people not prospects

People Not Prospects: What Makes A Bad Pitch Email?

Let's talk about what not to do

Anthony: Okay. We’ve talked about shaving the puffin. Where next?

Clare: Well, I feel pithy phrase coming on.

Anthony: Okay.

Clare: You may want to grab your notebook.

Anthony: I don’t need a notebook. I’ve heard all of your pithy phrases.

Clare: That is true.

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: Okay, here it is.

Anthony: People Not Prospects. Okay.

Clare: Yes. “Shaving the puffin,” that tells you how to show up in a pitch email. It’s your side of the equation. It reminds you to stand out by being interesting and surprising. By showing personality. “People not prospects” tells you how to treat the retailer.

Anthony: Alright, well tell us more about that. We’ve seen that many artists avoid being personal in their pitch emails…

Clare: Yes, creative people avoid being personal in their pitch emails in two ways – first by failing to be interesting, natural or engaging as we saw earlier. And second by treating the retailer like a cash machine instead of a person, which is frankly how most pitch emails make us feel.

Anthony: Well yes, we get a lot of pitch emails which don’t even have our names at the top. It’s just “To The Manager,” or something. And those emails are usually all about what the artist wants, which is our money.

Clare: Yes, most artists shoot for the sale. They treat the retailer like a prospect or a sales lead instead of a living person. They’re focussed on getting the retailer’s money because the money will help the artist achieve their hopes and dreams – like having a thriving business or being able to quit their day job or support their family.

And those are brilliant, beautiful things to want. But if you want your pitch email to be successful, it can’t be about your hopes and dreams. It must be about the retailer’s.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: To show you what I mean, how would you like to see two common types of bad pitches?

Anthony: I’d love to see that.

Clare: They both make this mistake of treating the retailer like a cash machine instead of a person.

Anthony: Great.

Clare: Before we begin, I want to say that if you’ve ever sent a pitch like this, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. Like, we’re not going to have a snigger about them. If no-one ever taught you this stuff before then of course you’re going to make mistakes. There’s no shame in that.

Anthony: Absolutely, no shame at all. How could you know this stuff without anyone telling you?

Clare: Exactly. And sometimes it’s easier to see what to do by looking at what not to do.

Anthony: That’s right. And these are all real pitches that we’ve received at our store, aren’t they?

Clare: Yes, they are. I’ve changed the identifying details but they’re real. So, this one.

Anthony: So, what’s happening here?

Clare: Well, I did not decide to make all of these bits bold and in a different colour. That’s the way the pitch arrived except it was bright yellow and not pink.

Anthony: Ah, so they bolded all these bits?

Clare: They did and the effect is super salesy. There’s zero attempt to show that they know anything whatsoever about us or our specific store. It’s all about them.

Anthony: Gosh, it is, yeah. They’re name-dropping like crazy.

Clare: They’re name-dropping so much. It’s like, as potential buyers, we’re meant to be overwhelmed by that, to just be blown away by how impressive they are. It’s very I-centric. By which I mean, it is all about what they want and what they’ve done. And it’s written in the third person which is never a good idea.

Anthony: Yes. That has a real distancing effect.

Clare: Yeah. See this last line about the opportunity, they’re offering us the rare opportunity to give them money.

Anthony: It’s presented like they’re doing us a favour, isn’t it?

Clare: Yes, like we’re meant to be grateful that they looked down from their cloud and noticed us.

Anthony: Yeah. It doesn’t feel like a partnership is what’s being pitched here. It’s all about them.

Clare: Yep. Next…

Anthony: The pushover.

Clare: Yeah. This is a different angle on shooting for the sale. Only this time, instead of convincing us by being impressive, the artist doesn’t seem to have any boundaries. Like, she’s practically lying on the floor saying, “Please, I’ll do anything. Please, just place an order.”

Anthony: She’s being way too flexible. Isn’t she?

Clare: Yeah. I mean, it’s good to be flexible up to a point. But, retailers also want to see that you have your own rules, what’s called your terms and conditions. They set out how you do business and they tell retailers what to expect from you. If it seems like you don’t have any boundaries, that’s a red flag for us.

Anthony: Yeah. Suppliers like that don’t make you feel safe. Do they?

Clare: No, they don’t. So, Anthony, can you just give me a few quick examples here that say pushover to you?

Anthony: Yeah, okay. Well, the bit about it not being to your taste.

Clare: Yeah.

Anthony: The price being negotiable. That’s a big one. The price should be the price.

Clare: Exactly.

Anthony: Offering to do bespoke work for no extra charge. There should definitely be a charge for that.

Clare: Yeah, there should. So, that’s the pushover pitch. It’s still all about what the artist wants and needs, it just takes a different approach than the salesy one.

Anthony: So what conclusions can we take from these examples?

Clare: These are just two examples of bad pitches and we’ll look at some more common mistakes in a little while. But I think we can say this.

Anthony: That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Clare: Artists breaking this rule and treating retailers as prospects instead of people, that’s the biggest mistake that I see in pitch emails. Fixing it, which is easy to do, can make your pitches much more persuasive at a stroke. And the funny thing is that a lot of artists WANT to treat retailers like human beings in their pitch emails. Like, that’s their natural instinct.

Anthony: Well, yeah.

Clare: As we talked about in video two of this series, creative people have an instinct for being honest and natural and engaging and authentic. But for many, all those abilities run away when they sit down to write a pitch email. That’s because those instincts have been conditioned out of us. We don’t think selling can feel good.

Anthony: Yeah. Look at this, soft skills. I just hate that phrase. It’s about connecting with another person. That’s actually what art is all about.

Clare: Yeah. And artists are often amazingly good at it without even trying. I’ve worked with many creative people who say “Look, I can sell my work in person at craft shows, no problem. But I can be myself there, can’t I? I’m relaxed. I can get a feel for the other person and have a good conversation which often results in a sale. But I’m not allowed to do that in a pitch email, am I?”

Anthony: We’ve all been conditioned to think of these skills as less important than, I don’t know, negotiating. So-called hard business skills.

Clare: We have, by TV shows and books, and films, programmes like Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice or what are they called in the states?

Anthony: Shark Tank, I think? And The Apprentice. And I’d throw in films like Glengarry Glen Ross which is all about hard selling. We’ve got the idea that’s the only way selling can be. The classic thing artists say is “I don’t want to come across like a used car salesman.”

Clare: That’s right, that’s our conditioning talking. And it’s not true. The ability to get alongside someone, to tune into their wavelength and show that you know something about them. It’s an incredible advantage. It’s an asset. And once you know how, you can do it in a pitch email just as well as you can in person. So see this way of thinking?

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: It can get in the sea.

Anthony: It can. Get in there.

Clare: Get into the sea, you outdated ideas.

Anthony: We’ve had enough of you.

Clare: Go away.

Anthony: Exactly.

Clare: Go bother the seagulls. So here’s what’s we’ve learned. If you want a pitch email that actively gets you orders from stores, it’s time to stop doing this. No more treating the retailer like a cash machine. No more focussing on the money or the sale or even the lovely thing you make. That stuff will come, but your pitch email isn’t the place for it.

Anthony: Okay.

Clare: Instead, your pitch email must be about each individual, unique retailer you approach. It’s about what we want from the suppliers we buy from – our wants and needs and hopes and dreams and all the things that make us feel like we can trust you. Write your pitch email from that perspective and it’ll become much, much more persuasive.

Anthony: And how do you know what retailers want?

Clare: Let’s find out in the next video.

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