remarkable, not on how to "sell" someone.

Sales is about building relationships...getting someone to feel comfortable with your idea and earning trust. The job of a salesperson is to connect with people who want what you and your team have to offer. Most of that is best accomplished by leveraging existing relationships (over satisfied clients), not interrupting people, i.e., cold-calling.

Sales Job


Most people will tell you that “sales” is a tough job. Not really. It just depends on how you define “selling”. If you believe sales is the act of trying to convince someone you’ve never met to buy a product or service they have never heard of…that’s extremely challenging. But, I don’t call that selling. I call that a waste of time. It hardly ever works. And, in the process, you end-up alienating the vast majority of the people you reach. That’s what makes cold calling, junk mail and most of advertising such a dreadful experience…for everyone involved. Just remember the last time you hung-up on the late evening telemarketer.

Sales is not about forcing a non-buyer to be a buyer. It’s about making people feel comfortable…with you, and the idea of purchasing something they are already interested in. In a recent post, Seth points out that sales is an art form…I completely agree. Do the wrong things…and you never get past hello. Make people feel at ease and earn their trust…and you’ve got a real chance.