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Face to face time (or phone time) with customers is a finite resource in all opportunities, and is often the critical bottleneck. This article highlights a collection of 20 best practices from top sellers that you can use today. Here are some tips from top pre-sales pro’s to make the most of that time.
1. If you go to dinner at someone’s house and they’ve obviously put a lot of thought and care into the details, you appreciate it. A presenter who is not prepared gives the opposite impression.
A top Sales Engineer says, 'The majority of my meetings are not driven by an agenda. They are last minute, and I’m not sure who will attend. I ask the sales rep for details, and they say, 'Don’t worry; I’ll brief you on the way over.' So I have learned to convince the salesperson to let me call ahead, and be engaged on the front end of the sales cycle. It allows me to prep the environment, so when I show up I can be effective. I actually have a checklist.'
• Uncover the business problem on the phone
• Be prepared to present to the pain, fear or gain
• Have a plan to build rapport at the outset – emotional leadership – O.K./not O.K.
• Have prepared pain questions
• Integrate in a story to increase your personal appeal, to add some humor, and to demonstrate your competence.
• Use a technical checklist
Best Practice: Be prepared
2. A top Sales Engineer says, 'During a WebEx, I asked the customer to draw something on the virtual white board. It’s the first time I’d done it, and the customer said to me, 'That’s the first time I truly understood what your product does.'
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If they get involved, they understand better, retain more and the solution is their 'baby.' Another top Sales Engineer says, 'Less PowerPoint and more real-time use of the product leads to greater knowledge transfer – greater understanding of what they are going to get – how it’s useful.'
Best Practice: Use a white board and use PowerPoint sparingly
3. Often a salesperson does an initial introduction and then turns the presentation over to an Sales Engineer, who starts by sitting down at a laptop to conduct the demonstration.
It’s best not to demonstrate a product sitting down. You give up control of the presentation and your audience. If there are two of you, the lead presenter should remain standing, perhaps working at a flip chart or white board. If you are solo and you use a laptop at points, don’t sit at the laptop. Stand instead. Also, turn off the laptop screen. This will force you to look up at what they are looking at and it will keep you from looking and talking into the laptop.
Best practice: Stand during a demo
4. If a customer asks, 'Will your product do X?' the typically knee-jerk response is to say, 'Sure.' And then zoom through the menus and show them that it can. The customer sees you go through a series of menu selections and may begin to feel ‘software vertigo’ – the sick feeling in your stomach that happens when the screens moved too quickly. Instead, ask questions to better understand the question and it’s importance. Avoid screen flipping. Sometimes it’s better to answer verbally or by drawing on the white board. You might also say, 'Yes. We will be showing you that capability as part of this demo.'
You can’t train them on the product during a demo. You CAN convince them the product is hard to use.
Best practice: Avoid software vertigo
5. When you are the second person in the room, it’s easy to become inattentive, especially if you are lost in the conversation. You can appear disinterested. Take notes, show that you are listening. Stay involved. Demonstrate interest in this customer and helping them.
On a web session or con call, focus 100% of your attention on THIS call. Don’t let your attention drift to email. It’s embarrassing when you are called on and everyone notices that you were not paying attention.
Best practice: Be present
6. Original, spontaneous thought attracts attention. Before your next presentation, prepare a couple illustrative stories or analogies that might be useful. Just sit down and write about five interesting things that have happened to you.
When you use it, be an actor. Act like it just occurred to you. 'John, that reminds me of work we did with ABC Company. Your situation is different, of course, but they too were concerned about ..'
You also may be covering the same point for the 1000th time and you can sound bored. A fresh way of making the point will help you avoid this problem.
Best practice: Prepared spontaneity
7. Early in my training career, I had a co-worker critiquing me and she said, 'Steve you light up when you use a story about your daughter, or about a military analogy – something you from your personal experience.' This is true of all of us. Stories and analogies enhance your personal presence.
Stories make a point more effectively, quicker, with more color and more entertainment value and they make you more memorable. You will come across with more personality and more power. They will remember how you made them feel, more than they remember what you did or said.
Best Practice: Use stories to enhance your personal appeal and power
8. The goal of a customer meeting is NOT to dispense product knowledge. It is to ADVANCE THE SALE. Often times these goals get confused.
Advancing a sale means:
• Uncovering a problem
• Determine where the problem is on the priority list
• Find out who cares about the problem
• Developing a problem to the point of action
• Quantifying a problem
• Developing mutual commitment and clearly defined next steps
• Testing a customer’s commitment to change
• Uncover and resolve concerns
Best practice: Sell today, educate tomorrow
9. When I was new to sales, I worked with one of our most senior and 'in demand' Sales Engineer's. When I took him to do a presentation, he would carry a big sample case full of 150 'VuGraphs.' At the beginning of the presentation he would make a big deal of pulling out and stacking all of the slides beside the overhead projector. Then he would say, 'I have 150 slides. I’m glad to go through every one of them, or I could ask you a few questions and then go to the 5-10 slides that mean the most to you. Which is better?'
Best practice: Make every presentation and demo a two-way dialogue
10. On a web demo the participants could be looking at their email and not paying attention. It’s important to keep them engaged. One way is to make a point and then ask, 'Is this something you could see in your environment or are we off track?'
Best practice: Ask questions to keep them engaged
11. As you are doing the demo or presentation, you can tee up some competitive differentiators. 'Here’s another thing some people consider important. Do you think that is important to you?' By having a deeper dialogue you can help them make up their mind, increase their focus and urgency and help shape the basis for the decision.
Best practice: Reinforce your strengths
12. Standard vs. custom. If it’s a public seminar, things come up and they just don’t show up. You don’t have as much traction. Also, there is a Q & A portion to those programs, but people aren’t as willing to ask questions in that sort of public forum. So questions go unasked and unanswered.
When you are building a custom event, it gives you the premise to draw them out, to find and develop interest and to focus your presentation. If you have done a custom demo, then the customer knows you’ve put in that effort.
Best practice: Do private, custom demos and presentations
13. It is always more effective to demonstrate your expertise than to assert it. Asserting sounds like, 'We have the best product – we are a global leader – our product is robust, extensible, scalable, customizable, standard-based, and truly comprehensive in the scope of it’s functionality.' It’s too much hyperbole, and it really doesn’t convince anyone of anything.
However, if you make a reference to relevant experience you come across as an expert. 'You just reminded me of something we ran into at a large global bank. Their situation was different of course, but there are some similarities..'
Best practice: Demonstrate Expertise vs. Asserting Expertise
14. Dedicate a page on a flip chart as a 'holding tank' and use it as a place to put open or unresolved items. It gives you a way to clearly show you will address a question, even if you can’t or don’t want to do so now. It also provides a way to shelve some 'rat hole' issues. Finally, it gives you a reason to get back in touch with the customer.
Best practice: Use a holding tank
15. You are always unconsciously broadcasting your current emotional condition. Buyers sense you well-being or lack thereof. Since we all tend to make decisions emotionally, more than intellectually, an intellectually perfect argument, presented by someone who lacks confidence will fail.
Best practice: Focus on style as well as content
16. Often, presenters quickly launch a demonstration losing the audience about two slides into the mandatory corporate backgrounder that no one cares about but us. It’s a bit like starting by passing out sleeping pills. If the key slide is #17, there’s little chance they will remain conscious far enough into the presentation to see it and recognize it. Instead, help your audience understand the context of the demonstration and how it relates to them.
Every presentation should be as customized as possible. I strongly suggest not taking a laptop on the first call. If you get invited in to present, I also suggest you find out who is going to be there and try to speak to each of them one-on-one prior to the presentation, to make your presentation as useful for them as possible. When you do present, it should be tailored to address the pain, fear and gain you uncovered. Start with a recap and confirmation of the business problems you are addressing. Revisit and ‘reheat’ the pain. Get them emotionally involved. Then show how you will fix the problems.
Best practice: Start with the customer and work back to your solution
17. On the day of the demo, new players frequently show up. Many times the real decision-maker surfaces for the first time. The most frequent reaction is 'let me show you what we have cooked up for you!' The new players are certain to have a different perspective than the people you’ve met with so far, and they probably won’t like what you’re serving. Instead, if there are new people in the room, make sure to get their buy-in on the problem. 'George, are we off target with what we are doing here? Would you agree with the assessment so far, or have we overstated the significance of this issue? Is there anything you would add?' Then, present your solution to address the problems, showing only the features, benefits and capabilities that relate to those issues.
Best practice: Start from scratch with every participant
18. One of the things we dread most is that someone in the audience will try to undercut us during the presentation. We silently hope to get on and off stage without argument or controversy. Instead, don’t try to avoid the hidden enemy. Flush them out. 'Does anyone here have any significant concerns about what we are discussing? How about minor concerns, then?' Your hidden enemies will do most of their selling WHILE YOU AREN’T THERE. If you give them a chance to surface issues at the demo and they do, then you know who they are and what their point of view is. If they don’t and they try to bring it up later, their colleagues will ask them why they didn’t bring up the issue at the demo.
Best practice: Flush out problems
19. If hidden enemies do surface during the presentation, the two most frequent responses are: a. You try to brush over it as quickly as possible. b. As they fire salvos at you, you try to defend and justify the solution you are presenting. Instead, follow Sun Tzu’s advice and get to know your enemies as well as you know yourself. Embrace the question or concern. Reward and reverse – explore it deeper. Strip line to put the pressure back on them. Ask the rest of the audience how they see the issue. Don’t fight alone. Get help. Let them fight. They have to get to consensus before they can decide on any course of action.
Best practice: When under attack, fall back
20. The worst impression you can make with executives is that you wasted their time. If you get the chance to do a senior level briefing: a. Put in some extra preparation time. Don’t ask an executive to tell you things you could have known prior. b. Don’t let techie details take you down a rat hole. Let everyone know, up front, that this isn’t a technical level talk – but that you can convene a technical briefing if it’s warranted. c. Defer on technical questions if they arise.
Best practice: Plan to stay high-level for executives
21. Start every presentation with pre-planned questions to get the audience talking early. It relaxes you, and it makes them more comfortable and receptive. It also helps you locate the target and then hit it.
Best practice: Get the audience talking early.
It’s easier TO DO, than NOT TO DO. So when you try to incorporate these tips, pick something TO DO that will displace the thing you want to stop.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published June 27th, 2007]