This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Pitch Anything" by Oren Klaff. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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How should you structure a sales pitch? At what point in your sales pitch should you offer the deal?
According to Oren Klaff, the author of Pitch Anything, your sales pitch should consist of four phases. In the first phase, you introduce your pitch, yourself, and your idea. In the second phase, you talk about the numbers, the competition, etc. Once the specifics are clear, you offer the deal in phase three. Finally, in phase four, you create what he calls “hot cognitions.”
We’ll cover the four phases of Oren Klaff’s sales pitch structure, how long each part should last, and what you should say.
Structuring a Sales Pitch
Your sales pitch structure should have the following four phases:
- Phase 1: Introducing your pitch, yourself, and your idea (5 min)
- Phase 2: Discussing the numbers, the competition, and the secret sauce (10 min)
- Phase 3: Offering the deal (2 min)
- Phase 4: Creating hot cognitions by stacking frames (3 min).
Phase 1: Introducing Your Pitch, Yourself, and Your Idea
Your goal in Phase 1 of your pitch is to grab your target’s attention.
To do this, you’ll:
- Introduce your pitch by letting your target know it will be brief.
- Introduce yourself with a summary of your past accomplishments.
- Position your idea or product against the current market climate with a “why now” frame.
- Outline the idea itself by highlighting its key elements.
This phase will take 5 minutes.
Introduce Your Pitch: Assure Your Target It Will Be Brief
Put your target at ease as soon as you open your pitch by letting her know that you will only be pitching for 20 minutes. “Let’s get started. I’ve only got about 20 minutes to run this down, which will leave us some time to discuss it before I have to head out.”
This lets her know she doesn’t have to commit to an hour-long presentation, which is what she’s probably used to. It also lets her know that you have other places to be—telling her croc brain that you are popular, and by implication, valuable.
Keep to this time constraint. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to explain your idea. Remember that after 20 minutes, you will start to lose her attention anyway.
Introduce Yourself: Summarize Your Background
Give a brief overview of your relevant history. Only include your run-away successes. This is not an exhaustive review of your resume. A person’s impression of you is based on the average of the information she knows about you, not the sum. Tell her one really great thing, and she’ll think you’re really great. Tell her one really great thing and one so-so thing, and she’ll think you’re kind-of great, but also a bit so-so.
Spend no more than 2 minutes on this. For example:
- “I earned my degree from Columbia and got my MBA from NYU.
- I spent 5 years at KPMG, where my biggest home run was this sales program I did for General Electric. Added about $50 million to their bottom line.
- I left about a year ago to pursue this idea.”
Introduce Your Idea: Use a “Why Now?” Frame
You must impress upon your target that your idea is new and emerging from current market trends that you recognized and are now taking advantage of. Your target comes into your meeting with an unspoken question about why your idea is relevant and why she should consider it now. By answering these questions before she’s asked, you assure her croc brain that you have a deep understanding not only of your idea, but of her concerns. Everything you say after this will have more meaning and will come across with greater urgency.
To give your idea or product a strong “why now” context, frame it against these three market forces. Ideally, include all three (though leave out any that aren’t obviously applicable to your idea).
- Economic forces: Has anything changed financially in your market or the larger world that positively affects your idea?
- Changes in interest rates, inflation, and the value of the dollar are strong examples of forces that can open up business opportunities.
- Social forces: Have peoples’ behavioral habits changed in ways that will support your idea?
- Newsworthy topics like concern for environmental issues are often a strong influence.
- Technological forces: What changes in technology are driving your industry or making your idea possible?
- Such changes can flatten existing business models and create new ones. Showing that you are ahead of the curve here can create excitement.
Be aware of the trap of “change blindness.” Our brains are trained to spot movement. We often cannot see changes if they happen without movement. For example, if you are inspecting two pictures for differences, you might not notice, say, a basketball net being swapped out for a ladder, because no movement was involved in the change.
Consequently, if you simply frame your idea as “Here’s how things used to be done, and here’s how we do things now,” you can’t guarantee that your target will make the full connections without you drawing the lines of movement.
Instead, show your target how your idea is moving away from current models and moving toward a new way of operating. Focus on change: the most relevant changes in your market and beyond; how these changes impact costs and consumer demand; and how these changes have opened a market window. Framing your idea against the three market forces shows your target how the market is moving to support your idea.
As an example of how this might work:
- “Costs for production on this product have just dipped below $5. This means we can retail it for $49. We’ve been waiting for two years to get to that price point. (Economic forces; changes in industry)
- One of the changes in our society is a growing understanding of the importance of vitamin D on our health. People know they need more of it; there are headlines every day about it. (Social forces; consumer demand)
- This product requires a microchip that can finally be manufactured small enough to ensure the product fits in a person’s pocket, allowing mass-market production.” (Technological forces; market window)
Outline Your Idea: Highlight Key Elements
When introducing your concept, your goal is to position your idea as something novel but not so novel that it poses a threat. You want to grab your target’s attention but not trigger her croc brain to feel anxiety.
You can reduce anxiety by introducing your concept using the following basic introductory structure, laying out the what, the who, the why, and the competition. It hits on these key elements without delving into complicating details, giving your target a clear mental road map for where your pitch is headed. All further details you give after this will now have context, and she can listen to your message in a more relaxed state, since you’re not asking her to do the mental work of piecing the details together in a narrative.
The structure is:
- “For [target customers]
- Who are unsatisfied with [current market options].
- My idea/product is a [new idea/product category]
- That provides [key benefit].
- Unlike [competing idea/product]
- My idea/product [has these key features].”
- For companies maintaining server rooms on the west coast
- Who are dissatisfied with their inefficient air-conditioning systems
- My product is a wall-mounted panel
- That provides equal cooling power with 25 percent more efficiency.
- Unlike portable air conditioning units,
- My product uses minimal electricity and has no moving parts, ensuring easy maintenance.
Phase 2: Discussing the Numbers, the Competition, and the Secret Sauce
While your goal in Phase 1 was to grab your target’s attention, your goal in Phase 2 is to keep your target’s attention.
In this phase, you’ll give a brief overview of the details of your pitch:
- the numbers (budget and projections)
- the competition (other current or potential players)
- the secret sauce (your competitive advantage).
You are entering the part of your pitch most susceptible to the trap of analysis, cold cognitions, and boredom. As you introduce more details, you introduce more opportunities for the croc brain to object and cool its enthusiasm. Of course, this part of the pitch cannot be glossed over or skipped if your message is to be credible. The key is to be brief, competent, and efficient.
You must also find a balance between simplicity and complexity. Remember that the croc brain gets bored with too much simplicity, but turned off by too much complexity.
In general, though, you don’t need a revolutionary way to present this information. This is the brass-tacks section of your pitch and you’ll come across best if you simply present this information competently and professionally.
This phase should take no more than 10 minutes.
Start with the budget. Budgeting is difficult and is a respected executive ability. Getting it right will set you apart.
Spend relatively little time on your projections. Projecting revenue is a simpler task that anyone can do. Your target will view your projections with a grain of salt anyway.
Keep in mind that any potential investor will expect you to paint your budgets and projections in an overly optimistic light. Distinguish yourself by not living up to these expectations, but instead delivering realistic numbers.
After hearing your budgets, your target will naturally next wonder who you compete with. Most people don’t adequately describe the competition they face. When discussing potential competition, focus on answering these two questions:
- How easy would it be for potential competitors to enter the market?
- How easy is it for customers to switch from your product to your competitors’?
The Secret Sauce
The secret sauce is whatever prevents you from being a flash-in-the-pan company, shining brightly one day and passed over the next. It’s the one thing that will give you staying power against your competition: the “unfair advantage” you have over others, and what your competitive edge is based on.
Don’t take too long outlining this. As much as you may love this piece of it, and as special as your idea may be, remember the limits of your audience’s attention span.
Phase 3: Offering the Deal
Your goal in Phase 3 is to offer the deal: describe to your target what benefits she can expect when she does business with you.
Be clear and concise. Tell her what you will deliver, when, and how. Explain any roles and responsibilities she will take on. Don’t drill down into a lot of lower-level detail—tangential benefits and side points—but do include high-level details regarding what your target will get out of the deal.
Be brief, so that you can quickly move onto the next phase.
Phase 3 should take only 2 minutes.
Phase 4: Stacking Frames
Earlier, we discussed how you can use these frames during your pitch as a response to various oppositional frames from your target. At this point in your pitch, you will proactively use these frames in order to drive the presentation, by adopting them one after the other in quick succession. The idea is to deliver a “hookpoint”: the point in your presentation where your target goes beyond mere interest and becomes actively engaged, and finally, committed.
The four frames are:
- Frame 1: Intrigue
- Frame 2: Prize
- Frame 3: Time
- Frame 4: Moral Authority
You can learn more about the four frames here.
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- An approach to the art of pitching that appeals to prospects' primitive instincts
- How to establish your frame as the dominant one
- The four parts of a successful pitch