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  • Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas

More Discomfort Means More Winning Pitches



Persuasion is a funny thing.


On the one hand, we buy from people we like.  Often, “liking” comes from the perception that we share points of view.  What I like, you like.  So we like each other.


Agencies and professional services firms often use their pitches to create liking and comfort.  That translates into perspectives and recommendations that are designed to show the prospect shared points of view.  It can also lead to solutions that promise the prospect exactly what the prospect expected.  Maybe effective, often boring.


But there’s another way to go.  It’s quite different.  And it ought to lead to more wins.


Politicians call it “The Burning Platform.”  In this HBR article, Josh Bersin calls it “cognitive dissonance.”  Whatever it’s called, it’s a high-risk approach that can have very big rewards. Let’s look at the political application.


Challengers to incumbents almost always make the burning platform their core communication mechanism.  It’s simple.  Tell the electorate that the current situation under the incumbent is dreadful.  If it doesn’t change any number of disasters will befall us.  That is, we’re standing on a burning platform which is about to consume us if we don’t get off it.  So, get off the platform by voting out the incumbent and voting in the challenger.


The same approach can work well in pitching, with a variation.  Rather than tell the prospect what the prospect wants to hear, tell them the situation is much worse than the prospect thinks.  Use sound research, diagnostics, and category insights to justify your claim.  This version of the burning platform goes on to suggest that if the prospect doesn’t make a significant change things will get worse.


By emphasizing the enormity of the problem facing the prospect, you have the chance of accomplishing three important objectives that improve your chances of winning.


The bigger the problem, the more the prospect will value your solution over others.


If you’re persuasive about the reality of the problem, you demonstrate a better understanding of the challenge, giving you a huge advantage regardless of the solution you put forward.


Your pitch is better differentiated and more memorable.  Other presentations that give the prospect what they’re expecting have to sound a lot alike.  Yours will be different, and probably in a compelling way.


As I said, it’s risky.  If you think your odds aren’t favorable using an expected approach, go for it.




- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas