I was re-reading Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling the other day - a recommended activity for anyone involved in B2B selling - and I was struck by his warning that “you can’t bore your customers into buying” (I believe David Ogilvy made a similar remark about advertising).
How true, I thought - and yet how common. Which of us has not suffered through a seemingly interminable sales presentation or meeting, narrowly resisting (or maybe not) pounding one’s head repeatedly on the table in an effort to gain some relief from the tedium.
It’s a painful experience - and as sufferers not one we should willingly impose on others. But it’s awfully easy to slip into the habit.
It’s not about you
Think of the last corporate presentation you sat through - or maybe presented. What did it start with? If it’s like the majority of corporate presentations I have suffered through (a recent Oracle pitch comes to mind, but there have been too many to name and shame) it started by telling the audience about the vendor.
Now, sooner or later, any self respecting prospect is going to want to learn more about the company they are thinking of buying from. But - trust me - the proper moment is not at the start of your sales conversation. At that critical moment, it’s not (and shouldn’t be) about you - it’s about them, and what you may be able to do to help them.
Junk the Corporate Statistics
Junk the corporate statistics - or at least defer them until the prospect asks you to prove what you’ve claimed in terms of your ability to help them deal with an issue that is important to them, and to confirm that you are a low-risk option.
In setting the scene, you must start with why you are in business, and not with what you do. And by “why”, I don’t mean some inwardly focused corporate mission statement or vision. You’ll do much better by explaining your company’s purpose based on what you saw happening in the marketplace that affected companies just like them, and how you have chosen to help.
Start With Why
By starting with “why” and not with “what” or “how”, you avoid the very real risk that your so-called vision will be seen for what it often is - an introspective (and very tedious) hallucination. Don’t throw up a slide full of logos - explain why your customers have chosen you.
Don’t talk about the products or services you offer - describe the problems you solve, and the impact that your solutions have had on organisations or situations they can recognise. Don’t crow over historic successes from times past - help them to see why companies are turning to you now to help them achieve their goals.
Don’t Ask Questions You Could Answer Yourself
So much for presentations - what about conversations (and we strongly believe that small group presentations should be conversations rather than broadcasts anyway)? I’ll credit Neil Rackham with another simple but profound recommendation: don’t ask questions you could find out the answers to yourself.
Customers hate avoidable “fact finding” questions. It shows disrespect for their time. Do your homework first. Research your prospect online. Gather as much information as you can beforehand. You can’t avoid asking some situational questions - but when you do, demonstrate that the insights will add to the research you’ve already done.
Get Them to Think for Themselves
The most effective thing that you can do is to help your customers to think for themselves. Help them to work out which problems are worth fixing. Help them to think through the implications of their current situation. Help them to explore their options. Help them to determine the value of your solution for themselves.
If you adopt that philosophy, there’s little risk that you will bore your customers - and every chance that you will create true and lasting value from the relationship. Take the first step. Review your corporate presentation with a critical eye. Is it about you, or about them? And if you were in their shoes, why on earth should they pay attention?