A few years ago a colleague, Steve, and I wanted to start a new project. Since we had to spend resources we weren’t authorized to spend, we couldn’t just beg forgiveness, we needed to get approval from out mutual boss. We went to his office and had a conversation. No PowerPoint, no drawings, no spread sheets, just conversation. As we were walking back to our area, having gotten the “yes, do it” we wanted, I remarked to Steve that the conversation had been content-free. We hadn’t given our boss any indication of exactly what we were going to do, just an indication of the end point. Steve’s response was “Yeah, it was vague but compelling.”
Too often we have sat through, or even given, the one hour presentation that starts by diving into the technology and just stays there in the weeds. A couple of decades ago when we got a new senior VP of development, he called the leaders of the three main product teams to our galactic headquarters to explain their products. Essentially, each had one hour to justify their existence. The first talked about the flexibility of the product, the wide range of partners who had developed solutions for it, and the growth rate in the top ten markets. The second team talked about their dominance in the financial market and a significant sector of the defense market, and how it was the most profitable product in the history of the company. The third team spent their entire hour talking about the technology. At the end, the VP turns to the third team leader and asks “but what is it good for?”
When you are in any kind of a sales situation, it is critical to explain the end point first: the “why.” What does the buyer get? If you can’t get the listener to say “I want that,” then it’s time to say “thank you” and try somewhere else. Lead with business value, the “WIIFM” (“what’s in it for me”) from the buyer’s perspective.
When I’m talking to a potential customer, I want to lose control of the presentation in the first 15 minutes. I want the customer to take over, driving the conversation to topics that are important to her. I want the customer to be telling me those places in her environment that my solution will help her. I want the boss to say to her minions “figure out how to get this into our environment.”
Vague, but compelling. Let the customer drive you down into the technology if they want. Let their specific questions give you the important clues about why they don’t sleep at night, and allow you to suggest specific uses of your solution to solve their problems. Avoid the potential issue of the customer latching on to one fairly insignificant point and creating an objection around it.
Sales situations are not just when you are trying to sell product to a customer. It is also includes occasions when you are trying to sell your plan to management, trying to get a new partner on board, or trying to get your sales team to pay attention to your product. It is not about a sales pitch, it is about a conversation. It’s about starting a long term relationship and becoming a trusted advisor.
“Vague but compelling” doesn’t work everywhere. It is more difficult to do in a formal presentation to a large group. Usually you have a different agenda in that case, and the environment sometimes does not easily allow questions. As you are often trying to educate the group on something, a structured approach will usually work better. This is especially true when the subject is the technology.
Unless you know everybody in the audience or around the table, you should first take 30 to 60 seconds to establish your credentials. Let everybody know why you are talking to them – what expertise you bring to the conversation. If you are representing an organization, include how that organization has credibility in the area. You need to get the audience to believe you are worth listening to.
If you understand the technology and message, and the location supports it, I find it very effective to just have a conversation and use a whiteboard board to diagram or list important characteristics as the customer-driven conversation evolves. Alternatively, structure your slide deck with the intro and the value proposition up front followed by a summary slide, and everything else in backup. Use the PowerPoint trick of entering the slide number and press <return> to jump to any specific slide as necessary.
Nothing says “sales call” like a PowerPoint deck. Nothing says “I’m here to help” like a conversation focused around the customer’s needs.
The last word: My colleague in the first paragraph is Steve Goldner, aka SocialSteve. Steve is a recognized expert on social media. Whether you are just starting out with social media in your business or a veteran, I highly recommend you check out his blog at SocialSteve.WordPress.com.
Keep your sense of humor.