You've got a shiny new product and a well-honed pitch. You got your foot in the door at some of the most important prospective clients you wanted to reach. There were promising moments, to be sure, on those sales calls. But despite some friendly follow-ups, you have zero deals to show from them. What happened?

You might be stuck "in the friend zone," says John Livesay.

Livesay, 60, calls himself the Pitch Whisperer and frequently speaks at companies like Anthem, Redfin, and Honeywell on topics such as sales, persuasion, and negotiations. He's also the author of the newly released book, Better Selling Through Storytelling, which offers advice for how to push your message through.

Anyone who has ever dated unsuccessfully will find Livesay's analogy familiar.

"It came about because [in my book] I did this ladder of how to go from 'invisible' to 'irresistible' and it's a lot like dating, when you're invisible in the business world," Livesay says.

"We all know what it's like to be the 'friend zone' in relationships where someone finds you interesting, but they're really not looking at you romantically or they're not willing to go out with you on a date. So many salespeople just have these endless conversations with clients and they can't get them up to the next rung of the ladder, which in my mind is 'intriguing,' where they're in, and then the top of the rung is 'irresistible.'

"There's a lot of interest in comparing dating and sales, because people have all been through the one experience of dating, including how to handle rejection," he says.

In this post- #MeToo moment, evoking dating in a professional setting to frame the closing of a sale is, let's just say, tricky at best. Livesay says he's aware of this and understands how fraught workplace dynamics are these days. He's quick to point out that he's not recommending "the friend zone" as a topic of conversation with a sales prospect; rather, "it is an internal conversation to have with yourself," he says. 

So, with that in mind, here are some of Livesay's tips for going from interesting to irresistible when you're pitching your product.

Start with the gut and work your way up to the head.

"The old way of thinking [about sales] was, 'If you know about me and my company, then you'll trust me.' The better new way is to start at the bottom: It's a gut thing. It moves from the gut to the heart. The best way is to show empathy, put yourself in [other] people's shoes. Then we get to the head. Use storytelling skills and paint a picture of with them as the hero of the story. If they can't see themselves in the story they won't buy."

Change a 'push' to a 'pull.'

"I think the biggest thing a salesperson can do is stop pushing out information," Livesay says. Providing too much information--why your product is the best, why a partnership will be beneficial to all--can actually push your listener away. "Storytelling stops that pushing and pulls people in," Livesay explains.

Use the power of 'what if.'

"What if: That's two key words to get any person into their imagination," Livesay says. By asking someone "What if...?" you're inviting them to put themselves in the story you're telling about your collaboration.

Don't forget the three things you're really selling.

"Sell yourself first," Livesay counsels. "Why you're in this job and passionate about it. Then sell the company, even if it's a one-person company." That means telling your founding story, explaining your name, and other tidbits. "Then sell the product or service through storytelling. Most people skip the first two. Make sure you don't skip those first two steps, especially in the beginning of the relationship."

Published on: Oct 9, 2019