One step at a time

I was helping an entrepreneur friend with his investor pitch last week, and something was bugging me – the pitch didn’t feel right, even though I think the idea is good. He is passionate about how to run a company, so he was describing his philosophy of management in the pitch. And I realized that the issue I had with the pitch was that he was getting into the details of running the company before he had even gotten the investor on board. He was forgetting that pitching is selling – his job in the pitch is to get the audience interested in investing.

In any sales pitch, it is important to treat the process as a series of incremental steps. If you skip steps, you make it harder to close the deal. In my friend’s case, he was talking about running the company before he had convinced the investor that his idea would make a viable company. It would be like talking about how one would raise kids together on a first date, or telling a recruiter how you would change the job on your first phone screen. It was too soon to get into that.

So let’s talk about the steps of a few processes. I’ve already described how I see job hunting in my post on writing resumes: the resume gets you the phone screen, the phone screen gets you the in-person interview, the interview is what gets you the job. You need to tune each step to get you to the next step – the resume is not to get you the job, but to interest the hiring manager in talking to you on the phone.

Similarly in an investor pitch, the prospectus gets you 10 minutes with an investor, but even that 10 minutes is not really 10 minutes. If you haven’t caught their attention in the first 30 seconds, they’re often already checking out. The first 30 seconds earns you another 2 minutes of attention and those 2 minutes earns you their attention for the full 10 minutes. In other words, get to the point immediately. I tell people that any pitch needs to start off with three components: who the user is, the problem that user is facing, and why they will pay you money to solve it – telling a personalized story is an effective way to do that in that first 30 seconds. I’ve seen too many pitches where the presenter takes 10 minutes to get to their idea, and by that point, the audience has long lost interest. Earn the audience’s attention quickly or you lose them forever.

Speaking of forever, part of what tripped me up about dating for the longest time is that I would treat every first date as beginning a relationship that could lead to marriage and a life together, making every first date tremendously stressful. I cured myself of that in 2013 by going on lots of dates and realizing that the goal of a first date is to determine if there is the potential for a second date. That’s it. By just focusing on the immediate next step, the entire process was less stressful. Admittedly, my single status probably means I shouldn’t be giving dating advice, but whatever.

I think this approach to sales is generally applicable to life; all too often, we have ambitious goals that seem too intimidating to attempt. But the way to achieve them is to break them down into a set of incremental steps and then start doing one step at a time. I talked about this in my post on challenging oneself with regard to biking and working up to signing up for the Death Ride. I couldn’t wake up in July and just go do the Death Ride, the same way my friend can’t expect somebody to invest in his company on first contact. You have to map out the necessary steps to get to the goal, and go through each one, rather than trying to skip to the end.

Admittedly, there is no guarantee of success even if one follows each step. And some people are in the fortunate position to be able to accelerate through or even skip steps due to accumulated advantages. But the process of breaking down larger processes into steps and thinking of the goals for each step was a useful framing for me, so I thought I would share.

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