Monday, January 5, 2015

Don't Pitch your Software. Improvise!

Book Review of Ditch the Pitch - The art of improvised persuasion by Steve Yastrow (January 2014)

The vast majority of software sales by small independent software vendors (microISVs) take place on the Internet. And the primary sales tool is the Internet product page. The truth is, however, that selling face-to-face or over the phone brings in a substantial part of the income of the most successful microISVs. And when you're speaking to your prospect, either in person or on the phone, sales pitches don't work.

If you're marketing a $29(US) Windows utility, then you're not going to be negotiating very many single-user license sales over the phone or in person. But over the years, software developers find themselves negotiating lucrative multi-user and site licenses on the phone. Developers are also contacted because prospects want a private label version of the developer's application.

In addition to negotiating these high-dollar contracts with prospects, microISVs find themselves talking at industry conferences or on the phone with fellow developers about selling each other's software on an affiliate basis. They negotiate programming contracts with business people, and bundling contracts with software publishers. Many types of unexpected opportunities routinely arise in the course of a software developer's career.

All of these conversations need to take place over the phone or in person. And as Steve Yastrow, the author of the book Ditch the Pitch, points out, sales pitches don't work. Prospects don't want to hear them. Prospects are not persuaded by them. It's time to ditch the pitch.

"You don't know what's going to happen in a situation requiring persuasion," Yastrow explains, "so going in with a pre-scripted pitch will leave you less prepared, not more prepared."

The proper course of action is to improvise. Make it up as you go. Listen to the other person, and tailor your knowledge of the product or service that you offer to what your prospect is telling you.

This principle applies both to sales pitches and to every instance where we want to persuade another person to do something. The best solution is to engage in conversations that build relationships - and sales. If you want to sell custom versions of your software, provide vendors with white-box versions of applications with their names on the program, or engage in other collaboration with industry members, then don't waste time developing sales pitches. Instead, learn to improvise and sell persuasively.

Yastrow's book was not written with the software development industry in mind. But all of the principles that he espouses apply to our industry as well. Prospects, regardless of the business that they're in, know when you're delivering a sales pitch. Hearing your pitch immediately causes them to become wary of what you're saying - and selling.

Sales pitches are a one-way process, Yastrow explains. People care about themselves a lot more than they care about the product or service that you're selling. Talk with customers, Yastrow urges. Ditch the pitch.

You may think that your sales presentation is interactive because you ask a lot of questions. But it's really more like an interview than a conversation. Your prospect wants to talk about herself. Let her.

"Most successful selling and persuasion isn't about convincing," Yastrow tells us. "It's about diagnosing. If you are pitching, it is only a coincidence if the pitch you toss at your customer lands in the right place."

The author wants us to replace our sales pitches with persuasive conversations. Stop thinking about what you want to say. Start thinking about getting into a conversation with your prospect.

Sales pitches dominate the conversation. The prospect feels like it's hard to be heard. A successful conversation, by contrast, is built on your skill at improvisation.

Truth is, if a software developer's website has the information that a prospect needs to make a buying decision, they probably wouldn't be phoning you with questions. So, it makes no sense to deliver a canned sales pitch to somebody who calls you with queries. You need to engage them in a fresh conversation, and you have to respond to their needs and concerns.

Yastrow believes that improvisation is the key to creating persuasive conversations. It's simple: Learn to improvise better, and you'll increase your sales.

"You have to develop the fluency to adjust to the nuances of the moment," Yastrow explains, "and the flexibility to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in with your customer. You must learn to improvise."

To be good at improvisation, you have to be alert and flexible. The book quotes Mick Napier, the founder of Annoyance Theater in Chicago: "Improvisation is the art of not knowing what you are going to do or say next, and being okay with that."

Don't worry about making mistakes, Yastrow insists. Chances are, you'll do fine. And if you don't, you can recover with more improvisation. An improvised conversation in which you make a number of mistakes will outsell a one-size-fits-all canned sales pitch that you've memorized and recited.

To become good at improvising, you don't have to be quick-witted. You have to learn the habits of good improvisation, and you have to practice. Ditch the Pitch discusses six habits that sales people need to master to become good at starting and sustaining persuasive conversations with prospects. For each of the six essential habits, Yastrow provides three ways to practice your skills. The book is full of convincing examples from the author's experience as a management consultant that illustrate the power of engaging prospects in a dialog about their needs. You'll also learn to weave into the conversation the features and benefits of the product or service that you're marketing.

If Yastrow were talking to the owners of small software development firms, I believe he would be urging them to say "Call for information about multi-user and site licensing" and "Call to learn more about partnering with our company to create a private label version of this application." Don't try to write a sales pitch for these important sales. Ditch the pitch, and start a conversation with your prospect.

This book will help owners of small software development companies build their sales. It's not a get rich quick scheme. It's an outline for a series of habits and skills that will increase the persuasiveness of the conversations that you have about your software and your business. The book weighs in at 150 pages. It's a quick read, full of good ideas.

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