Pitch Anything is a fascinating book. It’s about how to pitch, but much of it is about everything around the pitch – prospects who keep you waiting, decision makers who leave early, or even executives who sit drawing pictures while you are talking to them.
Oren Klaff talks about the power dynamics of pitching – status, framing, neediness – and how to manage them effectively. Pitch Anything talks about stuff other books on pitch presentations neglect to mention.
What do you do when a prospect tells you they have exactly an hour for your meeting, and then turns up fifteen minutes late? Do you tell them you only have 30 minutes? What do you do when your prospect is noisily eating an apple? Do you take it, cut half off, and hand the rest back? No, I thought not. But that’s how Oren suggests you use frame control to avoid being placed into a less powerful (‘beta’) role. There are other tricks too – asking your prospect to justify why they should be chosen to work with you is just one.
In Klaff’s technique the actual pitch presentation breaks down as follows:
- Introduce yourself and the big idea: 5 minutes
- Explain the budget and secret sauce: 10 minutes
- Offer the deal: 2 minutes
- Stack frames for hot cognition: 3 minutes.
20 minute pitch? Great. Introducing the big idea and what makes it important now? Great. The bit in the presentation opening about yourself, as an individual? Maybe not in most industries. USPs? Great, although the exact formulation that Klaff suggests is probably best suited to launches (‘for [target customers] who are dissatisfied with […] my idea/product is a new […] that provides […] unlike [the competing product]’).
Hot cognition – intrigue, prizing (asking the buyer to earn their way in to the deal), and setting time frame for a sense of urgency all make sense – if done well. It would no doubt seem pretty sleazy if done without proper care – but Klaff is well aware of that. The basic insight – that sales presentations and pitches need to harness emotion to generate a decision, an action, is of course correct. Rational argument may get you there eventually – and it’s needed – but people don’t act without some sort of volition.
Pitch Anything certainly isn’t a book about PowerPoint (if you were wondering). It’s not about slides. The only real mention of visual aids is of large printed boards (that ‘remain [visible in the pitch room], adding a certain concrete feeling of reality to the whole pitch’.) But it does deal with how to frame a pitch. What to say during the pitch – but most importantly how to ensure the conditions are conducive to success before you even start to talk.
Pitch Anything is written about finance and investment. Deals are different in this field – the sales person may be better able to ask potential investors to talk about what they bring to the table (think Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank). This sort of approach wouldn’t work if you were selling cloud-based software, where the buyer knows you want the sale as the marginal cost of providing the service is close to zero. Advice about starting a pitch presentation by talking about what you – as an individual – have done may not translate into other fields either. If you are selling cloud-based software (for example) the buyer probably doesn’t care that you as an individual sales person have an MBA from Wharton. So, ironically, Pitch Anything may be the wrong title. Maybe Pitch Any Investment Deal would have been nearer to the mark.
Business books seem to come in two types. One type tries to talk in plain English, so that anyone can follow. Accessible, useful, but perhaps not sticky. The other type – this type – is full of slightly quirky phrases, a unique lexicon of jargon that eventually rewards the reader but that makes starting in the middle of the book, dipping in-and-out, impossible. ‘Intrigue frame’. ‘Beta’. ‘Frame stacking’. ‘Hot cognition’. ‘Local star power’. It’s oddly compelling – like deciphering a code. Although at times I admit I wondered if I was the butt of some sort of joke. The material in Pitch Anything sounded like it would work – like it had worked. But where did these weird phrases come from? What was the research basis for the recommendations? Does one need Oren Klaff’s charismatic personality to replicate his success? I was left with more questions than answers.
I think Pitch Anything is a good book. A worthwhile read in an area where too many books all say the same thing. An essential read for those pitching to VCs and other potential investors. The only thing I’m left wondering is Why did Oren Klaff write it? Why is the Director of Capital Markets at a private equity house – one that’s raised around $2 billion to invest – writing a book on how to pitch? I’m not complaining, but I am a little puzzled. Don’t private equity deals offer better returns than writing this sort of business book? Why jeopardise those deals by sharing secrets with competitors, for the sake of a bit of publicity as an expert on pitches?