Sunday, November 08, 2015

Reading :: Pitch Anything

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal
By Orem Klaff

Pitch Anything is a set of techniques, portrayed as based on neuroscience, to assert social dominance during pitches and thus win deals. Orem Klaff, by his own account an accomplished pitcher who routinely does $30 million deals, describes his approach with the acronym STRONG:
Set the frame
Tell the story
Reveal the intrigue
Offer the prize
Nail the hookpoint
Get the deal 
He illustrates each lesson with multiple stories, usually with himself as the protagonist who succeeds by dint of his successful efforts, sometimes with others as protagonists who fail, and very rarely with illustrations of his own failures. After all, he has to set the "authority frame" in order for us to respect him.  (The limited accounts of his failures constitute limited concessions in which he graciously redistributes social power.)

This approach has merits and drawbacks.

In terms of merits, this approach teaches people to fake, and eventually feel, confidence in themselves and their pitching. It does help them to realize that they don't have to think or act as supplicants; they can recognize their own worth in the potential partnership, and they can think of it as a partnership rather than a transaction. They can also recognize and put names to adverse conditions, especially moves that their audiences might take to repattern interactions. The approach is finely geared to pitching a good or service as is. That is, the technique is kairotic, tuned to presenting a specific deal at a particular moment and decision point. There's no ongoing development or negotiation over time. Think in terms of deals such as bidding to finance an airport (which is the extended example at the end of the book). Who can sell the deal most seductively? For that reason, STRONG relies on manufacturing and sustaining a moment of social dominance.

But these merits also point to the drawbacks. In particular, the pitches in which I am most interested are the ones that involve cocreation, such as pitches involving technology commercialization. In these pitches, the offering is not fixed and can be pivoted easily in response to an emerging understanding of the clients' needs. Ideally, they constitute an ongoing conversation that can yield changes in the offering's design or use as well as the arguments for the offering. And for those pitches, the STRONG method would be less effective because establishing social dominance tends to short-circuit such conversations. If the offering is produced and developed through an ongoing partnership rather than presented as a complete package at a given moment, the social dynamics have to be different. It's not a seduction, it's an ongoing relationship.

For that reason, I was underwhelmed by the book. It was too narrowly focused, too consumed with winning and dominating, too unconcerned with the long view. Because of its essentially competitive orientation, it limits the horizon and collaborative possibilities of the pitch. Still, it may provide the careful reader with a vocabulary for understanding the hostile moves one might expect from pitch audiences.

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