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How do you end a pitch/meeting that has gone bad?

As an entrepreneur this might have happened to you before. You pitch your services, your present or have a meeting, and the whole thing just totally goes in the wrong direction.

One of the following scenarios happens:
- The client/investor simply isn't feeling it. They just don't believe in your concept.
- They start to lecture you on how you should build your product and belittling you.
- They are overly critical or deeply negative.

Essentially, I'd like to say "this is a waste of both our time", get up and leave, but that isn't socially acceptable behaviour. Plus, I don't want to be abrasive or rude, as some of the people I meet were intros/recommendations from people that are very important to me.

Usually, I end up staying out of politeness later and feel drained, sad and mad at myself for having wasted time.

Do any of you have a remedy for this? What do you do when that happens to you? Do you have any tips for ending such bad meetings on polite and good terms?

33 Replies

Frederic Moreau
2
0
Frederic Moreau Advisor
Agile Business Transformer
Hi Larissa,

Every entrepreneur is experiencing this at some stage.
What is key is to reflect on your key learnings so that you don't repeat them. Write them down, and share it with someone, or you can even write a post about it. Learnings are the best remedy I know of.

All the best.
Michael Brill
16
0
Michael Brill Entrepreneur
Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products
Ha! This just happened to me last week by someone who didn't let their complete lack of domain knowledge get in the way of aggressive criticism. It was mostly off-base and generic... and wrong. After counting 10, several times, I was able to turn the meeting at the end (with #4 below).

Options:
1. Get into a road rage pissing match. You can never win these. Not advised.
2. Tail between the legs and cut meeting short. Again, not advised. You spent hours prepping for and getting to/from the meeting. Don't waste that time.
3. Regardless of their tone, treat them as if they're a Generous Skeptic (google that). Ask questions. Drill down on topics. Engage them. If you show that you value their opinion and maybe even find bits to agree with, their attitude changes rapidly. Even if you're seething, say "This is awesome feedback. We're still just getting started and are trying a number of ideas out." You're probably not going to change their mind but I guarantee you that there is some valuable advice buried in all their griping.
4. Probably the only way to change their mind is traction or social proof. Look, an investor who looks at a zillion deals needs a system. They need short-hand to filter out deals... they just don't have the time to dig into your business unless it fits their parameters. HOWEVER, most investors lack conviction when confronted by evidence that conflicts with their perspective. Calmly deliver any points of traction - even if you just have some bullshit metrics - and see what happens.

But don't end the meeting early. This is good practice for you.
Michael Barnathan
5
0
Michael Barnathan Entrepreneur • Advisor
Co-Founder of The Mountaintop Program, Google Alum
Just because the feedback's unpleasant doesn't mean it's wrong. If they're negative / overly suggestive, flip the meeting around and listen to how they would go about repairing things. Write the feedback down, take it with you, and see if they have a point.

You'll make them much more positive towards you if they see that you're listening, and you may even find that they become champions of your product or business once the issues they bring up are addressed. Close with "Thanks for the feedback. We'll see if we can fix some of these issues. Is it alright if we keep you in the loop as we fix things?"
Lara Feltin
0
0
Lara Feltin Advisor
Founder/CEO at MyFive; Cofounder/CEO at Biznik
It sucks when that happens. Don't let it drain you. Just remember that they're rudeness is about them, not you. They have experience and their insights are likely valid. So smile and thank them.

Michael B nailed it in his response-asking them if you can follow up with them in the future is both respectful and the a sign of your professionalism.

Then when it's all over, let the criticism roll of you and pat yourself on the back for having the courage to make the pitches in the first place. You're part of a minority. Keep at it!
Bob Smith
3
0
Bob Smith Advisor
Consulting to Boards, CEO's and Key Management Teams, Strategic Investor and Fast Growth Companies

All these answers have great merit. Criticism can be really good even when it is no fun to hear.

1. Remember that the criticism is NOT about you.

2. Be an Observer. Be a little detached as an observer and capture their words and be willing to ask them what they mean with certain words or ideas.

3. Be aware that sometimes people will criticize because they are telling you what they need from you in order to support your idea. Now and then, you will find someone who criticizes to show everyone that they are the smartest person in the room. (Again it isn't about you).

4. Look for patterns in the criticism. One critique may be an anomaly, several will form a pattern.

5. Be willing to tell them how to best give you feedback. When people want to help, they enjoy knowing how to be really helpful.

Make meaning that advances your purpose. Meaning making is everything.


Good luck. It isn't easy, but you asked a great question.

0
0
X
Entrepreneur
There is a remarkably powerful tool used in the Sandler sales system called the Upfront Contract. After meeting the contact(s), you say something like this:
"I've been looking forward to talking with you about our widgets. I have some questions for you and I'm sure you have some for me. As we ask and answer each others' questions, one of two things will happen: we'll decide we can work together or we won't. If I am thinking that we're not going to be a good fit, I'll politely stop the meeting, leave and we'll keep in touch in case smeting changes in the future. Will you feel comfortable doing the same? Great. If we feel that we can work together, at the end of this meeting, I'll ask you to move to the next step. Is that something you can decide on your own and will you be okay doing that? The answer should be yes to the first because you prospected well and got the decision-makers in the room

This does three things:
1) It sets the ground rules for exactly what you describe: this was awful/painful/the prospect is a jerk, etc. It gives both of you permission to stop literally lid-sentence, close your note pad and politely leave.
2) It takes the pressure off the 'how do I end this?" thought process that you may have been having for 15 minutes.
3) It sets you up to move ahead with the sale if you both agree that is the right thing to do. Also, it may bring more people into the meeting because they are in on the decision.

A triple win and the pressure is off. Some prospects may still take a swipe or two at you but as was stated above - is it accurate? Always look for another perspective on how you are operating; there could be valilidity and a good take-away
Alison Lewis
1
0
Alison Lewis Entrepreneur • Advisor
CEO/Creative Director
Great responses. In all honesty, I've never left a meeting early even though I wanted too.

If something goes that direction, turn it around. "So, your saying if I did (put thier words here), you'd put money in to make it happen?" Find out. If it's not a right fit, move on and it's no big deal. If it's just one thing they need to feel comfortable to invest, then find out and get the investment if you want it from them.

If they are being truly rude and not just giving passionate feedback, that's different. If they seem like they are threatening you or making you feel like their act or tone is unethical the only thing you can do is ignore them. Also, find out if they are just weird or have social issues. Most of us do.

These are busy people, you'll hear don't take it personally (as above) but that is nearly impossible unless you have no empathy or emotional intelligence. It is personal and it does matter. You want to be successful, put that spin on it. How can what that person said be applied to make us and me successful?Take notes, talk to advisors and then only take a small % of what they said and learn from it. Find out if it's the same issue over and over.

Personal side note:

I've heard "just put it on Kickstarter" so many times I could vomit right on the person. It's an idea we have in mind, but it's one that takes time and MONEY to do well with fashion item. So I ask, "would you put in money to support our campaign and make sure it's successful?" If they say... well, huh.... Then I know it's just an excuse not to commit and ask if they know someone who will. If they say yes, then we have a winner!

And one time, a guy kept touching my arm when I was pitching him and inviting me on his boat with friends. I couldn't tell if it was a nervous tick and he was a slime bucket or just socially challenged. After paying attention, I realized he's a goofball with ADD and not the right investor. He is harmless and I stayed calm and I am glad. Now, when I see him at events I say hello.
Gabor Nagy
0
0
Gabor Nagy Entrepreneur
Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics
I would definitely listen to their advice, no matter how negative it sounds.
It's free business advice!
Would you turn down free legal or medical advice just because the lawyer or doctor has a negative attitude?

Trish McDermott
4
0
Trish McDermott Advisor
Co-Founder and Media Trainer at Panic Media Training

I've been there too. The worst-case scenario is when the investor "doesn't feel it." There isn't much to work with there, but a good question is:

I see we haven't captured your interest. Where did we lose you?

Sometimes you aren't pitching to your customer. I've had this experience pitching dating sites that focus on women (women bring men) to a room full of married men. In these situations I might lightly suggest (humor works) that they ask their wives or sisters for some feedback.

Often in these situations listening is as important as presenting. You might want someone on your pitch team to be the official listener, including listening between the lines.

Overly critical and negative? One thing I learned from telling the Match online dating story back in 1995 is that your most vocal critics can be a gift. They are never alone and depending on how wide spread their negative beliefs about your product will be, understanding and accommodating their objections might fast track your growth.

It's all part of the process. I wish I had kept track of the many people in 1995 who told us we were crazy--that no one would EVER put their photo on an online dating profile.
Franc Nemanic
0
0
Franc Nemanic Advisor
"Cracking the Startup Code -Transforming Corporate Culture With The Startup Mentality!" Corporate Speaker/Startup Expert
"Essentially, I'd like to say "this is a waste of both our time", get up and leave, but that isn't socially acceptable behaviour."

There is nothing socially unacceptable about ending a meeting early that has no purpose. I would end it.

As an entrepreneur sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone and do things that make you uncomfortable. I would be very honest with the person and leave!

I have done that plenty of times and it works out best for everyone and frankly you will gain that person's respect because of your willingness to walk away shows you are not desperate.

But if you want to avoid this situation in the first place, have an agenda and keep the meeting to 20 mins. If it's a good meeting it will keep going beyond the time, if not it ends without any drama. That's socially acceptable!

Good luck!
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