Michael [00:00:02] Hello, I'm Michael Hainsworth. The CIBC Innovation Banking Podcast explores the world of startups, growth stage companies and late stage companies that have made a big splash in their industries around the world. As the Executive Vice President and Chief Security Officer for one of Canada's biggest banks, Keith Gordon, has been on the receiving end of an untold number of pitches by startups. What makes a pitch great? How do you get that foot in the door? And once you've got that facetime with a prospective client, how do you ensure you don't leave with egg on your face? A great pitch can make all the difference to the deal and turn a client into an evangelist for your product or service. Bad pitch can damage your reputation with future prospects. The CIBC executive tells me he's seen it all. Can we start with your favorite pitch horror story of a startup or an entrepreneur who went about it all wrong?
Keith [00:01:05] Oh, goodness. Part of one of the things that I enjoy doing is spending time with startups. I think a lot of times folks that are just coming around an idea may not have fully thought through who they're talking to. There may be just totally focused on what's this cool new innovative idea that I've come up with. I was in Silicon Valley one time working with one of the VC firms and going through the pitch scenarios of multiple startups. And it was one day I just remember my favorite, though, was the guy that came in had no idea that I was working for a bank. And the fact that he had no idea that his pants were actually hanging down a little bit too far below. It was just a very awkward moment of him realizing, wait a minute, my product has nothing to do with you and oh, my pants are hanging down a little bit, too. So again, both the product and the visual in that case were more than just funny. It was comical. And but again, it's one of those moments of know your audience and put your best foot forward.
Michael [00:02:14] Wow. So then let's expand on this. Let's talk about getting your foot in the door in the first place. You've pointed out in the past that cold calling the corner office really isn't the way to go. Why not?
Keith [00:02:26] Yeah, I personally, I have a filter set up in my own email that filter out all of the sales emails anyway and also I've got a purposeful email that if the word unsubscribe is anywhere in the content of an email, it automatically goes to another folder. We've got problems looking for solutions, not solutions looking for problems. We know what our problems are. We know what the risk is that we're trying to solve and we look for people to partner with. So really, it gets down to, building relationships is the core part of how you get in the door, not just dropping an email from some inside salesperson and expecting me to call back with the next 15 minutes that's available to me.
Michael [00:03:15] So you're saying you have to do your homework to find out who influences the decision maker and then work with that influencer?
Keith [00:03:22] Absolutely. And in some cases, it's not even about finding the decision maker inside. You'll eventually get there. But really, you need to find the person that understands what you're doing and that may have ownership around either maturing that environment, that control that product, whatever it is. But you've got to find the person that you can speak to at a peer to peer level and then work with them to help rise up the food chain to show the value in what you're doing.
Michael [00:03:55] I can imagine when you focus on speaking with those who are, to your point, at a peer-to-peer level, what that's allowing you to do is have probably more open and honest, realistic conversations with that person to help get you to that next level.
Keith [00:04:11] Absolutely. Perfect example. As part of my team and I were talking with a few startups yesterday and as a follow up, there were great ideas. So out of it we identified for each one of the startups. All right, here's the person you need to go talk to to really get to an understanding of will this even work in an environment? Is this solving the problem that it sounds like you're trying to solve?
Michael [00:04:37] So you warn entrepreneurs not to oversell their product? I thought the whole idea of entrepreneurialism was to promise the world and then work your butt off to deliver it.
Keith [00:04:47] And for those of us that have been around longer than, I don't know, a couple of weeks or so, we've all encountered a salesperson that says, oh, yeah, we can do that. When in fact the actual product isn't meant to do that. It's all going to be customization sitting on top of that. So it's how can it be ultra-honest, ultra-transparent and be vulnerable enough to say, you know what, our product doesn't do that today, but that is a fantastic idea. Let me get that back to the product team to see if it's something they could put in our roadmap.
Michael [00:05:23] Getting your foot in the door to pitch your product or service is only the first step. The actual pitch can be a minefield for a startup to navigate. You need to leave time for questions without leaving the prospective client questioning the solution. The pitch shouldn't be complex. And as Gordon tells me, you shouldn't promise the world. So once you've got that face time with the influencer, you see that promising to be everything is a red flag. What else do you see as red flag once you've actually got that face time with that entrepreneur?
Keith [00:06:01] One of the other challenges, especially for large enterprise, is implementation. I still encounter it on a frequent basis when an entrepreneur or software company says, oh, well, implementation just takes a couple hours and we can have you up and running in about two days. That maybe true. And for 10 percent of the enterprises that you're going after, but we're talking about a multinational bank.
Michael [00:06:28] Should a pitch, though, be expansive and detailed or should it be simple and straightforward? How many slides should my deck have?
Keith [00:06:36] Now, you got to go simple. It's how can we get the message across very clear, very concise, and if you've got more than half a dozen slides, you're going to lose people, especially for entrepreneurs that are technology focused. You may have two or three, maybe four slides. But as quickly as you can get to a demo and show it working, the better off you're going to be. Yeah, the example I would share is just like yesterday. Out of the three startups that we talked to, only two of them made it to the demo. The two that got through the slides quick and got us to demo to actually see the product working. Got my team excited, like, wow, that actually works. That's pretty cool. I want to see more.
Michael [00:07:25] I guess the misunderstanding at the entrepreneurial level is that you need to be as detailed as possible. You need to answer every question in the deck because that's what proves that you've got this widget or this product or service that's going to solve the problem that the enterprise has. I guess that's more of insecurity than anything else because you're trying to build a relationship. You don't want to try to do that all in a single 60 minute meeting. You want to do that over time?
Keith [00:07:54] That's exactly right. Because relationships are what sell. Because relationships build trust. And in this business, especially in the security and fraud business that I live in every day, trust is paramount.
Michael [00:08:07] So you get to the end of your pitch, the end of your presentation. You always want to make time for Q&A. I can imagine once you get to the end and there are no questions at the end of the presentation, that's got to be the kiss of death.
Keith [00:08:19] It could be that it wasn't clear what you were actually selling. It could be that you've got to refine your message down to the point that again, leaves out some of those key things that could prompt a question. And also what I've seen others do nicely is when you get to that point, if there aren't questions, you wait. Awkward silence isn't a bad thing in all cases. But if you have that silence for a moment, you pop in and you say, well, as you think about questions that may come up, here are questions that we've gotten from other potential clients. But again, to get the thought process moving of how other potential clients were thinking about the product.
Michael [00:09:05] The silence point you make is really interesting to me. A very, very early on in my professional career. I did spend some time in sales and one of the best lessons I was ever taught was silence is golden. That is the customer or the potential customer thinking. And if you just start yammering on wall, there's that silence while they're thinking you're interrupting their flow of thought, you're interrupting their ability to come to conclusions to help make decisions for themselves. And sometimes you just want to sit back and let them contemplate and let that silence hang in the air.
Keith [00:09:39] That's right. And especially if you're face to face with a person or in these days, you know, video to video with someone, you grab your pen, you go over to your notebook and you start writing, making that silence not awkward, because if you just sit there and look at them, that creates the awkwardness. But you want to have some of that silence to allow the team to process.
Michael [00:10:09] In 1984, Apple invented a new corporate role evangelist. Guy Kawasaki helped make the computer company a household name. Thirty seven years later, everyone within the company seems to be an evangelist these days. But today, entrepreneurs know the best evangelist for their product doesn't come from within. It comes from happy customers. But the path to turning a prospect into a customer is filled with twists and turns, including, as Gordon warns, large enterprises engaging in innovation, tourism. OK, so we've had that foot in the door, we've had the presentation, now let's talk about part three. You warned entrepreneurs about prospective customers engaging in innovation, tourism. What is that?
Keith [00:11:00] Yeah, as you think about the amount of startups, of entrepreneurs that are out there coming up with the next best idea, in some cases for large companies, we want to hear what's going on in the market. But we may not be able to dive deep into the entire marketplace. But partnering with some firms, some VC firms that may already have relationships, we've set aside a day or two or in some cases a week of going in and getting the 20 minute pitch of what are you doing, what are you selling, what's your vision? And then really it becomes an opportunity to hear what the market is trying to do. And when I talk about innovation tourism, it really just means that you're on that journey and on that journey you will find some scenic spots you want to stop at and dive in a little bit deeper. You take some pictures, but for a majority that you're going to be sitting in the car, driving down the road, taking it all in. And once you get to a certain spot, you need to take a break and review what you just heard, what you've just learned, so that then you can figure out, do I want to take that trip again? Because we all have. I'm going to continue down the tourism analogy here, we all have our favorite roads. We like to drive on for the view or whatever that is. We just want to go back to it. But it's for a reason. The same thing holds true as you think about technology and entrepreneurialism and startups of it's OK to cycle through a bunch of conversations because you're not going to be able to sell it everybody. But you have to be open to the idea of continuing to have the conversation, especially when on sales side, you start to get some people to ask those good questions. Then, you know, you're going down the right path. You keep doing it because on the client side, we also need to continue to just keep having the meetings and learn where the market's going.
Michael [00:13:12] What about NDAs? It sort of strikes me that it could rub a potential client the wrong way. If an entrepreneur or startup walks into a meeting, says, OK, before we open our mouths sign here.
Keith [00:13:24] NDAs are a part of the process, but you need to know when to ask for it. The first meeting is not the place to ask for it. Right, the first meeting is where you're going in and you're painting the picture, you're selling the vision on the art of the possible, what could be. But once you get to that next stage of all right, let's pull the covers back, let's dive in a little bit deeper to understand actually how it's working, then that's when you go in and say, listen, we've got some pretty cool intellectual property that we've developed here and we've protected it would like to move forward, but do it under NDA. Gives you protection, gives us protection. Right. If you present it like that, there's no plan in the book that wouldn't see the value in it.
Michael [00:14:10] How does an entrepreneur or a startup prove they can solve a problem at scale?
Keith [00:14:17] That's the million dollar question. And the challenge with that is until you actually do it, you can't say that you can, because there's all kinds of theories out there that says, well, you know, we can scale our cloud environments very quickly, we can spin up new environments to meet your needs. Well, until you actually go out and do it and test it and say it works, we've tried it. Here's the scale that we've tried it up to, then you can't say that. When you talk about scaling to large enterprise, it's a whole different animal, but you have to spend and invest a little bit on the back end to go prove it out.
Michael [00:15:00] And when you fail or when you miss a deadline, when you can't meet a goal that you've established between you and this new client, you've managed to land, from all the people I've spoken to over the course of this series, I suppose one of the bigger lessons that I've learned is that if you are at risk of disappointing the customer, be upfront about it, be forward about it. Work with them to overcome whatever the delay or the objection rule is. Sounds like a much better way to go than begging forgiveness.
Keith [00:15:32] Absolutely, and I will also say, if you look at a time frame continuum where real time is, that definition of something happens in real time and then you respond to it. The vendors and partners that we like to work with are those that are left of that, they're proactive. Before we get to something in real time that's happened. Be communicative, come up front and say, hey, we think there may be an issue here, we think we may be coming up to a roadblock. Before it actually hits us, those are the kind of partners I'll go back to every single day because I see the value in knowing that nothing's going to be perfect. I don't know that I've ever seen a project go flawlessly with no bumps or issues. There's always something. And I think that's one of the things that as an entrepreneur, folks have to understand that we understand that. We don't expect perfection. We know there's going to be bumps, but be upfront, be proactive, and that creates partnership. And getting back to a word I mentioned earlier, is trust right? When you can build trust, being open and vulnerable that listen, hey, we think we found something we're still evaluating, but we wanted to bring it to your attention. That's gold.
Michael [00:16:58] It's been said that the best evangelist for your product is your client. How do you get the customer to sell the experience?
Keith [00:17:06] And that is an absolutely true statement because as I think about products that we're evaluating, one of the first things that I go do is I go out and look and see who else is using it, and I don't just go to the website to see what logos are on there. I actually reach out to the people that I know in these companies because there's been many cases where you may see a logo on a website but when you actually get down to the reality of what they've done, it may have just been a pilot or something like that. But you call your friend, you get a friend of a friend at another company and say, what did you guys do with them? Oh, well, we're just still evaluating. We're still in proof of concept mode. Right. But then when you get those clients that say, oh, yeah, we implemented it, that thing is awesome. It's changed how we operate. Those are those moments that impact us more than anything else as we think about a sales process.
Michael [00:18:08] So you're suggesting perhaps that there's really not much you as a startup can do to actively ensure that your clients are evangelical about your product, other than deliver a solid product.
Keith [00:18:20] It's deliver a solid product and execute. Do what you said you're going to go do and do it.
Michael [00:18:27] Keith, this has been a fascinating education. Thank you so much for your time and insight.
Keith [00:18:31] Absolutely happy to help and appreciate the time.
Michael [00:18:37] Keith Gordon will continue to direct unsolicited pitches directly to his spam folder, and he'll be calling up former colleagues and competitors for insight whenever someone sticks their foot in his door. The best thing a startup pitching a large enterprise like CIBC can do is talk to those people the decision maker trusts. Be straightforward with their pitch and avoid promising the world without the ability to scale. And once the startup sees success, allow their existing clients to act as evangelists because potential customers will be calling. I'm Michael Hainsworth. Thanks for listening.