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Simplify your pitch: How to cut through the complexity of a feature-rich market

Marketing columnist Marc Stoiber shows how to break through the sales cycle with a pitch that fulfills simple, human needs


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Marc Stoiber is a marketing/brand consultant, entrepreneur, university professor and writer

Marc Stoiber is a marketing/brand consultant, entrepreneur, university professor and writer

VICTORIA, B.C.—A few years back, I asked a former boss to give me some unvarnished feedback. I wanted to know how to describe my strengths in a way that would make clients pay attention.

His answer? “Tell them you simplify.”

Really? I had 20 years of multinational experience, a roster of success stories, a closet full of awards. Surely, we could find something more compelling to say than “Marc simplifies.”

However, I swallowed my pride, and took his advice on how to position myself. I began to sheepishly pitch ‘simple’ to prospective clients. Specifically, I pitched how I could make their story and marketing simple.

It worked.

What I learned is that all my ‘features and benefits’ don’t matter to a client. The only thing that matters is what I can do for them.

It’s a simple truth. And most companies ignore it.

The comfort of complexity

When we sell, it’s instinct to describe all the wonderful things we can do. If one feature is good, ten are better. Making things big and complicated is comforting—surely there will be a feature in there for everyone.

I attended a cleantech trade show recently and was numbed by the feature overkill I saw at display after display. Most vendors I spoke with had a minimum of five features they enthusiastically rattled off to me, before even asking what I did for a living.

When they did ask, I told them “I can make your pitch simpler.” This stopped them in their tracks. They laughed, asked for my card, and told me they could certainly use some of that.

The three people who can tell you what you do

Remember I mentioned how flummoxed I was when I asked my former boss what I did best and he replied “You simplify.”

I would have never come up with that clean, simple answer. It took an outsider to sum it up. And it’s good lesson: Never try to deduce the simple benefit of your product by yourself.

Instead, I’d recommend you ask three people:

A client who loves your product: Ask this client why they bought your product when they could’ve chosen your competition. If they rattle off your product features, push harder. Competitors always have many of the same features. Inevitably, you’ll hear them describe how your product makes them feel. Secure, confident, smart.

That, my friend, is pure gold.

Someone who doesn’t care about your product: Tell this person what your product does, and ask them to say it back to you. They’ll repeat the features and benefits that stick. Why do they stick? Because those points are important to them. Don’t expect them recite back more than two benefits from your pitch—I’ve never seen it happen. But what they play back to you can help you find a common denominator.

A six-year old: Same drill as above. Describe what your product does, and see if the child can replay the message. Mark the points they can recite back to you.

From data to insight

Now that you’ve collected your data, write it down and try to formulate it into a one line pitch. My pitch was “I simplify”.

Try out the pitch on a few people at your next trade show. If you get blank stares, don’t be discouraged—absorb the feedback. It’s the source of data to help you make a pitch that hits a nerve.

If you’ve done it right, you’ll get a shocked expression from the person visiting your booth. Or a smile. Or both.

Chances are your simple pitch will completely disarm them. And if you ask them to tell you what you do after they’ve walked a circuit of the trade show floor, I’ll bet they can recite your pitch back to you, verbatim.

What you’ve just done is break through. You’ve planted your product in their mind based on it fulfilling a simple, human need.

In a sea of complexity, that sort of simple sticks.

Marc Stoiber is a marketing/brand consultant, entrepreneur, university professor and writer. He helps clients in tech, healthcare and sustainability create simple, powerful brand propositions and stories. He can be reached at [email protected]


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