How to sell your idea

Pitch the Problem not the Solution

Why you should invest time on pointing out the problem not your solution.

Omid Scheybani (Google) at START Summit, St. Gallen

How do you sell a car? Not via technical figures, not via beautiful pictures or texts. The best way to sell a car is through emotions. We do not buy a car every few months. Usually, we have done a lot of research in advance and already know very well in which direction our decision tends before we even enter the selected car dealership. A salesperson is most successful when he or she triggers a desire in us and doesn’t explain to us why we are more comfortable in a car — we already know that ourselves. In the best case we answer the “Why do I need the product” ourselves. But what does this have to do with the pitch of a problem?

Many startup pitches, presenters, speakers or salespeople always do one thing wrong: they talk about how good they are, how great their product is and what makes them special. Especially technicians often go into far too much detail. The amazement is then great when you notice that you lose your audience, don’t make a sale or have messed up the pitch. Omid Scheybani (formerly Google, San Francisco) also noticed this. I met him at a startup event and since then I have never forgotten his quote — on the contrary: It always comes back to me in countless situations:

“Pitch the problem, not the solution!”

Who of us hasn’t sat in meetings where project ideas were presented, where our eyes were closed or when we listened to sales presentations where we asked ourselves inwardly when it would finally be over? It could be so much easier.

In the professional world, people always like to talk about storytelling when it comes to building a story around your lecture to keep the tension up. I go a little further and say that if you want to get your audience to buy your product/idea, the story should show one problem above all else. A problem that the audience most likely also knows or (in the best case) even has. If this is the case, something special will happen: Your listeners will say to themselves “you are right” and build up the desire to use your product, your service and your knowledge. At that moment you will appear empathetic and show that you know the problem very well. Your audience will not care what the technology behind your solution looks like or why competitors xyz are worse than you. They simply want to know more about yourself.

Presentation Stats, Duarte

Every presentation is like a pitch deck

Recently known in the start-up world is the so-called pitchdeck. On 15–20 slides the own company is presented:
What makes you special, who are the customers and what is the business model? The special thing about the Pitchdeck is that you are forced to present all the necessary information on very few slides to understand and evaluate the start-up. During a pitch you don’t have an hour to present yourself. Usually it is only a few minutes that decide on victory or defeat.

But what is the situation in the business world? Hours of meetings, endless slides about qualifications, references and monologues about how great you are.

I myself often notice that salespeople at LinkedIn write to me and explain why their product is so good — these mails go straight into the trash. No one has ever written to me and asked me if I have or know the problem xyz. It’s wasted time talking about how good your product is when people don’t even have the same problem as you. It is not for nothing that people in the start-up world always talk about solving a real customer problem. But then why is so little time spent talking about the problem?

Presentation Stats, Duarte

Why the focus on the problem is so important

When we talk with friends about what we have experienced, it is often about things we have remembered — mostly these are negative things that annoyed us, because negative experiences trigger very strong emotions in us.

A problem usually has something unpleasant — otherwise we would not perceive it as such. If another person knows the same problem, we immediately feel a kind of connection, because we have something in common. In our daily professional life we often have to prove ourselves and “sell” something: Our idea, a product, a project etc. . If this is our goal, it is worthwhile to describe the problem as precisely as possible, to start your presentation with it and to keep coming back to it.

Now when you prepare your next lecture, always remember the pitch deck:

  • Describes the problem on as few slides as possible.
    Which emotions are connected to the problem or what did you feel?
  • How many other people are there, who have exactly the same problem?

If you have answered these questions clearly and simply at the beginning, you will notice from the reaction of your listeners that they are ready for your solution.



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Jan Wokittel

✦ Helping Visioneers to shape the digitized future and bring their ideas to life. As an engineer and entrepreneur I would like to inspire and generate sparks. ✦