Is it Better to Pitch First or Pitch Last?

sales pitch
Making your pitch.

If you've been selling B2B for a while, you're no doubt familiar with the vendor evaluation process that many professional buyers are required to undertake. When making a major purchase, companies generally require their buyers to speak with a certain number of vendors and consider a range of solutions. The buyer then takes the information she's gathered from this evaluation process and uses it to choose the best product for the company's needs.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

In reality, the buying process isn't nearly that logical and fact-based. Buyers often have preformed opinions about certain vendors, some positive and some negative. They may be subjected to pressure due to interoffice politics to choose a certain vendor or to turn down another. Or they may simply be having a bad day when it's your turn to make your pitch.

How Presentation Order Can Make or Break the Sale

As a salesperson, you always have to keep in mind that you're dealing with human beings, not fact-computing robots. Even professional buyers choose a product based on emotion rather than reason. As a result, little details can make all the difference in whether or not you are the lucky recipient of the deal. And presentation order can definitely make or break the sale for you.

Salespeople often feel that going first is a bad idea. However, you can easily turn going first into an advantage.

The first presenter is the one who has the first opportunity to set the criteria for the purchase. If your product is strong in certain areas and weak in others – as nearly every product is – if you're the first salesperson to present, you can stress the importance of the areas in which your product is strong, comparing it to competitors who are weaker in that area.

Then when your competitors come up to pitch, they'll have to work against the standard that you've already established.

Advantages to Presenting First

When presenting first, you can also disarm your competitors by bringing up and then refuting issues that you know they'll mention. These would typically be the aforementioned product weaknesses. For example, if your product doesn't have a certain feature that comes standard on a competitor's product, you can mention the feature while explaining why it's irrelevant for this prospect. Then, when the competitor is presenting and starts talking about how your product doesn't have this great feature, your prospect will be less inclined to be impressed.

Advantages to Presenting Last

On the other hand, if you don't have a lot of information about either your competitors or about the prospect and his needs, then going last in the pitch order is your best bet. This will give you more time to do some fast research and get the information you need to present convincingly. It also gives you a chance to woo someone in the prospect's buying team or at least someone within that company who knows what the buying team is discussing. If you can convince someone like that to support you, then your insider can tell you what your competitors said during their presentations and how the buying team reacted, thus allowing you to target your presentation to respond strongly to those particular issues.

Of course, if your product really isn't a good solution for the prospect's needs, it doesn't matter what order you present in. In this situation, honesty truly is the best policy – tell the buying team that based on their requirements, they'd be better off buying from Competitor X. You won't gain the sale, but your reputation will soar and you will almost certainly benefit from future sales and referrals from the prospect. That's a much better result than trying to convince the prospect that he needs something he really doesn't; you most likely won't get the sale anyway, and if you do, the prospect will find out quickly enough that you misrepresented your product.