Pitch Perfect: Everything I’ve Learned About the Perfect Pitch

“Pitch Perfect: Everything I’ve Learned About the Perfect Pitch” was originally posted by hint Founder & CEO, Kara Goldin, on LinkedIn here:

As any small business owner can tell you, making a successful pitch is as crucial as it is tricky. It can be an anxiety-provoking process (if you’ve listened to Alex Blumberg’s podcast Start Up where he records his real time, nerve-racking pitch attempts, you know exactly what I’m talking about). As the founder and CEO of Hint Water, I’ve had my own fair share of sitting in that hot seat with companies like Google, Starbucks, and Facebook on the other side of the table. That position has afforded me both frustrating losses and exhilarating triumphs. Over the years I’ve come to understand what it takes to nail that pitch.

Your Product Is Your Baby. No, Really.

I have four kids, so I can attest to this: knowing your product isn’t enough. I know my neighbors, I know my mail carrier—but I have changed my children’s dirty diapers, dried their tears, and left money under their pillows in exchange for teeth. I KNOW my children. That level of understanding is the kind of relationship you need to develop with your product. Here’s what I mean:

When your kid goes to school—you don’t just know she loves art class or that he aces reading but struggles in math—you know all of his/her teachers, what the cafeteria is serving for lunch, whether or not there’s a drama club, a choir, etc. Because you love your children, you make it your business to really understand the environment they’re in.

The same is true of your product. I don’t just know that Hint tastes great and is totally sugar free—if that was all I knew going into a pitch meeting, I’d be dead in the water. I have all the details of the industry mapped out in my head before I walk through those doors. For example:

-I know that when I put my product out in the world, it’s not just up against the big soda giants, it’s up against the entire sugar industry. So I educate myself—for example, the New York Times just reported that the FDA is considering labeling the recommended daily amount of sugar—that’s a huge development, a sign of what’s to come—and it’s key information to take into that meeting room with me when I talk about the value of a sugar-free beverage.

-I learn about each and every competitor; I know where they’ve had successes and how they’ve fallen short. For example, Vitamin Water tastes like a dessert (which makes it popular) because it’s full of sweeteners (not a pro for a company that values health).

-I know my audience; I understand the values, goals, and limitations of the company I’m pitching to. Google is in the business of thinking ahead, and I’m confident that exposing the dire health costs of a high-sugar diet is a very real part of our near future (and I have data to back that). Because I understand how my product is in alignment with their principles, my pitch becomes less about selling a product, and more about joining forces in creating something we both believe in. Which brings me to my next point…

If You Find the Value in Your Story, Your Story Will Have Infinte Value

When you’re out there pitching your product, remember that your story will never exhaust its value. I repeat: never. All you have to do is look at the overwhelming success of the radio show This American Life, for example, to understand how much we love a good, true-to-life story. We want to know how things came to be, what the people involved are like, and—and this may be the most important thing—what it shows us about ourselves.

Ten years ago I was working in the tech industry. I was tired, overweight, and had started breaking out. Not surprisingly, I had also become addicted to diet sodas in an attempt to keep my energy levels up. It dawned on me one day that my sluggishness, weight gain, and acne might all be tied into the numerous colas I was drinking every day. But weening myself off of soda with plain water went just how you’d expect: painfully. I was determined though, so I started making my own flavored water at home using fresh fruit. Soon enough I lost the pounds, my skin cleared up, and with all the sugar crashes out of the picture, I became more energetic and alert. What I originally thought was a quest for personal health ended up becoming my life path, and today I get to share what I love—what I believe in—with the world.

My story isn’t about getting it right the first time—I’d had several positions in several companies before I founded Hint. It’s not about having all the answers—I had no prior experience with the beverage industry, so there was a lot of trial and error. What it is about is following your gut, overcoming obstacles because you believe 100% in what you do, and committing yourself to a better life that you can share with others. When there’s meaning behind your product, that story sticks with people because it shows them how the two of you can team up to create something powerful and important together. The next time you walk into that board room, don’t forget that an honest, purposeful story—one that reveals the humanity behind the numbers—is one of your most prized assets.

Today’s Pitch Is to Your Customers

At the end of the day, your customers are the people whose opinions matter most, so ask yourself: Are you pitching to your customers? First and foremost, you have to have a service or a product that they love and believe in. People are tired of listening to “Don’t do this; don’t do that,” from companies they don’t feel connected to or trust. Once they love your service/product, then they’ll pay attention to a more in-depth conversation with you.

At Hint, we’ve been making a big push on direct-to-consumer business. It’s going amazingly. Not only do our customers get to avoid hauling a heavy product home from the grocery store, but by coming to our online site to purchase, we create a more personal, direct relationship with them. One of the ways we nurture that connection is through our site’s online content in the “Explore” section. We’ve taken the time to really get to know our customer—what they do for fun, where they go, what they’re worried about, what they believe in. All that information has helped us build content that matters to them—not just from a food/beverage perspective, but also from a skincare perspective, a travel perspective, a health perspective, etc.

Our approach has been to take these issues on from an accessible level; I think of my customers as my friends, and I talk to them the same way. We carry this dialogue through on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and again, all our online content. Technology is changing, and that means you have to get creative in how you think about the concept of “pitching.” These outlets are the neo-pitch—it’s the ongoing conversation between you and your customers, and it reminds them that teaming up with you is going to make a lasting and meaningful difference in their lives.

Kara Goldin is Founder and CEO of Hint Water, the fastest-growing flavored water in the United States. Kara started Hint when she couldn’t find a healthy water that tasted great without questionable additives like sweeteners. Hint Water has 0 calories, 0 sugar, and 0 diet sweeteners and can be purchased online at www.drinkhint.com in a variety of flavors including Blackberry and Watermelon, in both still and sparkling. Kara just launched NEW Hint Kick for those who want caffeine, but not any added stuff like sugar and diet sweeteners. Hint Kick has already received rave reviews from the NY Post and BevNet.