Product Pitches and Pitfalls

Because of the work I do I receive product pitches on a very regular basis. One thing is remarkable: the incredible high number of bad pitches. Doing a good pitch is an art. Even though I am very interested in nearly everything going on in the social media space and I prefer to view and work with every product I can, my time is still limited.

Since I have limited time I want to spend it well. To give you an idea: attending a conference call with somebody who is almost ecstatically screaming why his product is so great and why I should want to use it is not my definition of having a good time.

My main reason to write this article is to send it to everybody who did a bad product pitch. So if you are reading this piece then it is because your introductory pitch to me sucked. It wasn’t so bad that I deleted it, or printed it and put on the wall for everybody so we could have a good laugh. It just might be that your product is interesting, however you haven’t convinced me yet why I should spend my time with you to get to know the product and to get to know you.

For me the basic order of a pitch is: Why > How > Who > What >When > We. It provides a clear overview of the use of your solution, your vision and other key items:

  • Why did you create this product of service, what problem does it solve, why are you great in solving this problem
  • How do you solve this problem, what technology are you using (insert IP or other interesting things here)
  • Who is in your team and how does this help your product on short and long-term. Who is not in your team (competition) and why are they important and how do you differentiate.
  • What are the things you are doing, what is the market you are aiming for (size and estimated revenue), what are the next steps for your product.
  • When are certain milestones, roadmap activities and other short-term and longer term activities
  • What is in it for me  and you.

Here is a list with common pitfalls I collected over the weeks (!) and what you could do, instead of repeating it over and over. Feel free to contact me a second time, since that is the reason I am sending you this article. If you didn’t pitch me yet and you read this article since somebody is referring you to it, feel free to contact me, I am always interested in new solutions and how these can be used in either and enterprise setting or a private setting.

The most common pitfalls I see regularly:

Starting with the solution

“Our product makes meetings a great experience”. Basically I don’t care what your product does, I am interested in the problem you solve, not in your solutions. Since your solution is most likely not my problem.

‘Wait till you see our product’

No I won’t. I don’t need cliffhangers in my email, I never need cliffhangers. What I need is enough information so I will have the need to see your product and that I don’t want to wait.

‘I know you are interested’

Don’t assume I am interested in what you do and what your product is. Don’t assume that I would like to spend an hour or two of my time in hearing the  sales pitch from a slimy sales guy. Make sure to give me enough information that I might be interested and that I want to spend time with you.

Don’t talk, listen

If you call me and I happen to pick up the phone, don’t start blabbering for ten minutes straight about yourself, your product, your family, your dogs, your family in law, the weather and how grass grows near the Amazon. Talk with me, don’t talk to me.

‘We have great features’

Even though I am a self-proclaimed geek, I am not interested in features. Features can be copied, vision not. Don’t compete on features it will only bring you so far. Even worse: too much features will make your product mediocre. Fewer features is better, since you can focus on a few things instead of focusing on everything.

Analyst X is saying Y

It might help if I know Analyst X, however if I don’t know him or her most likely I don’t care who is saying what. Tell me what your clients are saying about your or even better show me search results that provide insight in people talking positively about your product.

Don’t think being in the top right quadrant of Gartner makes you more interesting than anybody else. It shows that you are complying to a certain checklist, however since SharePoint has been in that top right Quadrant for social networking solutions it might be clear how much I value such reports.

‘We don’t have any competitors’

Everybody has competitors, if you don’t have competitors you simply haven’t done research. You are only looking at your solution, not at the problem you solve and not for who you are solving this problem. It is not that I will favor your competitors compared to you, though I would like to know who you see operating in the same market and I would like to hear why you  think they are competitors and what makes you better than them.

‘We are the SharePoint of social networking’

If you compare yourself to something (we are the X of Y), make sure it makes sense. SharePoint is a great product for document management, but is seriously has issues when it comes to anything social. Also make sure that I can understand your comparison, don’t tell me that you are ‘a bit of the enterprise of SharePoint, with the user experience of Jive and the data analytics capacity of Radian6’. Just spend one sentence max on explaining me how I should see you, though make sure I understand what problem you solve. Make sure elevator pitch makes sense.

‘We want you to sell it’

Hire a sales guy.

‘Can you give us some money’

What I rather would like to do is to give you something of my time and I would expect you to do the same. We can collaborate, though that means we both have to invest something to make things work and I would say sharing experiences, networks and investing time is a good first start. If the collaboration gets more serious, then we can talk about money.

‘We just figure out what we can do with this’

Happy to talk with you and give you some guidance. However preferable in a pub with some beers and when I have time.

‘Everybody is our customer’

Not everybody is your customer, you should have an ideal customer in mind or at least some personas. If everybody is your customer it means that you have a mediocre product that nobody really dislikes but also that nobody loves. Focus and even if your customer profile doesn’t match my customer profile I might be interested.

‘Big company XYZ is our customer’

Is it really, or is it department ABC  from big company XYZ that has done a pilot a while ago with your product? Everybody can do a pilot at any big company so don’t just show big names to impress me. If a big company is your customer, explain me why they went for your product. Even better get me in touch with somebody of that company and let them tell me your story.

‘We don’t have customers yet’

Why should I be interested to be your first customer? Of course I realize somebody has to be the first, however make it compelling for me to be the first. There must be a specific reason for you to want me to be one of the first?

‘It is a side project’


Defaming the competition

This is most worrying thing I see: defaming the competition. A vendor explaining why another vendors sucks. I am fine if you make a comparison with another product, though don’t try to talk the other product down. I am interested in what your product can do, not in why somebody else’s product sucks. That is up to me to decide.

Clueless about the competition

Besides defaming the competition it is even worse if you don’t have a clue what other vendors offer. If you want to compare yourself with somebody else, make sure you exactly know what they are doing.

We don’t have  site / name / etc yet

Get that done first.

‘We have a business plan however no demo’

Not interested, come back when you can demo it.

‘Sometimes the live demo works’

If you do a demo: make sure it works seamlessly. Don’t make any remarks such as: “what does this button do”, “I don’t know why it isn’t working”, “well yes we are kind of in something like a beta or alpha”, “yesterday it worked”, “well I am not a developer and just the sales guy, so how would I know”.

Make it work, or even better: offer me a demo or a sandbox environment in which I can use it myself. Make sure it is stable or that I at least have the perception it is stable.

‘Sign a NDA’


Long documents

I don’t have time for that. However if you can convey the message of that document in a few sentences which makes it more appealing I might start reading it.

‘Our revenue model is based on display ads’

The 90s called, they want their business model back

‘We develop any feature you want’

Even though it is a nice statement I tend to be turned off by this one. I appreciate that you think that I am such a visionary that I can think of great features for your product which provide you with instant success, though please show some vision yourself.

Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details. The best pitches I have had were from people who said to no to a certain direction for their product. They said no because they knew where they were heading to and were willing to go there on their own. They really believed in what they do.

‘We are unique’

Sure, everybody is. However how easy is it to copy your product or service, what is the uniqueness of it? What is the long-term prospects of the product and services? Is there a risk your seemingly innovative product service will be overtaken by the natural evolution of the rest of the market?

‘Do you have 60 minutes to talk about the product or service’

No, I have 10 minutes. That is enough. If it is great we will talk for 60 minutes later or maybe even spend a day or so in figuring out ways we can take this forward.

‘Our product will make you go viral’

No it won’t. Nobody knows how things go viral, since it is not an exact science. The only thing you can do is making sure everything is in place to make sure something might go viral. However how and when it will happen: nobody knows, not even you.

‘We have done business / you are friend, etc etc’

I keep track of nearly all my conversations and even though I meet around 1000 new people a year, I know pretty well with who I have done business and I know even better if you are a friend or not. So if we haven’t done business, or we aren’t friends or you really don’t know me, please don’t even pretend that we have some kind of link. I am very open to new people, I am not very open to people that fake things, especially faking relations and faking memories. So if you don’t know, please say so, don’t pretend we know eachother.

‘Ah, you are from Holland, so <insert prejudice here>’

Yes I am from Holland, however that doesn’t mean that I smoke marijuana, or that I live in the capital of Amsterdam which is named Holland (it is the other way around, and I live nearby Rotterdam). It is also doesn’t mean I am a fan of Ajax (soccer club, which is based in Amsterdam), since I am leaving near Rotterdam I am more a fan of Feyenoord: the arch rival of Ajax. I don’t have wooden clogs nor a windmill in the back of my yard.

‘Yes our product has a completely Flash based front-end’

Seriously? It probably is a great experience on my iPad isn’t it?

‘We are cheap’

So is your pitch. If your only differentiator is price, then I am not interested. Prices always drop over time, a better differentiator  would be great service, frequent updates, consultancy or any other of the suggestions Kevin Kelly made in his article Better than Free. Plus I am interested in what problem you solve, not in how your pricing compares to somebody else’s pricing.

Instantly subscribed to your newsletter

You might have mailed me once and I might even have replied to you. However don’t put on the subscriber list of your newsletter without asking me first. Otherwise? *Mark as Spam*

Using 2 (or more) different fonts or font sizes

Yes I do love those highly personalized emails that contains my name in a completely different font type and / or color… or those nice boilerplates that are in a completely different font types. Please how difficult is it to spend 10 seconds more to make the email even look like that it is really personalized for me.

We pay you money to listen

Really? What’s the desperation about people? I have now been offered Amazon gift cards in exchange for my attention. What’s the message you try to convey? Of course I am happy to get paid for listening to you, however I don’t have the feeling that your product is really interesting if you have to buy my attention.