It seems like every time we turn around, we receive an invite to yet another startup pitch competition.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re grateful to be included, though we’re unlikely to go. Want to know why we’ve stopped attending most of them?
Pitch competitions teach entrepreneurs that selling an idea, or telling a story, is about “pitching” to an already-warm and receptive audience. And for a pitch competition, it often is just that.
But when engaging prospective customers and partners, it’s exactly the opposite.
We think it’s important for entrepreneurs to learn – and get comfortable with – more of a discovery process while working to engage prospects. Being prepared for a thoughtful, two-way dialogue. Understanding why and how the prospect buys. Listening hard – even when the prospect tells you something they don’t want to hear, and seeking to understand rather than just “convert”. Learning to ask insightful questions that reveal their understanding of the prospect’s situation and challenges. Having done the homework to understand how a prospect might benefit from using their solution, and why. And being able to articulate that with clear, concise messaging that resonates with the buyer.
In my experience, few entrepreneurs use this approach. They are taught and coached to “sell” and to “pitch”. To overcome objections. To push the buyer over the line.
The challenge is that this implies that buyers aren’t intelligent. That they don’t know their own business and priorities. That facile tricks can convince them to buy.
A dangerous assumption.
Our advice for today’s entrepreneurs? Flip it around. Stop pitching and focusing on your own needs to close a deal. Respect and engage your buyer. Understand your buyer. Focus instead on what they need to achieve their goals. Stop pitching and start engaging!
This post originally appeared on Alberta Enterprise Corporation’s Start Alberta portal.