"*Article originally published on CityBizList"

What to Pack? I promise this is the last in a series of recent columns focusing on “sales”. It all started with watching entrepreneurs struggle at the TEDCO Entrepreneurs Expo with their pitch to a panel of investors. There is no such thing as the perfect pitch – one that answers every conceivable question or that resonates with everyone. So what should a pitch do? The successful at the TEDCO Expo told their story with clarity and avoided packing everything imaginable into it.

Fits into a Carry-On. Those that nailed their pitch covered far less, knowing that they’ve left questions unanswered. It’s counterintuitive to cover less as you don’t want to miss something that’s “important”. The challenge is to cover what matters and what matters is to pique actionable interest, to get another meeting and where you can hone in on the opportunity with greater insight. This requires focusing not on the “what” – chock full of features and benefits – but on the “why” – the drivers underlying what matters.

Pack with Purpose. This focus on “why” caused a shift in subsequent columns. The “why” is personal. It is a recognition that we all like to do business with people we like. But how does who we like to work with relate to the “why” when we’re selling to someone we don’t know? Most of us have a passion for what we do. The challenge is that we don’t know how to tie the passion for what we do to the process of how we sell. All of a sudden we’re asking questions that we would cringe to be on the receiving end of. Weather, anyone?

Purposeful Connections. I then met Leslie Woodward , shared with her this struggle and learned that she has been leading national sales teams on this very same journey. Leslie suggests that finding common ground requires asking a different sort of question, to explore why each of us does what we do. For Leslie, if we don’t understand why we do what we do, then it’s impossible to find a connection with others. Her point is that we should work to find common ground in our business development efforts. To match up the “whys”.

Blueprint. How do you find common ground – to connect my “why” with the “why” of someone I don’t know? First avoid asking any question you wouldn’t want asked of yourself. There is no magic script, but there are themes you can focus on:

Share what it is you love about what you do, then ask what it is they love

Explain what you find rewarding, experiences where you or your organization made a difference – ask about experiences that stand out to them that they’ve been involved in

Ask what worries them, what are their biggest challenges, what keeps them up at night – both within their organization and their industry; share what yours are

Explore what they see as the biggest opportunities for their organization, probe what’s needed to realize such opportunities

The key is to understand that such questions are an effort to understand the common “why” between you, which is as much about revealing yourself as it is being probative. If your sincere, listen well, and follow the trail of insight you’re developing, then odds are there is another meeting in the offing – one you walk into with greater insight and a foundation of engagement. Easy conversations seem clear but don’t lead to insight. We know that some of the best networking experiences are when we’ve left a conversation that has engaged us. These shouldn’t be rare experiences, but they’re hard, intentional, thoughtful work. “Sales” shouldn’t be seen as a tactical, transactional exercise. Ok, we’re off of “sales” for a while…

With more than 25 years’ experience in law and business, Newt Fowler, a partner in Womble Carlyle’s business practice, advises many investors, entrepreneurs and technology companies, guiding them through all aspects of business planning, financing transactions, technology commercialization and M&A. He chairs the Board of TEDCO and serves on the Boards of the Economic Alliance of Baltimore, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake.