Mad Libs in Today's Tech Sales Pitches

Kids love “Mad Libs”—the word game where you fill in blanks with nouns, verbs, and adjectives that your friends provide without knowing the context. Hilarity then ensues as the new, largely nonsensical story is read out loud. While these word games may be a thing of your past, I feel like they are played a lot in the working world, particularly at industry conferences like RSA and BlackHat. Buyers approach an unfamiliar vendor in the conference expo, and even before completing the introductory handshake, the seller has launched into a recitation of his solution’s technical specs that sounds a lot like this Mad Lib:

Larry is describing his product to Tom: “Tom, we do {noun: artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced data analysis} for clients like you. We offer a {noun: SaaS, platform, solution} based on {acronym: ATT&CK, NIST, OODA Loop} that connects with your {noun: SIEM, Firewall, EDR} and makes it {value phrase: run faster, reduce risk, stop malware}.” 

Tom says, “That’s interesting. Are you like {insert brand} or {other brand} and how are you different?”

Larry replies, “We are more like brand A, with a focus on {current buzz word} using {flavor of the week}.”

Tom says, “Hmm, you should talk to Mike, my tech guy.”

Many sales reps in tech startups get excited by this exchange and consider it a win. While this type of discussion might be a marginal step forward in the sales process, I’m here to tell you that you can do better.

Yes, I get it. Cybersecurity—for that matter, pretty much any enterprise information technology—is technical business. To you, discerning what differentiates your solution may be a matter of using this Blockchain or that intelligence feed. For your potential customers, not so much.

You’re an expert in your product, and can describe precisely what its code does, every bell and whistle. But you should be selling it on how its algorithms can be applied to deliver value and change lives. Clients rarely know the technical specs of what they are looking for or what type of technology they need, but they know their most difficult pain points, business risks, and looming challenges. And this is what they want to talk to you about: how you can address a challenge, fix a problem, or take advantage of an opportunity.

Rewind and Replay

Larry says: “Tom, we are changing how CISOs do {add function: detection, response, IR, threat intelligence} by incorporating {some cool approach or feature: dashboard, automation, alerts} so that you can {stop, detect, respond} to {threats, vulnerabilities} faster with more context. With us, you {no longer need, improve} your ability to {do something} 10x better resulting in X, Y, Z.

Tom replies: “You’ve got my attention; we definitely struggle with {something they do}. Tell me more.”

In this example dialogue, you have the customer’s full attention and you’ve earned additional time with the decision-maker.

Focus on Value

When you went on your first date with your significant other, you probably didn’t mention your shoe size—instead you talked about common likes and dislikes, dreams and aspirations. The same goes for building a relationship with your prospective customers. Don’t approach them with technical specs and science; while these are important, they will come later.

Here are a few tips for making a better first impression:  

  1. Know your audience. Take time to get to know who you are speaking with. Your message should change depending on if you are talking to a buyer, investor or analyst, as well as the industry: business, IT or cybersecurity.
  2. Anchor your message around clients’ interests not your latest product. A firm we know shares a testimonial of how their solution helped an IT manager get his life back. It significantly reduced the time he spent on a specific work task, so he could stop working after hours to get his job done. That’s not just a productivity boost, that’s a game changer.
  3. Talk about problems you can solve and how (not your specs, but your results). Think about how your buyer feels and what’s worrying them. Can you help them move from reactive to proactive? How do you move the needle for your customers?
  4. Actively listen. Every interaction matters and it’s not about you. It’s about them.
  5. Walk away from the sales pitch, but keep the relationship. Determine whether it makes sense to continue to talk further about possibly working together. But not everyone you speak with is a good fit prospect. That is perfectly ok. Remember our community is small and tight. So close with class and keep the relationship.

Engaging prospects is easier when tech firms stop trying to impress with specs and features, and instead step back into their clients’ shoes to start talking about the value you can bring them.

Are you Mad Libbing your initial pitch? Let’s talk. At Katzcy Consulting, we are proven growth hackers and professional wordsmiths. We can help you create pitch-perfect messaging as well as provide executive coaching to hone your delivery.

Jessica Gulick

Author Jessica Gulick

As Katzcy CEO, I relish working closely with clients to design go-to-market strategies that amplify their strengths and align to their goals. I love sci-fi, basketball and good stories.

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