SOME time ago, I was addressing over 100 CEOs and I put this question to them: “Given that presenting to a group is one of the greatest human fears, how confidently do you believe your staff are representing your organisation and products?” Some looked worried.
“And, did you know that it is very typical for a lack of confidence in presenting to a group to be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the organisation and/or product?” Most went grey.
Presentations for “big-ticket” sales are often made to a group — board, assessment panel, committee, user groups, stakeholder groups. Salesmen who have been successful at smaller sales are seen to have earned the right and are given the opportunity to go after the “bigger fish”.
In reality, most are set up to fail; because the rules of the game have changed. They have worked their way up to this point through a mastery of the sales conversation.
The Sales Conversation
This is an interaction between the salesmen and one or two clients or potential clients. For a skilled salesmen, this is a controlled conversation.
To the clients, the process seems natural and spontaneous; but to the salesmen, every piece of communication is deliberately structured to give them the desired outcome…the sale!
The sales conversationalist builds the relationship with questions that allow him to identify the other’s wants, needs and priorities — before they even mention the product. Everything he says about his product or service is based on the wants, needs and/or priorities of his client.
The Sales Presentation
Then the salesman moves on to the bigger sales — and he finds that, rather than a conversation with one or two, it has become a much more formal “presentation” to a larger number. All of his sales conversation skills are of little use to him because:
• He is not able to qualify clients with probing questions — he is put before a number of people and he is expected to start speaking about his offer immediately.
• Even if he were able to ask questions beforehand, he would find that the wants, needs and priorities of the individuals are different.
If he is talking to a panel or committee formed to assess the offer, they have probably been chosen because of their variant opinions. If he is talking to a user or stakeholder group, it is guaranteed that their views will clash!
So, in place of conversational pre-qualifying, he needs to do audience research. In place of engaging banter, he needs to create a presentation that will engage the whole group. It’s not a performance, but performance skills are required.
Getting good at presenting
This is probably best illustrated by an example from my own sales career. Many years ago, our company sold large, expensive electronic communications systems to the health and aged care industries.
On one occasion, the consultant in charge of the project was extremely frustrated because of the conflicting messages he was receiving from his clients who included health professionals, government bureaucrats and IT professionals — hardly surprising.
His solution was to call all of them together and have all three short-listed tenderers present their product to them. Some might say that that consultant was abrogating his responsibility — but it worked — at least for him, by transferring the heat onto the potential suppliers.
I was one of the tenderers and I soon realised that while my competitors were great sales conversationalists, they had little skill or experience in this type of presentation. The format terrified them…and it showed.
I won that project; but I learned a much more valuable lesson. For every similar project, I suggested to the consultant or project manager that the best way for him to make the final choice was to have the potential suppliers present to a user group.
Most of them loved the idea — because it made their job easier. And at the same time, it made my competitors’ jobs so much harder. For the next three years in that industry, I won every large project.
How was I able to be better than them? Two main ways:
• I developed my presentation skills – so I could appear confident in front of any group.
• I analysed the groups to identify what features of our products were seen as benefits to all individuals — and this was all I said about our products. I talked about the common benefits only. My competitors tried to mention all the benefits and, often as not, had the group arguing with each other.
So, if you or your staff are involved in sales presentations like these, my advice is — get good at them; because they are becoming more common.
Learn the principles of audience analysis and practise the presentation until you sound as confident as you feel about your product, service and organisation. Otherwise, just hope you don’t encounter a market manipulator like me.
Article by Kevin Ryan, managing director of Training Edge Australia, and international speaker and workshop leader with Training Edge International. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com