Grow Your Business

4 one-line pitches that generated billions in sales

I want to show you some simple sales pitches that were responsible for billions of dollars in business.

What do they all have in common? No hype. No over-the-top promises. And no psychobabble ninja tricks. Just simple messages that worked.

If you’re in the business of selling anything — and all entrepreneurs are — you can apply what I’m about to show you to get more sales for your business.

So let’s get started.

Pitch 1: “Hey. We can lower your distribution costs. Let me know who to talk to.”

Adam Goldstein is the CEO and co-founder of Hipmunk, a search engine that helps users find the best travel deals. Back in 2010, Goldstein was struggling to get his startup off the ground. Airlines and travel sites didn’t want to do business with a company that had no other clients.

Instead of getting discouraged, he hustled. He regularly flew to offices around the country unannounced and begged people for just 15 minutes of their time. Eventually, he landed Orbitz. With a small win under his belt, he felt confident enough to reach out to Jeff Smisek, then-CEO of United Airlines:

“Hey. We can lower your distribution costs. Let me know who to talk to.”

The result: Smisek responded within 15 minutes with an introduction to a senior executive. That led to the deal that put Hipmunk on the map. The company went on to raise $55 million from investors and was acquired by Concur last fall.

Why the pitch worked: It’s short, casual, and clear and offers a real benefit — lower distribution costs. Senior executives get hundreds of emails every day. Forget pleasantries and assorted throat-clearing and get to the point: what’s in it for them. In addition, Goldstein’s call to action was so simple that Smisek decided to make the connection himself.

Pitch 2: “No matter how big my company gets, I will never fire you. And I will never change a word of your copy.”

In 1951, CF Hathaway was a tiny men’s dress shirt company based in Maine. With an advertising budget of only $30,000, it had to compete with much larger, well-known brands. No small task.

Ellerton Jette, the founder, wanted to engage renowned copywriter David Ogilvy to run his advertising campaign. He was able to book an in-person meeting, but he knew that his budget was too small to interest someone of Ogilvy’s stature.

At the same time, he understood every agency’s two biggest fears, so he started the meeting with an irresistible pitch:

“No matter how big my company gets, I will never fire you. And I will never change a word of your copy.”

The result: Jette’s promise sealed the deal and launched one of the most famous ad campaigns of all time: “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt.” In the campaign’s first week, CF Hathaway sold every shirt in its warehouse.

The company quickly become a massive client for Ogilvy. At its height, it was doing $127 million in annual sales. It was one of only two U.S.-based shirt manufacturers in operation before shuttering its factory in 2002.

Why the pitch worked: Every ad agency has one fear: getting sacked. And every copywriter absolutely hates when people change their words (see “Men, Mad”). Ellerton’s genius was getting into Ogilvy’s head, seeing things from his point of view, and addressing potential objections straight up. Ogilvy was willing to trade short-term revenue for long-term security. In the end, he got both.

Pitch 3: “I would like to discuss the possibility of you joining me.”

In 1994, Jim Clark left Silicon Graphics Inc., a company he had founded years earlier. Before his last day, a colleague downloaded a browser called Mosaic on his computer and said, “You’ll figure it out.”

Clark was blown away by the browser’s simplicity and how easy it made navigating the Internet, which was new at the time. He looked up the programmer behind this creation: Marc Andreessen.

Clark sent Andreessen a four-sentence email introduction that included this line:

“I would like to discuss the possibility of you joining me.”

An unassuming beginning to a major success story.

The result: Andreessen was familiar with Silicon Graphics and knew of Clark. At breakfast, they hatched a plan to create Netscape, the browser that changed the way we search the web and paved the way for Google. AOL bought Netscape for $4.2 billion in 1998 and made the founders wealthy.

Why the pitch worked: It’s intriguing and flattering. If Clark had written a longer email discussing ownership and equity or what their respective roles might be, it would have been too much too soon. No matter how thirsty you are, you can’t drink from a firehouse.

Remember: You don’t have to sell everything at once. Sometimes, a pitch can be a story that unfolds over time.

Pitch 4: “We already have legally binding agreements in place that will guarantee low, fixed prices for all hotel rooms.”

When David Magliano joined London’s Olympic bid team in 2003, there were incredible hurdles to clear. The other candidate cities — Paris, New York, Madrid, and Moscow — were much further along in their planning.

To win the bid, Magliano knew he needed a differentiator, something the other cities hadn’t thought of. He assembled a team of business people, athletes, and creatives and landed on this idea: They’d book thousands of London’s hotel rooms immediately, a full nine years before the Games.

Then they could walk in with an amazing pitch:

“We already have legally binding agreements in place that will guarantee low, fixed prices for all hotel rooms.”

The result: London won the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which gave the city’s economy a $15 billion boost.

Why the pitch worked: The team could have easily said: “We can get hotels to agree to low, fixed prices for all rooms.” But it actually went out and did the work of forming legally binding agreements. You may not always be able to outsmart the competition, but you can certainly outwork them. It shows you mean business and demonstrates the quality of your work.

The next time you sit down to prepare a sales pitch, ask yourself:

  • Who’s my audience?
  • What’s in it for them?
  • What objections might they have?
  • What’s the least I need from them to advance the ball today?
  • Can I do some of the work now?

Then write your pitch and see how it goes. Some will work, some will fail. Adjust accordingly and then rinse, repeat, and win.

Free Guide: The 5 things you need to turn your audience into paying customers

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