By: Chuck Frey
What? Somebody doesn’t like my great idea? How can that be? But it will happen – and you need to be prepared to accept it. Here are some practical tips on how to do so.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching the Discovery Channel series, “Pitchmen.” This is a series about Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan – probably the most notable and recognizable “pitch men” of the modern era. Hardly an hour (or minute…) goes by that you don’t see one of them hawking the latest “as seen on TV” product. Move over Ron Popeil…
What caught my attention about the episode in question was that Billy and Andy were mentoring a teenager through the product innovation and development process. The teenager had invented a new stain removal system and was pitching it to several product marketing/development firms.
During the roadshow, Anthony warned the young inventor that “somebody is not going to like your idea.” Mr. Sullivan was simply preparing the young man for the inevitable – while you think your idea is the greatest of all time, somebody out there is going to think differently. How you prepare for and react to the inevitable is essential to stay the course. Here are a few thoughts:
- Do your homework. One of the worst things you can do is not know your audience. This especially applies to cultural differences. Know as much about them as you can, especially if they already have similar projects or products in their portfolio. A couple of months ago one of the startups to which I am consulting fell into this trap. They walked into a venture capital firm and instead of pitching the value of their product they spent the whole time defending it against one of the VC’s other portfolio products.
- Know how to present your product. Show it in its best light. Play on its strengths and minimize its weaknesses (but don’t lie about what’s not there). Know how your audience “thinks” about products. An example of this comes from 3M – the company that for years developed “flat products” (film, tape, disks, sticky notes, etc.). It was well known that if you presented a new idea to the product committee at 3M you needed to hold it in such a way that it appeared “flat.”
- Stick to what you know. Don’t get side-tracked by a less than enthusiastic audience. Maybe they are just having a bad day, or maybe they are busy – or maybe they just don’t like your product or idea. Whatever the case may be, stick with your strategy. Present the value of your product or idea. Don’t try to motivate them with humor or off-topic banter. Now granted, you should always have a strategy for things that can go wrong (projector doesn’t work, key player doesn’t show, etc.), but don’t stray too far from the task at hand.
- Know your product or idea. This may sound ridiculous, but if you don’t know or can’t articulate all aspects of your product or idea, you are setting yourself up for a painful and often embarrassing situation. You only get one chance to make a first impression and if you stumble badly then it is doubtful that you will be invited back. It’s no fun being the “deer in the headlights.”
- Practice, practice, practice. Some people are good at this, others aren’t. I for one do better when I don’t practice ahead of time, so I may not be the best to give this advice. But what I have seen over the years is that most people will do better if they practice their pitch a few times. Use different audiences and ask them to play different roles (supporter, antagonist, complacent, etc.). Think through the best and worst case scenarios and practice those situations.
- Listen. We get so “pumped up” about presenting our product or idea that we can’t wait to talk about it. But listening is just as important as talking. Listen during the entire time with your audience, from the introductions to the closing. Quite often someone will mention something in passing that might clue you in to their mindset with respect to what you are about to present. Listen carefully, because some people have a hard time expressing their thoughts. What might come across as a negative comment might actually be a compliment – and vice versa.
- Read your audience. Understanding body language is important. This is an art as well as a science. Find a good book or website on this subject and study up on it. Recognizing that “raised eyebrow” might rescue you from a tortuous grilling by a not so enthusiastic detractor.
- Ask “what if.” Don’t be afraid to ask a detractor the “what if” question. Ask them for suggestions on improvement. You never know: they may open up and give you some really good advice. The worst that can happen is that they simply say nothing at all. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
- Be gracious. In other words, don’t lose your cool. Some people may politely dismiss you. Others may make it a point to teach you a lesson. Some are just tough, but fair business people and are simply giving you their unvarnished opinion of your product or idea. In any case, be gracious when receiving not so good news about whatever it is that you have poured your heart and soul (and money) into.
It’s not always going to go as planned. Sometimes it’s going to be disastrous. Don’t despair when somebody doesn’t like your idea. With a little bit of preparation and understanding how to minimize the negatives, you can make the process a little less painful.
And remember: There is somebody out there that really likes your product – so keep pitching!