How to Make a Sales Pitch: The 6 Steps & Best Advice

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Are you looking for the best advice on how to make a sales pitch? Can the challenge selling method help you develop a more effective sales pitch?

According to the challenger selling method, the question of “how to make a sales pitch” depends on six simple steps. In order to craft an effective sales pitch, a sale rep should map out the conversation in advance, and plan ways to control the conversation. Check out the six steps below to learn how to make a sales pitch as well as advice for making it work.

How to Make a Sales Pitch

Learning how to make a sales pitch depends on your sales strategy. Use the challenger selling strategy to learn how to make a sales pitch using these six steps.

Step 1: The Warm-Up

An effective sales pitch starts with you Rather than asking, “What’s keeping you up at night?” present your assessment of the key issues facing the customer, based on what you’ve seen at similar companies. Then get the customer’s reaction.

The authors call this hypothesis-based selling. Rather than asking open-ended questions about the customer’s needs, you offer a hypothesis based on your experience and research. Customers with solutions fatigue feel like they’re getting rather than giving information.

In the warm-up, you come across as efficient and respectful of the customer—your introduction shows you did your homework and value the customer’s time. You also establish your credibility.

In traditional selling, you’d present your value proposition next, shifting the focus from the customer’s business to your business. However, in a teaching pitch, you must give the customer a reason to care about your business (your solution) by reframing.

Step 2: Reframing

This is the conversation’s turning point. Based on the issues identified in step 1, you offer a new insight that connects them to a bigger problem or a bigger opportunity. You don’t go into detail at this point—you just give the headline to surprise the customer or make her curious.

If the response is immediate agreement, then you’re saying something the customer has already thought of rather than offering new insight. You’ve failed to provide value and lost the opportunity to lead the customer to your solution.

So don’t be afraid to surprise the customer with something provocative. Once you’ve presented a different way to think about the customer’s problem, the next step is showing why it matters.

Step 3: ‘Rational Drowning’

In this step, you make the business case for why the reframe deserves the customer’s consideration. Quantify the cost or opportunity with data and charts. You’re subjecting the customer to “rational drowning”—that is, presenting the rationale for a new approach in a way that makes her uncomfortable.

The customer should react along the lines of “Wow, I never realized we were wasting so much money … we’ve got to address this.”

If you’re using an ROI calculator, it should calculate the ROI on solving the problem you’ve identified, not the ROI of your solution. You’re trying to show that the problem is worth solving.

Step 4: Emotional Impact

In this step, your goal is ensuring the customer sees herself in the story you’re telling. You don’t want your customer to respond that while your argument probably makes sense for other customers, it doesn’t apply to her company. 

In this situation, a core rep probably would present yet more charts and numbers. But the problem isn’t that you haven’t presented enough numbers—it’s that you haven’t made an emotional connection.

To effectively counter the “we’re different” response, storytelling must come into play. Describe how other companies suffered from doing what the customer is doing. You might say, “I realize you’re a bit different, but here’s how we’ve seen this play out.” Your description should have a familiar ring to the customer. Her response should be something like, “We do that here all the time,” followed by a head shake.

If you’re successful, you’ve connected the problem in your story with the problem in the customer’s organization. Once she identifies with the problem, she’ll want a solution.

Step 5: A New Way

Review step-by-step the capabilities the customer would have to have in order to solve the problem—the capabilities to quit wasting money, seize the opportunity, or avoid a risk.

Don’t launch into how you can help. Resist telling the customer how much better her life would be if she bought your product (which is what most reps talk about). At this point, just show the customer how much better her life would be if she acted differently.

The customer has to accept the solution before buying your solution. You want her to respond by saying something like, “That makes total sense.” Then she’ll be ready for your solution.

Step 6: Your Solution

In the final step of how to make a sales pitch, demonstrate that your solution is the answer. This is the step most reps are most comfortable with. Explain specifically how your company is best positioned to deliver the solution they’ve agreed to. 

If you’ve followed the conversational flow created by the template, you’ve taught the customer something new about her business in the form of challenges and solutions and led her to choose your solution as a natural outgrowth of your teaching. Instead of starting with your solution, you’ve led the conversation to it.

The insight you provided, rather than the product, is what lent value to the sales interaction.

Advice for How to Make a Sales Pitch Work

In addition to the six steps, you should be able to employ certain methods to make your sales pitch effective.

Developing a Choreography

To choreograph your own Commercial Teaching message, begin with your solution (step 6)—you need to know what you’re building to. 

Clarify the unique benefits your company offers customers. As you pin them down, focus in particular on the benefits your customers undervalue. To teach customers something new, it’s useful to offer a new way for them to think about how you can help.

The next step to learning how to do a sales pitch with teaching is step 2: reframing. Identify the critical insight—the “ah-ha” moment—that will get the customer to respond, “I never thought of that before.”

To get there, start with the unique benefits you identified for step 6 and ask why customers don’t value them already. To change that view, you need to provide an alternative view (the reframe).

Then explain how pursuing the alternative view could save or make them more money than they realized (step 3). After that, build out the rest of the story so it flows through the steps.

Put together, you’ve answered the question of what problem is costing your customers more money than they realized, that only you can help them fix. This is the core of your pitch.

Constructing Your Conversation

You need Challenger reps to deliver your teaching message. But the rest of the organization must construct the teaching conversation—including the company’s unique benefits, the surprising insights, and the choreography. This is an important piece of how to do a sales pitch.

Here are the key organizational tasks:

  • Identify the unique benefits
  • Segment customers by need
  • Generate compelling customer insight
  • Develop teaching-based sales materials (collateral)

The company must build the foundation for success long before the rep gets in front of the customer. The company’s researchers and analysts build the customer insights that create the most value for customers in the sales interaction. This shifts the rep’s role from discovering the customer’s needs to guiding the conversation, the parameters of which have been created in advance.

As a result, well-packaged Commercial Teaching is actually easier for reps than typical solution selling. Success in Commercial Teaching doesn’t depend on the rep’s ability to customize a pitch on the fly.

With a Commercial Teaching framework:

  • The customer’s needs are predetermined
  • The conversation is scripted (reps improve with practice and experience)
  • The solution is predetermined based on needs-based segmentation

Meanwhile, the company’s message and collateral must evolve to stay current with the customer’s business environment. Commercial Teaching isn’t a one-time exercise but an ongoing capability in which the entire organization is invested.

Ensuring Your Teaching Pitch Is Bold

Commercial Teaching pitches are often strong in the early versions, but then get watered down as more people weigh in on them. This undermines the point of the Challenger approach, which is to be disruptive. Learning how to do a sales pitch also means learning how to go against traditional sales pitches.

To ensure against teaching message erosion, use the SAFE-BOLD scale. It’s a tool for evaluating the strength of a Commercial Teaching pitch, based on the degree to which the pitch encompasses risk, innovation, and difficulty.

A successful teaching pitch must be:

  • Big: the customer must see it as bigger than an ordinary idea
  • Innovative: the message must push the envelope with new, often untested, innovative approaches
  • Risky: it asks the company and customers to take a big risk in adopting it
  • Difficult: if the idea isn’t challenging, why would the customer hire you to implement it?

The best ideas will be closer to the BOLD end of the spectrum; they will be big, cutting-edge, and hard to implement. In contrast, ideas at the SAFE end will feel small, be “follower” ideas as opposed to innovative, and be easy to implement.

In the challenger sale method, learning how to make a sales pitch is one of the most important things to get right. When you learn how to make a sales pitch you’ll be able to control the conversation and make sure you get results.

How to Make a Sales Pitch: The 6 Steps & Best Advice

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  • Why the best salespeople take control of the sale and challenge the customer's thinking
  • How to package your company with a key insight to spark an "a-ha" moment
  • How to get the organizational support you need to maintain your sales edge

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