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Sales Strategy & Management

The 7 Rules Of Pitching

If you want to build an investable business and land funding, you need to understand the landscape. Vusi Thembekwayo unpacks how smart businesses attract investors.

Nadine Todd

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In 2014, Zithande Mbala pitched his business idea, a smart toilet paper lubricating device, to the Dragons on SABC’s Dragon’s Den. It was a bizarre pitch, not least of all when Zithande valued the business to be worth northwards of $100 million in a few months’ time. He was offering a 10% stake in the company for an investment of R1 million.

The Dragons did not respond to Zithande’s pitch well. It made for entertaining television, but no one thought they were watching a great investment walk out the door when the Dragons collectively said, ‘I’m out’.

And then in 2018, one of those Dragons, Vusi Thembekwayo, saw a smart toilet paper lubricating device at OR Tambo International Airport. He gave Zithande a call, only to discover that the business was off the ground — and had some large contracts to boot.

“How did we miss it? All of us are entrepreneurs and we completely missed it,” says Vusi. “I’ve rewatched that clip a hundred times, trying to figure out why we all thought it was a terrible idea with no hope of making it in the real world.”

There are lessons to be learnt in Zithande’s pitch for both funders and entrepreneurs looking for funding. “We pre-judged him, which we shouldn’t have done. He had an accent that he said came from spending time in New York, but we knew he hadn’t. It’s a strong lesson for us not to pre-judge, but it’s also a lesson for entrepreneurs. We all put on personas — we wear suits to meetings when we wear jeans at the office — it’s a part of doing business, but you need to be careful not to come across as inauthentic. If you’re trying to be something that you’re not for a funder, it might backfire.

Rather be who you are and have confidence in yourself. Authentic, transparent entrepreneurs will be respected, even if you’re coming from a completely different space or background to the investors you’re approaching.”

The next lesson speaks to the nature of both entrepreneurship and finding funding: Always persevere. “If you believe it, do it,” says Vusi. “It’s a cliché, but clichés exist because they’re true. Don’t listen to negativity, don’t stop, and don’t in the moment let the bumps in the road shape your reality.

“There will always be hiccups. We make mistakes. We get rejected. If you let these derail you, you’ll never succeed. Most companies don’t get funding the first time round. Most entrepreneurs don’t succeed with their first ventures. You need to learn to push on, no matter what life throws at you.”

But perseverance is just a starting point. If you want to build an investable business and land funding, you need to understand the landscape. These are Vusi’s seven lessons in attracting a funder’s attention.

Related: Pitching in the Dragons’ Den

1. Put each ‘no’ to good use

According to Vusi, it’s almost immediately apparent whether entrepreneurs have pitched their business to investors before, and it works in their favour.

“They answer the questions we’re thinking in their presentations, before we need to ask them,” he says. “No meeting with a funder is a waste. You can either let the rejections wear you down, or you can learn something and perfect your deck.”

2. Record all meetings

“No funder will say anything in a meeting that you can’t hear, so ask if you can record the meeting,” advises Vusi. “When you play back the recording, you’re now a third-party listening in. You can hear yourself — wow, why did I stutter there? Why do I sound so nervous? Why didn’t I say this… There is so much you can learn and improve on just by re-living a meeting.”

In addition, when you’re recording a meeting, you don’t need to take a lot of notes and you can be completely present in the discussion.

3. Use the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

A few years ago, Guy Kawasaki evangelised the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. In a nutshell, a pitch should have ten slides, last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points.

“We’ve seen this combined with design thinking, and it makes for a compelling pitch,” says Vusi. “When I first saw it, it seemed so basic and even obvious, and yet so few entrepreneurs use this format. If you do though, you steer away from an executive summary and SWOT analysis and instead focus on the problem, how you’re solving it and where the commercial opportunity lies.

“What is the problem you’re solving? It’s such a basic question to ask, and yet so few businesses start there when they’re pitching. Instead, there’s a tendency towards, ‘This is me and my team, and our amazing clients, and the 15 000 products we offer… and the person you’re pitching to is thinking, ‘hold on, what’s the problem? Help me understand the problem. Because if I get the problem, you have my interest.”

4. The goal of the first meeting is to secure a second meeting

You need to grab an investor’s attention in the first meeting to secure a second meeting, and the way to achieve that is by piquing their interest with a problem that you can profitably solve. “I’ve learnt that a pitch has to grab me within the first seven minutes, or my attention starts moving to my emails, to-do list or other urgent matters,” admits Vusi.

“I’m present at the beginning of the meeting — that’s where you need to unpack the really important stuff. The rest can follow later. If you grab an investor’s attention, you will get the opportunity to discuss your team, products and clients. All of those things are important. But you don’t want them upfront, and then by the time you’re reaching the most crucial part of your presentation you’ve already lost everyone’s interest.”

As an entrepreneur, Vusi learnt this lesson the hard way. “We went on fundraising rounds ourselves, and I realised that I had eight slides of fluff upfront, because there were so many things I felt I just ‘had’ to let them know. The reality is that I needed to present our hook — follow-on questions and meetings will cover everything you need to unpack. But if you don’t have that hook, you’ll never reach that point.”

Related: Pitching To Lenders – How To Get It Right, First Time

5. Practice, practice, practice

“Iteration is important. Deliver your pitch as many times as possible. Practice on business associates, friends, family — anyone who will listen. But make sure some of them are strangers, or at least people who will give you the unvarnished truth. You don’t want to feel good and get a pat on your shoulder — you want to perfect your pitch.

“Ideally, what you need is someone who will ask questions from an outsider’s perspective. See what they latch onto, or what they don’t understand. How long does it take to explain what you do, or the problem you’re solving? We all make assumptions and we all understand our businesses and industries, but don’t assume the person you’re speaking to has the same perspective or knowledge.”

6. Don’t treat every potential investor as the same

There are a number of key things to understand about the funding landscape. First, venture capital and private equity firms raise money from partners. They have shareholders that they are answerable to, and to whom they need to show returns. They need to grow the capital they invest. Therefore, if there isn’t a growth opportunity, there isn’t an investment opportunity.

“You need to show how the investment will help you grow the business,” says Vusi. “This is a key element — if I put in x, I will be able to get y out. Yes, there’s a risk that it won’t work, but you need to have a growth story; you need to be able to demonstrate how you plan to get there.”

In addition, each fund has a mandate. Approaching an FMCG and Agri investment fund for a tech venture is pointless. Similarly, approaching an eco-fund with a plastic bottled-water concept will not work. Understand the fund, the individual investors and how your business suits their mandate.

6. Know your numbers

If you’re a subject matter expert and not a finance person, speak to someone who is. “Tap into your network and find someone in that space. They will understand the money and ask you the questions that relate to that part of the pitch and business. This will give you an idea of what investors will ask so that you can come prepared to answer their questions. Too many entrepreneurs walk into an investment meeting and don’t have all the numbers they need at their fingertips. This is a red flag for investors — how will you grow their investment and your business if you don’t have a handle on the numbers?”

Pitch to a taxi driver

This is a simple lesson that Vusi himself figured out while taking a ride in a taxi. “We were waiting for passengers and started chatting, first about how the local music industry is changing and then moving on to my business,” says Vusi.

“It was an incredible experience. Here was the stranger, asking me questions about my business that I knew the answers to, but had never considered including in my pitch.

“Taxi drivers have a short attention span because of what they do. They also run high-volume, low-margin businesses and work under immense pressure. They understand exactly how to think about their businesses in terms of how much return their vehicles are giving them. Think about it. A taxi driver will charge a passenger R2,50 for a ride, but owes R250 000 on his taxi, so he understands all about capital returns and depreciation cycles. He’s an excellent resource — and he’s free. You need to get to the point and see if your pitch makes sense.”

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint is made up of ten slides.

  1. Title: Provide company name, your name and title, address, email and cell number
  2. Problem/Opportunity: Describe the pain that you’re alleviating or the pleasure you’re providing
  3. Value Proposition: Explain the value of the pain you alleviate or pleasure you provide
  4. Underlying Magic: Describe the technology, secret sauce or magic behind your product. The less text and the more diagrams, schematics and flowcharts the better. If you have a prototype or demo, now is the time to transition to it. If a picture is worth 1 000 words, a prototype is worth 10 000 slides.
  5. Business Model: Explain who has your money temporarily in their pocket and how you’re going to get it into yours.
  6. Go-to-Market Plan: Explain how you are going to reach your customer without breaking the bank.
  7. Competitive Analysis: Provide a complete view of the competitive landscape. Too much is better than too little.
  8. Management Team: Describe the key players of your management team, board of directors and board of advisors, as well as your major investors. It’s okay if you have a less than perfect team. If your team was perfect, you wouldn’t need to be pitching.
  9. Financial Projections and Key Metrics: Provide a three-year forecast containing not only rands but also key metrics, such as number of customers and conversion rates. Do a bottom-up forecast, not top-down.
  10. Current Status, Accomplishments to Date, Timeline and Use of Funds: Explain the current status of your product, what the near future looks like and how you’ll use the money you’re trying to raise.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Sales Strategy & Management

Why Creating Value For Your Customer Beats Giving Price Discounts

Customers want value for money. It’s time to rethink your pricing strategy (without losing your margins).

Ed Hatton

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Businesses that can prove and deliver the greatest value can ask their price.

Pricing strategy may be low on the priority list, but complaints about competitors’ low prices get a lot of attention. It’s time to rethink your pricing strategy and rules.

For most of us, pricing is a cost-plus system, the calculated cost of an item is marked up by a percentage to get the selling price, which may then be discounted to match competitive prices. This method assumes that your cost is the lowest it could be, which is rarely true. It is likely you could drive down costs by smarter purchasing or more efficient manufacturing.

The second wrong assumption is that the mark-up percentage is correct; it is more likely to be a long-ago rounded off thumb suck of what you need to run the business, and out of date in this economy. Crucially, cost plus pricing ignores the value that a customer gains when buying the product.

Research shows that customers increasingly seek value for money and will even pay a premium for value. This is especially true of young people, but all classes of buyers, from giant corporates to very poor individuals, seek value over price. Many tenders are not awarded to the lowest bidder but to the supplier best able to deliver. Very poor people buy expensive branded food because they are trusted.

Companies hesitate to switch suppliers only for price, particularly where delivery and quality are vital. With all this evidence that value is important, it’s time to rethink your pricing.

Related: Take Your Sales Skills To The Next Level With These 5 Simple Steps

Determining value

Ask your customers what factors are important when choosing suppliers. Price will always be one factor, but focus on the others. Your goal is to become the supplier that best matches all their needs. In many cases, you may even be able to increase your price. Bottled water sells for anything from R5 to R50 a bottle, simply based on the buyer’s perception of the health and other values of that brand. You can get a website and brand identity for less than R10 000 or more than R1 million — neither are the wrong price, it depends what the buyer needs. Get all the information you can and don’t rely on your own or your sales team’s perception of customer needs.

What happens if you cannot make money at the price the customers see value in the item? Start a harsh examination of your buying or manufacturing efficiencies. At the same time re-examine the margin calculation — lean businesses need less margin than lazy ones. If you still cannot make or buy it economically, consider changing your pricing strategy.

Pricing strategies

Convenience pricing is offering a bundle of goods and services for a single price or monthly fee. The customer can easily assess affordability and decide if this offers value. Cell phone suppliers and motor dealers adopt this pricing method. You buy a car for a single monthly fee including the car, warranty, maintenance plan, roadside assist, financing and other items. Both customer and seller are satisfied.

Value-based pricing sees the price determined by the value of the product or service to the individual buyer. The most skilled value-based pricing experts are the street hawkers who are quick to assess the value a student, a businesswoman or a tourist may put on an item. Public speakers have different prices for different audiences like large businesses, start-ups and NGOs — I use this method.

Related: Accurately Predict Future Sales With These Two Things

Incentive-based pricing is widely used in the IT and construction industries. It works on the basis that the price is variable and depends on the performance of the supplier. An IT project may have a nominal price but bonuses are paid for early completion, being below budget or developing more than the requirements. Conversely, not meeting deadlines, delivering late, poor quality or incomplete systems will reduce the price eventually paid. Consider if your business can use one of these highly effective pricing strategies.

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Sales Strategy & Management

What Is Customer Intimacy And How Do You Use It?

If you think that maintaining a close relationship with customers is not as important as selling your products, you are wrong.

Clarissa Fleischer

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Knowing your customers well is a major part of being a successful marketing company. When companies do not connect with their customers, this is when they lose loyalty, revenue and positive customer sentiments. And in today’s world of hyper-connectivity and improved brand interactions, not being connected to your consumers can damage your brand in the long run.

If you think that maintaining a close relationship with customers is not as important as selling your products, you are wrong.Customer intimacy should be a top priority for any company who wants to maintain their success.

But, what exactly is customer intimacy?

Simply put, it is a business strategy that is based on paying close attention to the needs of your customers and ensuring that these needs are met and prioritised at all points of their journey with your company. It often involves close contact with customers using a variety of different channels and techniques. You need them to know that you care about their needs and understand what they are asking for.

You could think of it as segmenting your audience and creating specific offerings to precisely match their needs. If you want to excel at using customer intimacy, you will need to combine your in-depth knowledge of your customer with the ability to be flexible in your operations. This way, you can respond to any customer needs as quickly as possible, maintaining the high standards they have come to expect from your brand.

How do I use it?

Now that you understand what customer intimacy is, you are ready to delve deeper and figure out how to use it. There are some simple tips that you can use to implement customer intimacy in your current marketing strategy. Outlined below are just some of these effective methods.

Always prioritise your customers

This is the first step to any successful customer intimacy strategy. Prioritising your customers means that you need to set up operational processes which are “customer first” in their thinking. You will need to start by listening to customers and analysing their concerns. Only once you understand these concerns, will you be able to provide solutions.

It is important to look into processes that prioritise these concerns rather than react negatively to them. An example of this is avoiding looking at how many calls your client service team takes in a day but rather looking at the goals that they achieve when answering customer queries. Have they answered the customer’s question? Is there a resolution in sight for the problem? These are a more important metric to look at than how many calls are answered in a day.

Try to resolve problems

In order to become more customer-intimate, you should strive to solve the problems that arise rather than discourage people from coming to you with issues. And your brand should make customers feel as though they can share their grievances, either by contacting you directly or by writing a review on your social media page.

Statistics show that customers share a bad experience twice as often than they do a positive one, which could be highly detrimental to your company. So, when your customers do take the time to contact your business with either a positive or negative review, you have to have steps in place to resolve these problems. Use these complaints to improve your processes and your customer service section, so that the next time someone contacts you, it will be with compliments and not complaints.

Set goals that your entire company must follow

One of the most effective ways to become a customer-centric company is to set common goals that all of your employees must follow. For example, one goal could be to answer customer questions within 24 hours with a solution that is realistic and achievable. Or you could aim to improve your project turn-around time by gathering information from clients at every stage of their journey.

Whatever goals you set for your business, you will need to ensure that every employee adheres to them. Leaders need to set an example for their staff so that the customers, ultimately, reap the benefits. But be sure that your goals are attainable. You cannot expect your employees to reach the unreachable, as this will negatively impact the level of customer service you can provide consumers. Look at the data that is coming in from customer calls and interactions and use this to come up with goals that you can reach. 

The customer is always right

We often use this saying in a joking or derivative way, but it is truer than you might think, especially for marketing companies. In today’s world, the consumer wants brands to focus on them. In fact, if a brand ignores even the smallest form of contact with a customer, there could be an issue. And this is why you need to become a customer-intimate brand.

You need to prioritise the needs of the customer at every touchpoint in their journey with your brand, solve any problems that might arise and ensure that everyone is on the same page in your company. Soon you will see that your customers are singing your praises to everyone they meet.

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Sales Strategy & Management

How To Use Sales Skills To Build Your Business

If you want to build your business up, read on below for how to use sales skills to do so.

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Building your business from the ground up is no easy feat. You might feel overwhelmed by all the ways and methods that are available to you but there is one way that can help your efforts immensely, and that is by using sales skills. Sales skills might not seem like they are applicable to building a business, but what is a business without sale people?

You could look into a sales accelerator for business development course to improve your selling skills. Sales training courses can be useful, as they will teach you about sales techniques and sales strategy, which you can apply to other aspects of your business. So, if you want to build your business up, read on below for how to use sales skills to do so.

Listen to existing customers

An effective way to improve your business offerings is to listen to your existing customers. Listening is actually more complex than it seems, and it means that you have to do a lot less talking. This will help you to truly hear your customers and take stock of what they are saying.

Listening to existing customers is one of the best sales and marketing strategies you can use to improve your business. This is especially true if you have built a relationship and rapport with your current customer base, as this will encourage them to give you insights into any issues they might be facing. Whether you are a small business or a large company, listening to customers is always helpful.

Related: The 15 Characteristics of People Who Succeed at Sales

Try to solve a problem

Solving a problem is a marketing plan that is effective and sure to work in building your business. And a great salesperson knows that solving the problem of a potential customer is a sure-fire way to improving the conversion rate of their business.

You will need to do some research into the problems that your target market faces and then focus on how your products or services can be used to solve these problems. This ties into the first step of listening, not only to your existing clients but to potential ones too. Listen to what people are saying and learn to read what is being said. This way, you will be able to ascertain the problems your customers are facing and you can come up with solutions to fix them.

Use word of mouth

Existing customers can be a huge help to your business, in that they can provide you with positive referrals to use to boost your client base. If a customer is happy with the services or products you have provided them with, you can ask them for the name and contact details of other business owners who might benefit from your help.

You can also ask for positive testimonials from customers that you can place on your business site and social media platforms. You should always ask permission before using testimonials, and be sure that they are factual, true and relevant to your brand. Referrals and testimonials are common sales tactics that can be applied to boosting a small business or improving the reputation of an established company. And while nobody enjoys receiving negative reviews, it is important that you use these reviews to learn from your mistakes and improve your customer experiences.

Sell your vision

Building your business might involve reaching out to investors to help with monetary issues, and this is where your sales skills will really need to shine. This is because you are not only selling your business, but you are selling your vision of your business as well.

You will need to give specific details as to how your offerings will help customers to solve problems and answer questions. And you will need to sell a successful vision to your investors of how you want your business to success. Show them that your employees will be happy with how well they are taken care of and that customers will live a better life by using your services or product.

Related: Take Your Sales Skills To The Next Level With These 5 Simple Steps

Exceed customer expectations

When a salesperson goes over and above what the customer expects, it is likely that the customer will become a return customer. And this is what you want for your business, right? So you should look into ways in which you can meet and exceed customer expectations.

One of the benefits of always exceeding expectations is that you will no longer have to rely on the “hard sell” to encourage people to use your business. Word-of-mouth will travel about your excellent customer service, which will sell your business for you. If your brand is passionate about providing customers with the best possible service, you will be selling your business and improving it all at once.

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