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Turn Shortcomings into Strengths in a Sales Pitch

We’ve all been there a few times. You’re in a situation where you have to give a sales pitch. Maybe you’re trying to sell something to a client. Maybe you’re trying to convince your VP to give you the green light for a project. Or maybe you’re trying to land a job. Whatever the reason, the task at hand is the same: you need to persuade someone… and you have a shortcoming. It could be a small kind of shortcoming, or a big, deal-breaker kind of shortcoming. But it’s there, ominous and terrifying.

“I know we can do it, but we’ve never offered this service before… what if he finds out and thinks we won’t be able to deliver? What do I say if he asks?”

“I’ve never led a project this big before…what if she thinks I’m not senior enough to handle the responsibility? What do I say if she asks?”

“I’ve never worked in this industry before… maybe he won’t hire me because he thinks I won’t be able to handle the transition. What do I say if he asks?”

Most of the time, we dwell on the shortcoming. We know we’ll be asked about it and we fear that gut-wrenching moment. And once we’re asked­—and we are always, always asked—we respond meekly. With a hint of embarrassment. We feel like we’ve been caught… like we have to offer an excuse. And making an excuse isn’t the way to sell a service, get the nod to lead a project or land a big job.

How do you deal with this situation? Here’s one way I approach the challenge: by addressing the shortcoming myself, before I’m asked about it. It goes like this:

  1. Identify the shortcoming beforehand

  2. Find a way to address the shortcoming in a positive way

  3. Bring up the shortcoming yourself

“Before we get into the details, I just want to say that my team has been working hard to develop this service for months, and I can’t tell you how excited we are to finally have the opportunity to bring it to market. We’re prepared to work with you closely to fine-tune the offering so that you’ll be 100% satisfied with the way it works.”

“I’d like you to know that I’ve always wanted to lead a major project like this and I feel ready. I’ve excelled at similar projects in the past—the only difference is the scale. I’ve already talked with more senior members about how they’ve led major projects and I have a plan to make it work.”

“I’d like to take a moment and talk about your industry. I’ve always wanted to work in this field and I’ve been researching it for over a year. I know the challenges your company faces and what the market leaders are doing to address those challenges. I think that knowledge combined with my experience in a complimentary industry will be a great asset for this position.”

Notice some similarities in these answers? We’re always turning the shortcoming into a strength. Suddenly that bad thing is actually a good thing. We’re not lacking—we’re proactive.

When the person you’re trying to persuade brings up the shortcoming, it’s a challenge—and you have to respond to that challenge. But when you address it yourself, you’re effectively declawing the tiger. You’re showing confidence. You’re demonstrating a lack of fear. In a way, you’re making a statement: “This isn’t a big deal. It’s a very small deal and I’ve taken steps to fix it.”

Since the person you’re trying to convince probably knew about that shortcoming before the meeting, you’re removing a big chunk of negative thought from the situation. Suddenly, they don’t have a scary card to play that can throw you off your game. And that means you can focus on the important stuff. Like how that service is going to grow their business, how that project is going to improve their products, and how hiring you will be the best decision they’ve ever made.

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