For this week’s roundtable discussion, we have chosen to answer – when is it appropriate or inappropriate to pitch your business?
Are there hard and fast rules to apply when it comes to pitching/selling? When is it acceptable to talk about your company and when is it not?
Bela: Please don’t pitch to me in lieu of actual conversation! I attend lots of talks and events, and yes they do provide opportunities to network but that doesn’t mean it is appropriate to ‘work the room’ by trying to sell. I find it inelegant. Such events allow you to meet people and build relationships (especially when you see the same faces time and again) but it’s more fun to make genuine conversation, smile, crack a joke, tease and have banter, enjoy your fellow man, pose, tell stories…. any or all of the above.
It’s ok to pitch when you’ve been allocated a time or space to do so, but when someone asks you what you do, bear in mind that this is a natural question to ask when being sociable….so you need to exercise your judgement.
Kate: I was at a networking event last week and where I met someone who was only out to get new clients. This is not unusual of course, and mostly expected, but what was unusual about this case was that the event was very specific (i.e. people who run womens networks in Science and Technology), and she did not fit that criteria. In fact, she didn’t seem to want to engage with the topic of women in SET at all. This is not restricted to one case. There was another situation, where [a friend] mentioned how annoyed he was at being ‘sold to’ by a consultancy at an [local entrepreneur] event. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules in deciding when to pitch, it has to do with context (is it a social situation?), the tone and wording (are you aggressively telling people about what you could do for them?), and respect (do you see everyone as potential clients rather than potential friends?) Most of all, no one likes a hard-sell. So do us a favour – leave the leaflets at home, just come with an open mind and a willingness to engage with whatever the topic of the meetup you’re going to.
Jess: With business and social worlds increasingly blurring together, it can be tricky to wear the right hat all the time. However, it does much more harm than good to pitch to a non-receptive audience, and I tend to err on the side of caution for this reason. I think there is an important difference between 1) explaining what you do and 2) trying to sell your product or business. Unless you are attending an event aimed at ‘business networking’ (as opposed to social networking) or the person you are speaking to has specifically asked for your pitch (or set you up for it), then I’d stick to option 1. If you keep the chat more sociable, you’ll develop relationships that will lead to seeing these people again – and perhaps a pitch in the future. If you jump to the pitch too soon, you may never have a chance to speak to someone genuinely interested.
Thomas: It is nearly embarrassing to turn up at an event, and speak to someone who is obviously beyong the evelator pitch, trying to sell you his service or product. Most of the time, you are obviously not the normal target market segment that person would normally sell to; and for the next few minutes, all do is think of a way to exit the conversation, thinking “Dude, this is not an exhibition, all I need to know is what you do!”. Networking events are aimed at getting people to mingle: share their contact details, briefly talk about what they do, their business problems, etc. A sale is a possibility, and if that happens, that’s great. The fine line is probably: work on your elevator pitch, and leave your sales pitch at home.
What are your rules and your experiences?