I was presenting a product to a company, pitching it. This was the first pitch in my life.

The three employees asked many questions and knew a lot about the topic. I did not know some things.

Finally they said they weren't interested.

Previously I talked to someone and he said that you are not to dig deeper when they say no. He also said I didn't have to masquerade using tie and suit.

But how do I find out next time, what the exact reason is for them to not want my product?

  1. Do they dislike me as a person? How do I find that one out? At first one of the employees had a "omg who is that, how do I endure the next hour"-look on his face.
  2. Do they not respect me as a person because I do not have the educational background they have?
  3. Do they not like my product(it was an idea that should be developed further with them) because it is flawed in some aspects?
  4. Were they annoyed cause I wasn't besuited as they were? Do I have to be besuited to work as a partner not an employee? I always think: "If Mark Zuckerberg can go to public meetings with sandals, why shouldn't I go to those meetings with a simple skirt or t-shirt". I was wearing a T-Shirt
  5. At first he was asking for my educational background. I thought to myself: "What does this have to do with me presenting a product?" but I told him. Well dropping out of college does not seem to have pleased him.

How do I get the answers how do I find out what to do better next time? I tried my best at this "interview" but for seemingly many reasons it did not turn out well.

When they have objections am I there to tell them they are wrong when they are or not? When they say: "No we do not want to" or even "No we will not work together in the future" is it useful to ask for the motives? How do I find out the real motives, the ones I can work with, improve and come back?

  • 3
    I think this meets the definition of "off topic"; from the FAQ : "Questions should be about problems you are encountering or have encountered in the workplace, and not the learning/applying of specific job functions"
    – GuyM
    Dec 11, 2012 at 4:09
  • Actually this does not apply. Dec 11, 2012 at 4:19
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    @user1505034 [It might be helpful to explain what your reasoning is.]
    – Nicole
    Dec 11, 2012 at 5:02
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    By the way, the "someone" you talked to should be considered an unreliable source in the future. Every "no" is an opportunity to learn, so you ask questions. About the suit, you dress in a manner which is appropriate to the occasion. I know I wasn't there, but based on your description of the event, I would have said "No" because you presented yourself as too much of a risk. Your choice of dress and your lack of preparation would not instill a sense of confidence in me about you, no matter how much I may have liked your product.
    – Neil T.
    Dec 11, 2012 at 7:48
  • Are you pitching a product? Or an idea? You say initially that you are pitching a product but then you say that it is an idea that you want to develop with them. There are differences between pitching a product, which is more of a standard sales process, and pitching an idea for a product where you are asking someone to buy in not just to the product but on your suitability as a partner. Dec 11, 2012 at 20:53

6 Answers 6


Without knowing what the product is, the first thing I would suggest is recording yourself making your pitch, so you can see what you look like to your audience. Do you appear comfortable? Do you look honest and trustworthy? Are you sure of yourself? Are you confident about your product? Non-verbal cues and tells reveal a lot of things that we try to hide through the use of speech.

Next, I would really listen to the questions you were asked by the three employees you pitched to, and try to answer those before your next attempt at pitching the product. The questions they asked will most likely be repeated by a different audience, so you might as well address and try to answer them to yourself before your next showing. This will give you more opportunities to prepare, and give you more confidence because you will be more knowledgable about the product.

Finally, you need to remember you are the one doing the selling. You have to find out what works for you. Zuckerberg can wear whatever he wants to, because it works for him and it doesn't distract him from what he's trying to accomplish. You are not Mark Zuckerberg...you don't have a product like Facebook on your resume, so you're likely going to have to approach things from a more conventional standpoint.

Despite your perceptions of your results, you had the courage to put yourself out there and subject yourself to whatever your audience could throw at you. Guess what? You survived and you got a learning opportunity...so take advantage of it. The next time, you'll be better prepared. The time after that, you'll be even more so. If you believe in what you're trying to sell, don't stop selling...the product or yourself.

  • "Finally, you need to re(...)pproach things from a more conventional standpoint." That's what most people think. But is it based on facts? Do you tell someone he is not worth your time if he has the same mannerisms MZ has but not facebook on his resumé? What's that based on? The assumption that the other person is not good enough so he kindly has to put a suit on to "at least look good". I feel that not wearing a suit sets indeed the right tone; one that you don't require those things because who you are and what you do is good enough. Dec 11, 2012 at 5:24
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    There is a fine line between self-assuredness and arrogance. Once again, I have no idea what your product is, but a pitch implies they have something you want, which is likely money. I never said to wear a suit, but if you can't muster sufficient respect to the people who are, at the very least, giving up time to listen to what you have to say by doing somewhat better than a T-shirt, then who you are and what you do better be good enough for you to do it on your own. Having a great idea or product is only half the battle...you still have to market yourself as a professional to professionals.
    – Neil T.
    Dec 11, 2012 at 7:01

It is disrepectful to pitch your product to potential buyers in a t-shirt. Wear a suit. This really is non-negotiable until you are rich and famous.

If you want to do sales you need to realize that you will lose more than you win. So accept that you lost and move on, but analyze the issue to get better. First, what were the last couple of questions they asked before deciding to say no? It is likely that one of these was the deal breaker (not that there might not have been concerns about you or the product before this). When you get a no, you can politely ask why. If you don't feel comfortable doing sales, there are classes on how to sell. Take one.

I would guess that you came across as not very well versed in what you were pitching. It is unusual to ask a sales person his or her educational background, so they must have felt you didn't know what you were doing. If you have a less than stellar background (and being a college dropout is quite frankly not all that impressive), then you have to appear more professional than the average person. So again, we are, in part, back to the suit. Yes, a suit is required in these situations and really they aren't that horrible. It also may mean your speaking skills need an overhaul.

Next you need to review your product and the presentation of your product. From what you have written I would guess you are in a start-up software company of some kind. It is critical when a company is young and only has one product to make it a product that the market wants, not what the programmers want. So really go out and look at what you have created from the perspective of the potential customers. What business problem does it solve (if it is marketed to businesses)? If it is a home product, what problem does it solve in that arena? Who are the competitors and what do they have as features in their products? What are the competitors prices? If you don't have a detailed market analysis, you have no business trying to sell. Many start-ups fail becasue they create a great product that no one needed or wanted. You must be MORE business-oriented in a start-up to succeed than in a regular copmany, not less.

Once you have your market analysis, then refocus your pitch to make the points the market wants not what you think is cool about the product. If you see that the product is missing key features that the competition has, then fix that. If you see that the competition isn't as good, but is considerably cheaper, you may need to revisit your own pricing model and/or you may need to focus your pitch away from price and into value-added. I would probably set up a way to record the questions potential buyers asked, so that as you pitch to multiple people you can analyze what they wwere looking for.

Also analyze the reasons why they said no which you should have asked for at the time they said no. If you get 6 customers in a row, for instance, who said no because your product is too expensive, guess what, it is too expensive! If they are saying no because it doesn't have feature XYZ, then you know what feature to priortize. If they feel you can't offer enough support after the sales, then that is what you need to look at. UPI can't better at this without information, so ask for it. Sometimes when they say no, it is because they didn't understand something. If they say it is because you don't have feature XYZ and you do, then you need to immediatley show them that feaure and how it can help solve their problem. If they think it is insadquate to their problem, ask what they think it is missing. No one in sales is ever successful who gives up on a potential sale at the first no.


First and foremost - does your company have guidelines here? Unless you have a very small startup, I'd expect that your company should have pretty clear guidelines for how to present a sales pitch. It's a very public facing task, and how you do it has a huge impact on your business, I'm surprised, actually, that on a first pitch you weren't accompanying another, more experienced, employee and acting more as an observer.

Second - I'm with a few of the other respondents - I don't see harm in asking why. I would be careful to focus the question a bit - "are there gaps in the product we could address?", "can you tell me your concerns?", etc. If you have reason to suspect that the issue is you, specifically, then you may want another member of your company doing the followup, so the customer can be more frank. Realize, however, that they don't really owe you feedback, so you won't necessarily get it - anything you get is a bonus, and it takes serious judgement to figure out what advice to take and what to ignore.

To answer questions specifically:

1.Do they dislike me as a person? How do I find that one out? At first one of the employees had a "omg who is that, how do I endure the next hour"-look on his face.

You'll never know. Seriously. If being liked is critical to your happiness on a job, I suspect a sales role is not for you. No matter what you sell or who you are, someone will dislike you simply because you are trying to sell them something and they don't like salespeople.

The question to ask here is - "does them not liking you personally matter?" and "did you do anything to make yourself personally unlikeable?". If you walked into the office swearing and screaming racial epithets, then that's the behavior to correct. But if you managed to be basically polite and respectful, then what they think personally about you isn't your concern.

2.Do they not respect me as a person because I do not have the educational background they have?

Maybe. For the most part, people respond more positively to people who are "like" them. Whatever the correlation is - education, race, gender, sexual orientation, hobbies, country or state of origin - people tend to bond more easily the more they have in common. That's not to say you can't overcome it, but it'll always be easier to sell to people who are more like you, and you'll have the challenge of establishing repore with people who are unlike you.

That doesn't necessarily mean faking that you have an educational background you don't have. It just means finding a common background. For example, as a defense contractor, I could never imitate the qualities of someone who's actually been in the military, but I have a deep respect for military service, and the respect and clear appreciation of my country often got me a long way when working with service people who don't share many experiences with me.

3.Do they not like my product(it was an idea that should be developed further with them) because it is flawed in some aspects?

Very much a question worth asking. I've had sales people come out and ask me why and I don't usually mind being clear. Keep in mind that most people are willing to invest about 3 sentences in what's wrong with your product and then they are done, unless your product is unique and they see a clear use for it that they can't find any other solution for. After all, they don't have any investment in your product.

4.Were they annoyed cause I wasn't besuited as they were? Do I have to be besuited to work as a partner not an employee? I always think: "If Mark Zuckerberg can go to public meetings with sandals, why shouldn't I go to those meetings with a simple skirt or t-shirt". I was wearing a T-Shirt

I would suggest that using the pre-eminent example for outlier personalities in modern social media products may not be the key to success. Mark Zuckerberg is a phenomena, not a common stereotype, and he's gathered as many enemies for his personal style as friends.

I've met a few folks who are so outstandingly brilliant that they could pull of the very-dressed-down mode of dress. They have to be very, very brilliant, very, very innovative, and very, very aggressive. The product has to be oustanding, and it has to do a job that literally NOTHING else does and it has to stand up to the harsh scrutiny I will give it.

If you have doubts that you can do all of the above, I'd suggest that you consider that the reason that most sales reps dress somewhat similar to (if not better than) the folks they sell to is that they recognize that being dressed formally is an old school power play. It shows respect - both for yourself, and for the people you are visiting. I know of no one who thinks a suit is a comfortable garment - at best it looks nice when it's well fitted and nicely pressed. Some people will take lack of suit or business casual dress to be a sign of disrepect or lack of seriousness.

5.At first he was asking for my educational background. I thought to myself: "What does this have to do with me presenting a product?" but I told him. Well dropping out of college does not seem to have pleased him.

Honestly, I've never asked a sales rep his background. But then, I've never been faced with a first time sales rep who had as little training as you've had in the field. The folks I talk to have typically been doing it for years, and it's not unusual for me to meet with herds of sales folks where one is charge, some level of technical expertise is present and there's an assistant who's going just to learn the lay of the land and establish the contact. Cold call, 1-on-1 sales is probably the hardest, most rejection filled side of the industry.

I'd like to think it wouldn't much matter to me what the sales rep's educational background was if he was good at his job. Good at his job would include:

  • is respectful of my time - not late, polite, has prepared material,
  • can present the case for his product so that I can understand how it might be useful - telling me a list of features isn't enough - in a good sales meeting, we come to a mutual understanding about the needs of my business and the capabilities of your product.
  • is very knowledgeable about the product - especially if the company is small, I expect the sales rep to really know the product in depth.
  • is knowledgable about the field - knowing the one product isn't enough - know your competitors, know the landscape of what businesses may already be doing in your arena. Have some sense of what it will take to implement your product and what the business case for it is.

The times an educational background would come up, IMO, would be if it seemed as if the sales rep did not know the subject domain well at all. Granted, I work in the technical industry, and even telling someone what a given product or solution does can take a serious education. This would vary greatly by product. In engineering, I know a lot of great engineers (and sales folks) who are not college grads, so this wouldn't phase me much - but also, I don't think I'd ask if my questions were being answered sufficiently. Of if I did ask it would be more "wow! how'd you get so smart?" and less like "woah, did you prepare for this?"


As someone who has sat on the other side of these pitches, I'll tell you that the number one thing on everyone's mind is the product. If the product is obviously amazing then there is very little you can do wrong.

BUT most products aren't obviously amazing. Often, you have to judge the product based on the confidence of the person pitching it.

As much as I hate this fact, you can portray a different level of confidence in your product based on what you're wearing. However, don't dress up in something you don't feel confident in. I would highly recommend getting a tailor-fitted casual suit. Something that looks like it grew around you.

If you cannot afford one then you're better off in a t-shirt than a suit that doesn't fit you. Fidgeting does not exude confidence. Ever. But make it a smart t-shirt. don't ever let the thought cross their mind that you don't care about this pitch. As someone else said, arrogance and confidence do not come over the same way.

It's all very well for Zuckerberg or Branson to wear whatever they like to meetings (although I often wonder how much of that is urban myth). You are not they.

I find it interesting that you consider a pitch to be less of a reason to dress smartly than a job interview. I would suggest exactly the opposite. A decision to spend real money and space on a product and person package is a more expensive prospect than simply investing wages in someone you can get rid of pretty quickly if it's not working out.

As for asking for feedback, exactly what do you have to lose? It is likely that it's 90% gut instinct and, in those cases, you're not going to get a lot of feedback. But if there is something you're doing terribly wrong, you might learn what it is.


If you're doing sales, you have to be able to tolerate A LOT of rejection. It is literally part of the job. Even top-notch sales people deal with rejection and indeterminacy constantly. Some will say that if you aren't being rejected more than half the time, you aren't trying hard enough. It seems from the text of your question that you're taking the rejection harder than is sustainable in the long term.

But to answer your questions:

Yes, if you showed up in a T-shirt and everyone else was in a suit. You are under-dressed and everyone in the room silently and instantly red-flagged you before you even opened your mouth. EVEN IF everyone was in a T-shirt shorts and sandals, you as someone making a pitch should have been in a suit or, if you're selling urinal pucks, maybe dressed in business-casual.

Determining their actual motivations is your job but keep in mind that even if they explicitly tell you "why" you can't take that at face value. If you can do it, you have to develop an on-going relationship with potential customers, learn their business, learn their competition. I've known some sales guys and sometimes there are YEARS between significant purchases for some customers.


I'd suggest there are a few key points to think about when making a pitch, which may be of use.

Brand sales, not product

Most of your questions related to your image and presentation are, I would suggest, better considered in terms of the "brand" you are representing.

People tend to buy into something based on brand, not product. Brand is more than colour, logo and slogan - it is the overall image that is projected, and which the customer/investor wants to be associated with by investing/buying the product. Companies spend millions of dollars creating brands that produce positive emotional responses.

If the product is not already associated with a brand identify that the potential client knows, then the person doing the pitch is representing the brand. If you ever watch "Dragon's Den", it is often the person behind the pitch that the "investors" are more interested in, than the product itself.

This may be your personal brand, as opposed to a company one - think about Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and James Dyson, for example.

You need to understand your own brand, and that of the potential client, and ensure its a good fit. If you don't know your own "brand", your pitch can appear confused. If its not aligned with the client's expectations, you are at a disadvantage.

A Mini Cooper and a Rolls Royce are both iconic car brands, but neither is that great for off road travel.

Wants and Needs

You need to fully understand your clients wants and needs before starting a pitch, to make sure that pitch addresses what they are after. You may be able to research this ahead of time, based on company sector and segmentation, but if you don't hit their "hot buttons" from the outset, a pitch is going to be difficult.

We have a suite of 'wants and needs' questions that we developed related to our products, not to directly ask our cleints, but to frame the kind of information we need to know before we go into see a client for a discussion. If we know nothing, then we have to lead with open questions - and be able to think fast!

In your case, I'd suggest this is a question of how your product fits in with the wants and needs of the overall portfolio that the company currently has in place and what synergy they will dervive from it.

Why people buy
People buy to get some benefit; they may love your brand (or you!), and you may know all of their wants and needs, but the product needs to bring them some degree of benefit as well.

There's some basic reasons people buy things:

  • to make money
  • to save money
  • to reduce risk
  • to save time
  • it makes life simpler/easier/more convienient
  • comfort or reduction in pain
  • status associated with owning product

These need to be clearly identified when you are describing your product, and, if possible be linked to the wants and needs of the client, or the final end-user. I'd suggest that if you reduce your product description down to five or so key points, and make sure that each one is linked to one of the key items on this list, you would have a highly focussed pitch.

Try again

James Dyson's story is a good one to remember; he pitched his bagless vaccum cleaner to all the major companies, and was rejected. Part of the issue was not realising the level of revenue the manufacturers derived from the bags for conventional cleaners. In the end, he developed his own company, but it took more than 200 prototypes for his first product.

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