Selling customer experience: art of the pitch

The key to galvanizing your audience with a good story is to make listeners feel that they can be heroic. When good salespeople prospect and pitch, they must be alert to the stories running through their customers’ minds. What is their internal hero story? What do they wish to achieve through this sale? Whom do they wish to impress? What kind of person do they hope this sale will help them become? ~ Philip Delves Broughton, Art of the Sale

Sales is a critical skill for intrapreneurs

Ever since I ran across Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling in an airport, I’ve been fascinated with sales. To me, there’s nothing more important than learning to ask great questions. I’d been on my way to visit a customer to understand their user adoption challenges and I rewrote my questions on the plane as I read Gitomer’s book. That book changed my perception of sales. And even though I’m not in sales (at least not in the traditional sense) I’ve now read many of the classic books about sales.

1958 award-winning ad for McGraw-Hill via Dan Pink

This 1958 award-winning ad for McGraw-Hill could be used in a customer experience pitch (via Dan Pink)

A few years later I facilitated a journey mapping session at Content World with EIM Champions. To my surprise, one of the stages they mapped into their journey was sales. And that was the stage that received by far the most attention. One of their biggest challenges in their journey as EIM Champions was the need to be continuously selling to all levels of their organization.

Why is sales so critical for EIM champions? For customer experience professionals?

Because, as Dan Pink so elegantly describes in his new book To Sell is Human, we’re all in sales.

  • IM professionals are trying to sell the value of adopting information management practices to the business.
  • Knowledge managers are trying to sell the benefits of working out loud, sharing knowledge, tagging content with metadata and collaborating across silos.
  • Trainers are trying to sell to users that new skills in information literacy will make them more productive and help them get their jobs done more effectively.
  • Managers are trying to sell new ways of working to their employees.
  • IT Directors are trying to sell the value of a preferred technology to their bosses and to the business.
  • And customer experience professionals are trying to sell the business value of customer experience to their executive, the value of rethinking processes to management, and the value of adopting new behaviors to employees.

Sales is a critical skill for any intrapreneur trying to make new ideas take root in organizational environments hostile to change.

To sell is human

In To Sell is Human Dan Pink shares his six favorite pitches, one of which is the Pixar pitch. Here’s his Pixar pitch for To Sell is Human:

Once upon a time only some people were in sales. Every day, they sold stuff, we did stuff, and everyone was happy. One day, everything changed: All of us ended up in sales—and sales changed from a world of caveat emptor to caveat venditor. Because of that, we had to learn the new ABCs—attunement, buoyancy, and clarity. Because of that, we had to learn some new skills – to pitch, to improvise and to serve.  Until finally we realized that selling isn’t some grim accommodation to a merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are – and therefore something we can do better by being more human.

Since my focus is on customer experience, I decided to use  Pink’s pitch worksheet to play with various possibilities for crafting customer experience related pitches. I’m not sure I succeeded in crafting the perfect pitch, but I had a lot of fun experimenting. The exercise helps you be more creative (moving away from overly rational pitches), forces you to think more about the story you’re telling with the pitch and helps you hone in on your big idea.

I’d highly recommend doing this with a team. Have the team work on their pitches independently. Then take turns reading them out loud. It’ll generate a lot of laughter and odds are you’ll end up with something much more compelling than a traditional elevator pitch.

One word pitch

Gets to the core, the essence of what matters. When they think of you, they think of that word. Priceless (MasterCard). Search (Google). Performance (Accenture). Happiness (Zappos).

  • Love (you’ll see this theme emerge in some of the other types of pitches)
  • Smile (Fab uses the tagline “Smile, you’re designed to” along with internal decision making criteria of “Ask yourself, ‘will it make my customer smile?’ If yes, do it. If not, don’t do it.”)

Question pitch

Statements don’t engage us. They don’t make us think. And they’re easily ignored. Questions, on the other hand, provoke engagement.  They make people work to come up with their own reasons to agree (or disagree) with your pitch. Pink uses the example of Ronald Reagan’s famous question pitch: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

I found this pitch a tough one to work with. Most of the questions I came up with were more about provoking people to think about how they could potentially make a difference rather actual pitches.

  • Are customers who love us more loyal?
  • Can we achieve our maximum potential as an organization if our customers don’t like us?
  • Are we helping our customers become who they aspire to be?
  • Are we doing all we can to tap the hidden value that we can harvest from our customers and that they can gain from us? (I found this one in The Hidden Wealth of Customers)

Rhyming pitch

Rhyming pitches are addictive. They’re fun to craft. And they’re memorable. Use a rhyming site to make finding rhymes easier. I struggled at first with this one, but then my brain got hooked and they started to flow.

  • Show customers the love if you don’t want them to give you the shove.
  • Show your nerve, learn to serve.
  • To be a blue chip, you need to nurture a loving customer relationship.
  • Spread the story, customer success leads to fame and glory.
  • First comes love, then comes profit. Step up and make a love deposit.
  • Love begets story, profit follows, and then comes glory.
  • Seeking profits alone leads to financial stress, focus first on customer success.
  • Can you deliver a daily dose of love? If the answer is yup, it’s time to ante up.

The problem with rhyming pitches is that they can stick in your head forever, for better or worse.

Subject line pitch

Do your subject lines make people want to click? Do they provoke curiosity or demonstrate usefulness? In this excellent presentation on what makes people click an assistant editor at The Times argues that the process of finding your headline (think of a subject line as a headline) is the process of discovering what your story is really about.

  • Roadmap to revenue: how to sell more by loving your customers
  • Ten secrets for building customer loyalty – and company profits
  • Want a bigger share of wallet? Start by winning a share of heart.
  • Customer success is key to our growth: 10 tips for creating and maintaining customer loyalty
  • 10 ways to convert critics into fans

Which of these might your CEO open? How about employees?

Twitter pitch (twitch, biztweet, twitpitch)

The twitpitch, conceived of by Stowe Boyd, is used to pitch startups, business plans, and screenplays. Because you only have 140 characters, you have to condense your story down to its essence.

Here are a few aimed at getting people to join the cause:

  • What do customers feel in their gut when they think of us? Fess up, step up and shower them with love.
  • Every interaction with a customer tells a story. What story are you telling? Can you tell better stories?
  • LOVE isn’t a one night stand, it’s a long term commitment. Listen deeply. Obsess about quality. Value dialog. Excel at keeping promises.

Here are a few business plan variants:

  • Making the switch from 1 night stands to long term relationships. Love – the secret for building customer loyalty & company profits.
  • Want a bigger share of wallet? Win a share of heart! Love pays with 3x return on loyalty. Secrets of seduction revealed.
  • Critics are a huge revenue drain. Stop the outflow. Shower customers with love for 3x return on loyalty.

I even played with few screenplay variants (of the more radical variety):

  • Product-pushing vendor forced to live a day in the life of dissatisfied customer. Must learn meaning of love to break the cycle.
  • Bureaucracy overthrown when ideavirus unleashes creative force of employees. Love spreads. Innovation abounds. Critics convert.
  • Rebel intrapreneurs unite to overthrow factory mindset. Creativity spreads. Dissatisfied critics converted to loyal fans.

Pixar pitch

The Pixar pitch uses the structure of a classic hero’s journey. Before trying your hand at crafting this pitch read the 22 Pixar story rules (or view them as an infographic). I’d also highly recommend picking up a copy of Nancy Duarte excellent book Resonate which applies the concept of the hero’s journey to presentations. And while you’re waiting for her book to arrive, check out this easy to digest summary by Idea Sandbox.

presentation sparkline by Nancy Duarte
Presentation Sparkline by Nancy Duarte


Once upon a time our customers didn’t love us. Every day they bought stuff but it didn’t always live up to their expectations and when they complained they felt like we didn’t care. One day we realized that if we wanted our customers to be loyal and stick with us through thick and thin we needed to do things differently. Because of that we had to learn the rules of LOVE. Listen deeply. Obsess about quality. Value dialog. Excel at keeping promises. Because of that we learned how to deliver love at every interaction. Until finally our customers felt the love and began to tell their friends. And we realized that that love is never a result of profit. Profit is a result of LOVE.

And since love seemed to sneak its way into many of my pitches, I’ll close with this short 4 minute video about one man’s quest to make a city smile which I found via Dan Pink’s website.

Sales, as Philip Delves Broughton and Dan Pink describe it, is about “subtlety, craft, and imagination in pursuit of a larger, collaborative goal.” It’s “purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant, and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you.”

Not convinced?

Watch Lawrence of Arabia which Howard Anderson of Harvard Business School recommends as the most important film an aspiring salesperson could watch.

What’s your #cx pitch? I’m sure some of you have some very different, interesting, or fun ones to share!


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    About Joyce Hostyn

    3 Responses to “Selling customer experience: art of the pitch”

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    1. Thanks for linking back to Idea Sandbox. Great article! And… Resonate is a terrific book! I can’t recommend it enough.

    2. Great article. Thanks for keeping me reading till the end. I also just happened upon a great book about pitches that highly recommend. Long title but first word of title is POP! By Sam Horn. She takes Dan Pink’s thoughts on the pitch to the next level.

      Thanks again. I love all your posts. I am a passionate fan of the Customer Buying Journey and you are great resource

    3. Joyce Hostyn says:

      Thanks so much Mark for your lovely words and the book recommendation. I’ll definitely pick up a copy of POP. Another book you might enjoy is Life’s a Pitch: What the World’s Best Sales People Can Teach Us All.

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