How a deliberate ‘imperfect’ pitch can shape the odds in your favour

As entrepreneurs we have to pitch our ideas, services, products and companies to investors, clients, employees, board members and the media with the aim of getting buy-in and shaping the odds in our favour.

There’s a ton of information out there about creating the perfect pitch deck and what should be included to make sure your pitch is perfect, but most guidelines focus on emphasising what is good or great about your idea/service/product/company, rather than highlighting its shortcomings.

Most of us tend to think that to be persuasive we must highlight only the good, but when we’re proposing something new or something that could change the status quo, the audience we’re pitching to can be very sceptical. Investors are looking for all the holes in your pitch and employees tell you why it won’t work or can’t be done.

There are some, however, who turn this concept on its head, adopting the attitude that investors/employees/clients/board members/the media aren’t stupid and no one really likes to be sold to. And they’ve done it with very positive results.

When co-founder of Babble, Rufus Griscom, pitched his start-up to VCs in 2009, he started off by telling the investors why they shouldn’t invest in his company. That year he got $3.3m in funding and then two years later he approached Disney to see if the global giant would buy his baby Babble and he adopted the same approach by highlighting exactly why Disney shouldn’t buy Babble. Disney bought the company for $40m.

What Griscom did was completely disarm a sceptical audience. The VCs and Disney bods he was pitching to believed that things weren’t as bad as he painted, and so they were prepared to invest and buy the company. Presenting flaws gains trust and credibility, but of course it’s essential to follow with the strengths, and its obviously a much better position to be in if the strengths outnumber and outweigh the perceived weaknesses.

I’ve put this practise to the test myself on many occasions and I concur with Griscom. Years ago, before the days of LinkedIn, I worked as a Head Hunter because I wanted hard-core sales experience. It’s a very competitive and cutthroat industry. For four years I spent every day fishing out senior sales and marketing professionals for SMEs and global giants.

The bulk of this role was convincing clients to trust me with their crucial recruitment process for a hefty fee and persuading them that I’d found suitable candidates, and also pitching the prospective employer to the potential candidates who were invariably already in good jobs, which meant that jumping ship to my new proposed employer would mean huge implications for the chosen candidate’s life and family. Big stakes all round.

I quickly adopted my own approach to recruitment and head-hunting and I always started off by telling my clients what I considered to be the ‘weaknesses’ of potential candidates, and then of course I would highlight their strengths and achievements explaining why the proposed candidate was a good match for the client. This earned such credibility and trust that on many occasions the client-side managing director or CEO would insist that I sat in on all the interviews with the proposed candidates, even after I’d conducted the initial interviews. This was because they trusted my input as I’d always been ‘up front’, despite my having a vested interest in the outcome. In fact my job depended on it.

This ‘imperfect pitch’ approach might not be for everyone, but there are definite advantages including disarming your audience, looking smarter (even if it’s just because you don’t take your audience to be fools), appearing trustworthy (because you’re open about the ‘negatives’) and it ultimately leaves your audiences with a more favourable impression of you and your idea/product/service/company.

If after reading this you feel bold enough to give this ‘imperfect pitch’ approach a try, practise it on your circle of family, friends and fools – just as you would if looking for feedback or seed funding – and see how they respond, you just might get the reaction you’re looking for.

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