Expert Point of View

Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer
Corporate Visions

Companies know what their message and sales presentations should be. So why aren’t they doing them that way?

Humans are notorious for behaving in ways that run counter to their interests. One of the most prominent examples is the aversion that many people share for diet and exercise. Who hasn’t taken a rain check on a date with the gym? Who hasn’t forgone the healthier meal for the heartier—and tastier—one? Despite the medical field drilling it into our heads that a good diet and a steady exercise regimen are good for us, we still manage to find ways to avoid both.

That impulse to avoid what’s best for us apparently translates to the selling world, too, according to a recent survey conducted by my company, Corporate Visions, which polled more than 450 business-to-business marketers and salespeople. The results reveal that while most companies know what it takes to create urgency and differentiation in their message and pitch, they aren’t always able to achieve that crucial effect in their customer conversations.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents believe that leading off with an “unconsidered need”—an insight that exposes a gap or deficiency in a prospect’s status quo situation—would differentiate them from the competition. Following this unconsidered needs approach, reps would still respond to the needs that prospects informed them about, but they would wait until the end of the sales pitch.

But here’s the rub: less than 14 percent of companies actually use this approach in their pitches to prospects.

Sound like a striking—and potentially harmful—contradiction? Absolutely. What this means is that more than 86 percent of companies are creating pitches that are different from what the largest percentage believe to be the most effective.

Meanwhile, the survey also revealed that companies appear to have shaky confidence about whether their pitches are actually making the impact they need them to. Consider that:

  • Only about 17 percent say their pitches are truly different from the competition.
  • Nearly 48 percent believe their pitches aren’t focused on the right things, a shortcoming they believe is positioning them as a commodity provider.

No salesperson wants to deliver a pitch that validates the perception that your solutions are a commodity and no different from what the competition is offering. Companies want to be judged on the basis of value, not price, and a differentiated pitch is the best way to shepherd the conversation in the value-based direction.

But if you think that tacking on value-added services at the end of your pitch is going to pass as a differentiation creator, you should think again.

The survey shows that less than24 percentof respondents believe that addressing the known, identified needs of the customer and then introducing value-added capabilities for differentiation is the most unique pitch approach. (For the record, only 3 percent believe responding just to the stated needs will be perceived as different).

The problem is this: Despite broad recognition that value-added services won’t deliver the differentiation factor you’re looking for, the pitch type described above—responding to the stated needs, tacking on value-added services for differentiation—is the most commonly used type of sales pitch:47 percentof companies use this pitch structure, which is surprising given how few respondents believe it actually gives them a competitive edge.

Needless to say, it’s time to start reversing this potentially harmful trend. It starts with telling your prospects about the opportunities they’ve missed—opportunities that, once addressed, could correct the challenges they’re facing in their status quo.

Another Corporate Visions study, conducted with Dr. Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, confirms just how powerful leading with an unconsidered need can be. Tormala found that introducing an unconsidered need right off the bat in sales conversations—prior to even responding to your prospect’s identified needs—can:

  • Increase perceptions of presentation quality
  • Boost perceived uniqueness
  • Positively influence attitude and choice measures, which are both crucial things you need to achieve to convince prospects to change

I’ve long characterized the ability to bring a distinct point of view to the field as the last bastion of competitive differentiation. And I’ve long contended that introducing unconsidered needs—and linking them to your unexpected strengths—can be the engine of that unique perspective. These survey results, however, put my case to rest and prove once and for all that following these important instructions can give you the message you need to defeat the status quo and distinguish your solutions from the competition.


Tim Riesterer has dedicated his career to improving the conversations that salespeople have with prospects and customers. He is the co-author of three books on the subject and has consulted and trained the top companies in the world. As Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, he sets the direction and develops products for this leading marketing and sales messaging, tools and training company.