I’m Frankie Snobel, a drinks industry disrupter and founder of Tipplesworth cocktail kits, mixers and cocktails-on-tap, which was acquired in 2019. Across my career, I’ve secured meetings, developed relationships and signed deals with key industry movers and shakers – including major buyers, global brands and investors. And now, over the course of this series of articles, I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you about the art of pitching.
My pitching techniques started back as a teenager when I was working weekends in retail. I quickly realised that a smile and a bit of friendly banter went a long way, with both customers and management.
When I moved into hospitality as a bartender, this became even more evident. Understand your customer, offer a solution to make them happy (i.e. a cocktail that suits their taste, mood and occasion), be quick, and do all of this with both charisma and panache.
Fast forward many moons later when I started my business, and I was able to translate those same skills into entrepreneurship as well. Whether it be investors, buyers, or customers, research and charm nearly always led to at least a conversation or meeting. Some of which ultimately led to contracts being signed, finance being raised and even eventually selling my first business!
Pitching is no easy feat and it’s integral in growing a business, so let’s start with the first step – getting your foot in the much coveted door.
Researching your pitch
Know your target. High profile people (buyers, investors, etc) are busy. So make sure when you approach them, you know as much as possible about them, their industry and what solution you could offer to make them (and their customers/staff/etc ) happy.
I’m constantly approached by people who want to do business with me but haven’t taken the time or effort to understand what my role is, what I truly need, and why I would want to have a conversation with them. These “cold-call” style emails likely won’t get a response, but thoughtful well-researched approaches will.
Make sure you are contacting the correct person – use Google and LinkedIn to find out who your best target is. Be cheeky and ask around your close contacts/network for an introduction (maybe in exchange for one of your contacts that may be helpful to them?). If an intro isn’t possible, then see if you can at least confidentially get their direct contact details (email/phone). I much prefer emails over LinkedIn or social media messages, as I perceive it as more professional, less visible and I’m monitoring it constantly.
Be sure to keep things short and sweet in the initial approach. I always start with an email, as it can be carefully written and edited without time constraints (unlike a phone call) and is less intrusive. Treat it like a newspaper cover story. Punchy headline with short and succinct copy underneath. A written version of your elevator pitch, but tweaked in a way that it is specifically angled for that individual and their needs.
“When” to approach is an important consideration.
My grocery buyers spend their Monday’s reporting, so it’s not a good day to send an email if you want a quick and positive response. Also, understand when key decisions related to your product/service would be made. For example, seasonal product ranges are signed off many months in advance, so make sure you are pitching for something that is time relevant. Do a bit of digging to see if timing could play a factor in securing that meeting.
Charm and panache
Friendliness, enthusiasm and flair are a sure-fire hit when approaching those you want to pitch to. Confidence is also important, but make sure you do not come across as arrogant. Entice who you are pitching to, so they believe meeting you would be a pleasure. My industry and products are drinks/cocktails, so I would often finish my emails with “I’d be happy to pop by your HQ to mix up some desk-side cocktails” – an attractive offer which rarely was turned down and most of my meetings began with me mixing up cocktails! This obviously isn’t as easy for other industries and Covid-19 has thrown a huge spanner with physical meetings, but even suggesting a Zoom over a quick cuppa brings things down to a much more personable level.
High profile people are being bombarded with emails and calls and no response isn’t necessarily a full-blown rejection. Don’t give up if your first email isn’t acknowledged. Follow-up, but in a positive and friendly way. And don’t be afraid to try again at a later date once you’re more established. I had two big retailers reject me initially, but they worked with me nearly a year later once I had a more proven track record of sales and press.
The double whammy
There are some opportunities that are too important to miss out on and require a lot of planning and “wooing”. So there is a two-part approach to aid you in getting some proper attention. It starts with preparing what I call a “care pack”. This will include something directly connected to your product (i.e. a sample presented in a memorable way) or service. Be creative! The package it arrives in should make a statement so it gets past your target’s PA and they actually open it. Your care package needs to surprise and delight and make your target want to find out more about your product/service and contact you.
Don’t rush this – I once spent 4 weeks preparing a care-pack for a make-or-break retail opportunity, which was incredibly fruitful and took my business to the next level. Make sure to include a letter, which should be worded in a similar style to your email – a short and sweet elevator pitch that is well-researched and tailored to your target.
On the day that this package is received, ping over your carefully planned email as well and let your target know to keep their eyes peeled for a special pack just for them. If you don’t hear back from them after a couple of days, politely follow up with another short and sweet email. Being “pleasantly persistent” is something you’ll need to get used to!
The results (gulp!)
It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story – you never know where you’ll end up!
- Sometimes you will receive a positive response (and secure a meeting – woohoo!).
- Sometimes you will receive a rejection without even getting over the first hurdle. Maybe the timing isn’t right, or the product/service isn’t suitable – but at least you’ll hear back. Be sure to politely thank them for their time/response because you may need to connect with them again in the future, perhaps when you have a proven track record to entice them further.
- Lastly, sometimes you won’t hear a peep. Radio silence. Ghosting isn’t just a dating phenomenon. It happens in the business world too. And it sucks. I had a saying at Tipplesworth HQ, which my team and I used to repeat daily to keep ourselves sane – “It is what it is.” So you’ll need to pick yourself up and keep moving forward and know you did the best you could.
If “scenario A” is where you find yourself and your target responds positively to your carefully thought-out business courtship, you’ll need to respond and then prepare for the actual pitch! To make things easier for the target, suggest you can travel to them as an option (assuming you can meet in person) and try to secure the meeting sooner rather than later, so you remain on their mind.
What’s next? Tune into Part 2 – Preparing your pitch because a lot of graft is still needed to be ready for that pitching opportunity, as you often only have one-shot (yikes) – no pressure. Here you’ll learn about the research and planning that needs to go into a pitch to give you the best chance of success.