I've critiqued and rewritten well over a hundred sales messages in my free weekly newsletter. By far, the most common mistake I encounter is the idea that the purpose of a sales pitch is to sell something. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Whether it's written or spoken, a sales pitch is, by definition, a one-way communication. However, unless you're selling a commodity product at the lowest price, people won't buy what you're selling until they've been heard out.

The best sales pitches--the ones that result in the most sales in the shortest amount of time--are those that begin a dialogue.

For example, the most effective elevator pitches consist of three sentences that are spoken as part of a normal conversation. Each successive sentence is introduced only if the dialogue signals that it's appropriate to continue:

  • Both: Normal social chit chat.
  • Prospect: "So, what do you do for a living?"
  • You: [A benefit of what you sell]
  • Both: More discussion while you assess interest
  • You (if appropriate): [Why what you're selling is unique]
  • Both: More discussion so you can assess need
  • You (if appropriate): "What's the best way to get on your calendar?"

Ideally, there's no point at which the prospect feels as if he or she is "being pitched." The pitch emerges as part of a normal discussion.

The elevator pitches that consistently flop are the three-minute speeches that turn up in pitch competitions: "My idea is blah-blah-blah, customer blah-blah-blah, business model blah-blah-blah, my experience blah-blah-blah." Ugh.

Just as great elevator pitches are part of a dialogue, the best email pitches begin with a short message whose sole purpose is to get a response from the prospect. Generating a back-and-forth dialogue allows you to assess interest, after which it's appropriate to ask for a telephone conversation.

By contrast, the email pitches that are consistently deleted have a product description, a pointer to more information, and finally an appointment request. These wordy pitches fail because, rather than opening a dialogue, they try to sell.

In short, a great sales pitch doesn't try to talk somebody into buying something or doing something. All a great sales pitch does is begin a conversation that may eventually lead to the buying and selling of what you have to offer.