Shark Tank can teach you a lot about how to sell — at least, that’s my takeaway from hearing the stories of Shark Tank contestants.
I attended a “The Shark Tank Effect” networking event, produced by the Network folks and moderated by the author of Conversations with Shark Tank Winners, Rey Ybarra. A panel of five entrepreneurs who appeared on Shark Tank shared secrets behind the show and lessons learned from their experiences. Their insights seem to apply to making a successful sales pitch regardless of who you’re selling to, what you’re selling, and how much you’re asking for in return.
Here are five secrets to successful selling from Shark Tank:
1. Be different and memorable. Granted you don’t have to be as entertaining as contestants who compete with 50,000 others to secure the coveted 100 televised slots that run on Shark Tank each year, but you do need to stand out if you want to be successful in your sales pitch. Investors, customers, and any other people that you might be selling to are likely to see many other pitches along with yours. Whether by using a prop, adopting a character, or just bubbling over with passion, you must give them a reason to pay attention and remember you.
2. Prepare for your pitch to get screwed up. One contestant described how the technology for his presentation didn’t work properly and he ended up having to improvise while trying to get back on track with his slides. Another told of how, after having rehearsed her pitch so thoroughly she could give it in her sleep, the show producers asked her to change it right before she had to deliver it. All good salespeople know it’s only a matter of time before something will go wrong when you present — the best antidote is to know the substance of your pitch so well that you can deliver it no matter the curve ball.
3. Consider the additional value you might offer to your buyer. Having watched the show a lot, I’ve recognized that frequently a shark decides to do a deal simply because they like the entrepreneur. What I didn’t realize is how much value they perceive some contestants to offer. Two panelists explained that the sharks who had entered into deals with them ended up being more interested in their expertise than in the products they were selling — and both are now in official consulting roles with their sharks. Sometimes, it seems, the best sale is really not a sale at all but the beginning of a relationship — and this might change how you think about and interact with your buyer, driving toward a longer-term, higher-value outcome vs. a single transactional deal.
4. Stay focused on the objectives of your sales pitch — and be willing to change your terms in order to get what you want. One contestant reported that she changed her ask after realizing that it might turn the sharks off before she had a chance to really explain her business to them. Another cautioned that the show was not a good place to raise money — it was a better source for connections, advice, and exposure. Together, these two reports suggest that the primary objective of being on Shark Tank shouldn’t be getting a good deal — and contestants would do well to keep that in mind as they shape and make their pitches. Likewise, when you go to make a sale, figure out what would be the most valuable outcome to you and design your pitch to get it.
5. Know the difference between gatekeepers and buyers — and be sure your pitch addresses both. With Shark Tank, the show’s producers are the gatekeepers. All the panelists agreed the producers want contestants who will make the show entertaining while the sharks want good business prospects. So their pitches needed to appeal to both groups — and they couldn’t underestimate the importance of the producers. One contestant shared how he had to go through multiple rounds of screening by producers before he got invited to tape his segment. Another credited inviting the show’s producers to an unusual launch party as a factor in him getting on the show. Your selling process might also involve multiple audiences. Do your research to understand the importance and role of each and ensure you pitch accordingly.
To be sure, selling on Shark Tank is a unique opportunity and there’s little “reality” to the show. Nonetheless, the experience seems to be valuable and one that all salespeople — even if you don’t consider yourself to be one — can learn from.