It's the worst fear for everyone in sales. You've finally made it in front of a potential sales lead. You make your best pitch, outlining the benefits of your product or service.

You think you've done a good job.

And then, boom. The door closes. The answer is no.

I struggle with "perfecting the pitch" and discuss it often with other entrepreneurs on my radio show. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Karen Robinson, Executive Vice President of NanoLumens, the Atlanta-based manufacturer of LED displays, about her approach.

Karen is the master of the successful elevator pitch and has raised more than $100 million dollars for her companies rivaling the success of both women and men throughout the Southeast.

According to Robinson, making the sale is just as much about making a connection as it is about selling.

What's the best way to start an elevator pitch to engage the listener and get them interested in your products?

Karen says the most important thing to remember is that people buy from people.

Forget the Specs -- Make a Connection

When you launch into a pitch, there is always nervousness involved. Standing in front of a new prospective client to "make a sale" is nerve-wracking and the common tendency is to launch into product features and specifications. You will talk about what the product looks like, how heavy it is, and all the fancy things that it can do.

Karen shares this is a fatal mistake. People buy from people, and they don't buy specs. They buy solutions. In order to motivate getting people to buy from you, you've got to establish a relationship.

Karen recommends instead to first talk to your sales prospect about them. Find out who they are and what they need. She says that while this sounds obvious, it's pretty rare.

If you start a conversation with a prospective client about products, you start at a disadvantage because you haven't yet established a rapport. Once the conversation is free flowing, use it as an opportunity to find out the customer's pain point.

For example, when Karen was talking to the MAC cosmetic company about potentially installing digital displays in their flagship store in Paris, she learned that the company was concerned that the LED displays might get too hot for the makeup artists who would be working near them all day long, impairing their ability to do their work and negatively effecting sales. She wouldn't have considered this as a potential pain point without letting MAC lead the conversation.

Karen says she is shocked at many entrepreneurs don't get this--and launch right into their elevator pitch.

To help the NanoLumens team avoid this mistake, they hold workshops with their sales team, including role-playing exercises where they guide team members on how to build rapport and what questions to ask.

Build Trust by Encouraging No

Karen says that NanoLumens purposely tries to get to know customers' wants and needs early, through both verbal and non-verbal cues. The company tries to figure out very early on if their products are a good fit for the customer's needs.

And, if the answer is no, that's ok.

It's more important to have the right solution for the customer and it's best to give the customer permission early in the relationship to say no. By learning that a particular project may not be a good fit, the customer realizes that you aren't trying to just "make a sale" and it is an opportunity to build trust.

Keep It Simple

Karen stresses the importance of honing the message. A pitch should be a value proposition made of four basic statements. The statements should identify the problem and how your products fix it.

When Karen led technology firm EnRev, she says her elevator pitch was broken down into four simple sentences.

  • There are a growing number of battery powered devices
  • Everyone knows they aren't charged as often as they need to be
  • Heat is bad for batteries
  • If a battery could charge in less than five minutes and be cool to the touch, would we have something?

The simplicity of this pitch allowed EnRev to raise $40 million and acquire numerous customers around the world. A great pitch identifies the needs of the buyer, solves a problem, and communicates the solution.

Listen, Don't Just Wait to Speak

Finally, Karen stresses the importance of really listening and being curious during conversations with prospective customers. Don't have responses ready before they've answered the question.

Customers today are bombarded with information and pitches. By coming in with the right mindset of listening to solve a customer's problem, a salesperson builds trust and creates long term currency with the customer.

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Published on: Jun 22, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.