Four simple steps to creating the perfect sales pitch

By Mike Harris, founding chief executive of Firstdirect & Egg, and creator
of Iconicshift Mentoring

What do you do?

If you can answer this question well in less than two minutes you have a great weapon at your disposal – one no business person should be without.

It’s worth giving a great answer to this question at every opportunity because you never know what you might get in return. It might open up a sales opportunity or a crucial introduction. You may be speaking to the person who you need to convince to back you. You will also distinguish yourself from the vast majority of people out there who haven’t got a clue how to pitch anything: this two-minute pitch alone will make you stand out as a symbol of excellence.

I had to become good at pitching. I had to persuade Midland Bank to invest in Firstdirect and Prudential to invest in Egg – both unlikely outcomes! I’ve been successful in creating partnerships and joint ventures with companies like Microsoft, Apple, Bell Canada and AOL. I’ve spent my business life convincing people to back my ideas.

As a CEO, corporate investor, private investor and advisor to professional investors I have also listened to thousands of pitches. I know that if you can’t pitch, your career or your business will not reach full potential.

A few years ago I made it part of my “retirement mission” to teach people to pitch and I’ve now taught well over 1,000 people the Art of Perfect Pitch.

I have developed a simple architecture for perfect pitches:

Firstly tell your listener with total clarity what you are talking about. For example: “I run workshops for business people to teach them how to pitch themselves, their ideas, their businesses and their products.”

Secondly, build credibility by telling them why they should listen. For example: “I have learned to pitch effectively over many years as an entrepreneur and corporate executive, and have obtained more than £1 billion of funding from people who backed my business ideas. As I built my businesses I listened to innumerable pitches from others seeking my support and in the past five years I’ve taught over 1,000 people the art of perfect pitch.”

Thirdly, tell them what sort of problems you solve for people. For example: “Most of the pitches I listen to leave me with my head in my hands thinking: ‘What are they talking about’? It’s just not clear. Even if it is clear, most people don’t explain why they are different from everybody else out there. Some people come over as completely deluded, just by jumping too quickly into claims that just don’t sound credible. Also, people take too long. Two minutes is about the limit of most listeners’ attention span for this sort of pitch.”

Finally, tell them how you solve these problems. For example: “So I teach a simple four-step architecture which allows people to create and deliver a perfect pitch every time.”

For most corporate executives, this four-step architecture is more than good enough. For entrepreneurs and corporate leaders you need to go one step further and tell people what you stand for and what your brand is about: what you are famous for or want to be famous for.

If you take away one key piece of advice about set-piece pitches, it is this: every word you say is wasted until the listener has understood what you do, what you want, what he or she gets in return and why he or she should listen to you.

You certainly don’t need to be a great sales person and you don’t need to master the art of bullsh**. In fact, most people who have the power and money to help you have finely developed bullsh** indicators and will throw you out if they detect it.

Authenticity, clarity, credibility, relevance and differentiation – these are the characteristics of winning pitches and the winners who make them.


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