How to Build a Game-Changer Sales Pitch: Lessons and Key Takeaways from April Dunford, Saastock 2023

The dualoop team embarked on an exciting journey that took us far beyond our everyday routine.

From October 17th to 19th, we exchanged our familiar routine for the lively atmosphere of Dublin, attending the renowned Saastock 2023 conference!

We immersed ourselves in a dynamic environment, engaging with top-tier professionals worldwide. The conference agenda was a rich tapestry of insightful presentations, and vibrant events that filled our evenings with lively discussions and invaluable networking.

We came back, brimming with ideas and inspiration, eager to share our learnings with our community.

Stay tuned as we unravel the insights and inspiration gleaned from our time at Saastock 2023!

How to Build a Game-Changer Sales Pitch: Lessons and Key Takeaways from April Dunford, Saastock 2023

About the speaker

April Dunford is a highly respected figure in the marketing world, renowned for her expertise in market strategy, particularly in the tech industry. With vast experience and multiple executive roles in successful technology companies, she has helped launch and reposition numerous products.

Her book, “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It,” is a valuable resource for entrepreneurs, marketers, and product managers. In the book, she shares her approach to positioning products, enabling companies to differentiate themselves in competitive markets and ensure their products are well understood and sought after by customers.

The example

Before actually talking about sales, Dunford shared a funny situation she found herself in while trying to purchase a…. toilet.

"It's the Wild West of sales content," she expressed, highlighting the overwhelming number of options and the subtle differences that make decision-making challenging for customers.

The market, she discovered, was flooded with similar options yet differentiated by nuanced features and pricing. This situation is a classic example of the paradox of choice, where instead of making the buying process easier, the sheer number of options available leads to decision paralysis.

Dunford learned more about toilets than she had ever wanted, encountering a range of features and specifications that blur together the more she researched. "They're all kind of the same," she reflects, expressing consumers' confusion in such saturated markets.

Through this journey, Dunford stumbled upon a revelation about the sales process. The challenge wasn't about the product's features, brand, or price point. It was about how the information was presented to her and the salesperson's role in that interaction.

After extensive research, she returned to the store and encountered a different salesperson. Instead of adding to the noise with aggressive sales tactics, he took on the role of a guide. He didn't push a sale or overemphasize the features. He provided clear, unbiased information that helped Dunford navigate the overcrowded landscape of similar products.

She recounts the salesperson saying:

"I'm going to tell you about the Toto one. They're all kind of the same. The Toto only costs $100 more. If you just want to buy a toilet and never think about toilets again... then just pick the total toilet and be done with it."

Sales guidance, not sales pressure

Dunford notes that the salesperson who assisted her didn't engage in aggressive selling, nor did he push features she might not understand or appreciate. Instead, he acted as a guide.

"What he was doing was helping me make sense of the whole toilet market, putting things into categories, giving me some guidance on pluses and minuses of different things so I could make up my own mind and pick the option that was the best for me."

-Dunford shares

She further explains that he wasn't "behaving like we normally think of sales reps at all." He didn't give her the hard sell or a feature-function walkthrough of every single feature that a particular toilet had. Instead, he was just a guy who was there to help her navigate her options, not just sell a product.

"Was that guy giving me the hard sell on a particular kind of toilet? No.Was he even giving me a feature function walkthrough of every single feature that a particular toilet had? No. In fact, he wasn't really behaving like we normally think of sales reps at all, was he? He's kind of acting like a guy who was there to help.”

As Dunford highlights, this approach is a stark departure from the norm, where sales reps are often taught never to talk about the competition and just to focus on their own products.

What stands out in her experience is the salesperson's ability to humanize the sale, providing guidance rather than pressure and helping the customer navigate the decision-making process themselves.

The best sales strategy is not to oversell but to guide and assist, making the entire process about the customer's needs and understanding rather than just pushing a product.

Joey's challenge: Navigating the complex market

Here is yet another example April has shared, but this time closer to the actual world of business. The story begins with Joey, tasked by his manager with finding a new accounting software for the company.

It seemed like a straightforward assignment until Joey dived into all the options available and found himself overwhelmed. He faced an all-too-common scenario: a saturated market with every product seemingly offering similar features, benefits, and value propositions.

For Joey, all of the websites for these different solutions look the same. They all have the same features. They all say they're easy to use. They all have testimonials from other businesses saying they're great.

Eventually, Joey found himself scheduling a demo call, a glimmer of hope in his exhaustive search. The salesperson on the other side, sensing an opportunity, prepared enthusiastically for what they considered 'showtime.'

As they connected, the salesperson immediately launched into a screen-sharing session. It was a deep dive into the software, with the salesperson meticulously presenting every minute feature tucked away in endless dropdown menus.

Saastock 2023, by April Dunford

Joey, already adrift in a sea of similar pitches, felt himself mentally checking out, his attention floating away to the far reaches of his frustration.

Rather than reeling him in, the intricate showcase amplified his sense of being overwhelmed, leaving him stranded on the shores of indecision, more lost than ever in the vastness of the software cosmos.

The paralysis of indecision

Joey's case highlights a critical issue in modern marketplaces: the paralysis of indecision caused by too many choices that appear the same on the surface.

The statistics show that 40 to 60% of B2B purchase processes end in no decision. This indecision is not because the current solutions are satisfactory but rather because the buyers cannot confidently discern how to make a choice that won't lead to potential trouble, leading them to defer the decision altogether.

The salesperson who stood out

The turning point came when Joey interacted with a salesperson who took a different approach. Instead of immediately launching into a sales pitch about his product, this salesperson first listened to Joey's challenges and what he was looking for in a solution, just like the ‘toilet guy’.

"He didn't start by talking about his solution. He started by saying, 'Let me tell you a bit about the accounting software landscape. You're probably sitting there thinking they all look the same, right? Let me tell you how they're different.'"

Guidance over pushy sales methods

This salesperson guided Joey through the landscape, explaining the subtle differences between solutions and even acknowledging where competitors might have an edge. It wasn't about making a sale but about providing value through guidance, helping Joey make an informed decision based on his company's specific needs.

The salesperson positioned himself as a trusted advisor rather than a sales rep, allowing Joey to feel confident in his decision.

Reframing the goal of a sales pitch

At the heart of Dunford's strategy is a fundamental shift in understanding the primary objective of a sales pitch.

"The goal of a good sales pitch is to answer the question, why pick me over the other guys?"

-Dunford asserts.

This reframing is crucial. Instead of focusing on what the product does (features), the emphasis is on what the product achieves for the customer (value) and how it stands out from alternatives (differentiation).

Building on strong positioning

Dunford emphasizes that a compelling sales pitch is an extension of robust positioning.

"If I have good, strong positioning, I should be able to build a good, strong sales pitch, because all the information is there," she explains.

Positioning lays the groundwork by clarifying the unique value the product delivers, identifying direct competitors, and understanding the audience's pain points and desires.

THE sales pitch

The pitch structure comprises two main parts: the setup and the follow-through. The setup is where we give customers a way to think about the entire market and get them aligned with our point of view. The follow-through is focused on our differentiated value and how we deliver that.

At a very high level, the structure looks like this:

The “market insight” stage allows customers to think about the entire market so they can understand the trade-offs associated with different approaches and confidently make better decisions. Differentiated value (the value we can deliver to a customer’s business that nobody else can) is the core of our positioning, so it makes sense that it should form the core of our sales pitch.

The follow-through, conversely, shifts the spotlight to the customer. Instead of an infinite list of features, the focus is on the unique value that your product brings to the table — value that is not just different but crucial for the customer. It's about connecting the dots between the customer's needs and how your product meets those needs in ways that others can't.

Let’s compare the feature-focused pitches and Dunford’s Sales pitch structure in action.

In the conventional sales pitch scenario, salespeople often dive straight into a feature showcase. Dunford provides an example: "Hey, customer, here's how you log in, here's how you get started, here's how you set up the training, here's where the training gets delivered, this is how it gets delivered..." and so on. This method bombards the customer with feature after feature, assuming that one of these features will resonate and make the sale.

However, this approach is inherently flawed. It doesn't answer the essential question every customer has: "Why should I pick you over the other options?" It leaves customers in a sea of features, potentially more confused about the decision they need to make.

April Dunford suggests a more strategic approach, one that's rooted deeply in understanding and presenting the product's positioning in the market. This method doesn't start with features; it starts with setting the stage or what she calls the "setup."

  1. Market Insight: The sales pitch begins with sharing insights about the market. It's about what the salesperson understands regarding the market that a customer needs to know to make informed choices. This step isn't about the product but about the space it occupies and the general challenges or opportunities.
  2. Discussion of Alternatives: Next, the salesperson discusses the pros and cons of different alternatives, including their own product. This honest conversation isn't common in traditional sales pitches, where competitors might either be ignored or disparaged. Here, the salesperson acts as a guide, helping the customer navigate the choices.
  3. Agreement on Worldview: The final part of the setup is reaching an agreement with the customer that you see the world similarly, especially regarding the problems they face and the solutions they seek.

After the setup comes the "follow-through." Unlike the traditional method where the follow-through would be a deep dive into features, here, it's about focusing on the unique value that the product brings – something that no other competitor offers.

Dunford's approach shifts the sales pitch from a feature battle to a consultative conversation. It's about helping customers make sense of their choices and guiding them to understand why your product could be the best fit for their unique needs and challenges. This method respects the customer's intelligence and autonomy, providing them with the context they need to make a decision, rather than pressuring them with hard-sell tactics.

Involvement of sales in crafting the pitch

A standout point in Dunford's methodology is the involvement of the sales team in crafting this pitch. "You can't just have marketing build the pitch and heave it over to sales," she states, recognizing the disconnect that often exists between marketing narratives and on-ground sales realities. The sales team's insights, objections, and experiences are invaluable in shaping a pitch that's not just convincing on paper but effective in practice.

Iterative improvement based on positioning

Lastly, Dunford cautions that a sales pitch is never set in stone. "If the sales pitch fails, it's often a sign of weak positioning," she notes, advocating for an iterative process where feedback on the sales pitch's effectiveness leads to revisiting and strengthening the positioning. This cycle ensures that the sales narrative remains relevant, compelling, and grounded in the realities of market perceptions and customer priorities.

Doing a sales pitch "right," according to April Dunford, means moving away from feature-focused narratives and towards value-centric conversations. It requires understanding the competitive landscape, involving sales insights in the pitch creation, and maintaining an iterative process that continually refines the product's positioning. This approach doesn't just aim for a sale; it aims for advocacy, where customers are clear on the unique value they gain, making them more likely to choose you over the competition.

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