I recently took a business trip to Singapore. And while I was there, I met with a few people and made some introductions.
During one of those friendly introductions, the person I was talking to recognized a man walking by and called him over. The man happened to be a very high-ranking official in Singapore, and he asked me what I did for a living.
That’s not a moment when you want to be dumbfounded.
Luckily, I’ve found myself in similar situations over the years, so I didn’t falter when explaining my role as the Chief Revenue Officer of a blockchain startup. But it’s only because I’ve had plenty of practice.
Truth be told, I end up giving some sort of impromptu pitch almost every day. And if you work in sales or start your own business, you’ll inevitably run into those situations as well.
If someone thinks you can help their friend, you have to be ready to pitch. If you start talking to a stranger and they ask what you do, you have to be ready to pitch. At any point in time, you may have to explain your skills, your background, or your company’s differentiator.
Here’s how to prepare for and deliver a strong sales pitch—even when it’s off the cuff:
Have a handful of pitches ready to go.
If you prepare one go-to pitch for surprise situations, you’re going to bomb it nine times out of 10.
Most unplanned opportunities don’t follow one single script. Every person and every scenario is unique. Personally, I have about 8-10 pitches I can use depending on the situation. These showcase everything from my experience in the music industry to my current role at ShipChain. I don’t do as much consulting as I used to, but that’s another pitch I’ve got in my pocket.
You won’t always encounter the same type of person in the same situation, so memorize a few elevator pitches for the different scenarios you may find yourself in.
Ask questions to quickly make a connection.
When you talk to someone—even a stranger—you’re essentially creating a temporary relationship between the two of you.
I like to start by asking people what they do and trying to get a little understanding of who they are. Maybe the person I’m talking to has pets. Maybe they’re married with two toddlers. Or maybe they golf every weekend. Whatever the case, asking questions helps me understand and relate to whomever I’m talking with.
Honestly, a connection is everything—people who don’t feel like they connect with you won’t want to keep the conversation going.
Most of the time, I’ll get some interesting information from them that can inform my pitch. And even better, they’ll usually ask about my work. By then, the conversation is flowing.
Maybe they’re a future client. Maybe they aren’t. But if you don’t make a connection, you’ll never have the chance to find out.
Figure out the right angle for your pitch.
Everyone is a little different. So, even if you have several pitches memorized perfectly, they might still fall flat if you take the wrong approach.
If you’ve thrown out a few questions and gotten a sense of what makes this person tick, you’re off to a good start. But you still have to be constantly considering their responses and reactions to understand what they want to hear.
For instance, some people want to know the brands you’ve worked with because that shows your credibility. Other people find name-dropping to be a turn-off—they see it as bragging. If you’re unsure of someone’s stance, start by dropping one name and watch their reaction carefully. If they seem impressed, proceed ahead. But if they don’t seem engaged, then stop dropping names and find a different angle.
Personally, I’ve found How to Win Friends and Influence People is a must-have for understanding what attracts people to others and explaining how to get people to like you. Just remember you still have to keep your integrity and be yourself.
Finding the right angle isn’t about completely changing yourself to fit a situation. It’s about figuring out what the other person wants to hear and adapting your pitch to their preferences.
Defer the pitch to a later date if the timing isn’t right.
Just because you’ve been introduced to someone, that doesn’t mean you have to give them a strong sales pitch.
Sometimes, you’ll notice the person looks flustered, distracted, or in a hurry. They may not have been prepared for an introduction, or they might have a million things on their plate today. In that case, there’s no need to force a pitch on them.
Instead, try to reschedule. You can say, “Hey, it was great to meet you. Your friend thinks I can help you out with something, and I love to have a quick talk about it. I can see you’re busy, so how does next Tuesday at 2:00 pm sound?”
Keep in mind that you need to set up an actual appointment to talk or, at the very least, get their contact information. None of that “here’s my number” stuff. If you give them your card, you’ll never hear back. The only way you can know for certain you’ll talk to them again is if you get an email or phone number.
While these tips can help you out under pressure, the reality is, there’s only one way to give a strong sales pitch when you’re not expecting it—by practicing. You can read 5,000 books on the subject, but you’ll never be as good as someone who made 100 pitches, even if 99 of them failed.
So go out and fail, feel like a fool for a bit. And then, keep going. One day, you’ll be introduced to someone who can change your entire business, and you won’t bat an eye while you pitch them.