Know Your Pitch

Date:   Tuesday , February 01, 2005

Now there is an intriguing question to put you on the spot. Why should someone do business with you rather than someone else? There is actually a book with that title written by a consultant named Sam Geist.

Can you answer the question? Can you answer it succinctly in one minute or less? Or do you hem and haw and talk about how you care for your customers and deliver value? Every company cares for its customers and delivers value — or, more accurately, says it does. Why should anyone believe you?

Let’s assume you are one of the thoughtful businesspeople who is totally unfazed by the question. You’ve spent many hours thinking about it and can lucidly explain, in less than a minute, why someone should do business with you. You can even define who the “someone” is who should do business with you. At this point, you are way ahead of 90 percent of your peers who don’t have a clue.

Here is the next question, and it’s almost guaranteed to trip you. Can your key employees answer the same question equally lucidly? Further, will their answers be the same as yours? Are you sure?

No one ever buys a quarter-inch drill. Instead, everyone, but everyone, buys the ability to put a quarter-inch hole where he or she wants to put it. That is what you should sell—that you, in some way, can help your customers do a better job of putting the quarter-inch hole where they want it.

You have to make it crystal clear to your customers why they should do business with you. And you have 20 seconds or so in which to do it. Yeah, I know, complex products can have sales cycles of months or longer. But the decision of whether to let you into that cycle is frequently made in 20 seconds or less.

So how do you convince them? There are a number of options.
  1. You can promise your customers a wide selection. For example: Most software stores sell two or three virus protection packages. We sell more than 20 and we’ll tell you what’s good and bad about each.

  2. Or We can install and support 30 different brands of customer relations management software. We’ll help you pick the right one and train your people in it.

    1. You can promise your customers narrow expertise. For example: The only thing we do is install and maintain Oracle databases. Nobody knows them better. If you have an Oracle database, or are thinking of installing one, let us get rid of the headaches for you.

    2. Or We have 50 attorneys and any one of them can set up an ESOP for you. Setting up ESOPs is all we do. Let us show you how an ESOP can save you millions of dollars in taxes and enable you to legally take more money from your company tax-free.

      1. You can promise your customers a price advantage. For example: You can buy your packages from Seibel, Oracle or SAP and pay full price. Or you can buy it from us and we will give you a 25 percent discount, install it for free and give you free support for six months.

      2. Or Your programmers charge you $100 per hour. Our overseas programmers are even more highly qualified and will charge you just $60 per hour — and we guarantee their work.

        1. You can promise better service. For example:
          Most help desks operate from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. We operate from 6:00 a.m. to midnight. We will even arrange 24-hour service for your most important clients.

          Or At Commerce Bank you come first. Our branches are open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekends. We have more tellers on Sundays so you never have to wait in line for more than five minutes.

          1. You can promise exclusivity of some sort. For example: We produce only 200 handcrafted widgets every year. Our entire year’s production is already spoken for. Register now if you want a chance to get one next year.

          2. Or We screen our clients so carefully that less than one in 10 who want to enlist our services actually succeed. You see, we only work with discriminating clients, who not only understand the exceptional value we provide but are also committed to action. It takes 6 months to get an initial appointment. If you think you might qualify, it behooves you to ask for a meeting now.

              You can promise top-of-the-line products and services. For example: Our widgets are gold-plated and have never-break titanium hinges. They are unconditionally guaranteed for life. We will replace them at no charge in the extremely unlikely instance that they fail.

              Or At our health club you have your own trainer, your own masseuse and even your own squash coach. We will custom design a program for you and work around your schedule. And yes, you even have your own yoga instructor.

              You get the idea. At least, I hope you do. It doesn’t matter which route you go — but you have to pick one and travel it. You cannot, cannot, cannot be all of these things. If you try, you will be like the guy in the Stephen Leacock story who jumped on a horse and rode madly off in all directions.

              Srikumar S. Rao is Louis and Johanna Vorzimer professor of marketing at New York’s Long Island University. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. He can be reached at