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One Size Fits All


A sales manager asked her salesperson about the customer presentation the salesperson was preparing for a customer. "Oh," the salesperson said, "I'll just do my standard dog and pony show. They've got the exact same situation as the presentation I did last week."

The sales manager explained that if the salesperson really understood what that customer wanted and needed, and why it was important to the customer, there would be no such thing as a "standard dog and pony show." She reminded her salesperson that customers don't want "one size fits all." They see their world as unique and different, and they want a solution that reflects their uniqueness as they see it.

So, even if your customer has a situation that almost exactly mirrors another customer situation, present your solution as unique to them. Make certain you understand as much as you can about their perspective. Select content and information that addresses their sense of that uniqueness, and create a presentation of your solution that highlights how well you understand the way they see their world, and how well your solution matches up with their situation.

A Penny for Your Thoughts


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People are sometimes asked, "A penny for your thoughts." This age-old question is often answered with a half-hearted, "Oh, nothing, really."

But you do have thoughts about what's going on in your business, and you do have value to add. Next time you're asked about your thoughts on a topic, jump at the opportunity to organize those thoughts and contribute value to the conversation in a concise, logical order:

  • Start your response with, "I was thinking about (the topic)."

  • Then give your point of view: "The way I see it is..."

  • Add a short example or personal experience as evidence to support your point of view.

  • Finally, restate your point of view.

With practice, you should be able to add concise value in 90 seconds or less.

Presentation Skills: The Question of Content


Presentation SkillsIn our Executive Presentation Skills® program, we teach you the skills that enable you to deliver presentations of great power. Whatever your message, you will build career success by delivering it effectively. But when you think about, it's also true that you have a responsibility to the message itself. It depends on you for acceptance from the audience. That alone is a reason to make sure you have the skills for effective delivery. 

Executive Presentation Skills is a skills training program, so most of our emphasis is on delivery skills. There’s another aspect to a powerful message, however, and that is content. Even the most powerful delivery will come up short when the message is garbled, incoherent, or overly complex.

The first of your presentation skills, then, is one you exercise before you meet your audience. It is the skill of crafting your message.

What makes a message powerful? In general, powerful messages are brief, active, or meaningful.

Memorable messages are always brief. I posted recently about the importance of brevity when you update senior management. You can enhance your presentation skills by treating all your audiences like senior management. Real brevity can help you achieve a kind of poetry. Here’s a brief message that continues to be memorable, long after it has ceased to mean anything to modern audiences:

Fifty-four Forty or Fight!

This message is so memorable that most schoolchildren can quote it. But few people know what it means. (It was the slogan of expansionist-minded Democrats in the 1840s, who urged war with Britain to gain territory is what is today southern Canada.) It lives today simply on the strength of its brevity and alliteration.

Active messages use active verbs and often state an imperative:

Just do it.

This message sweeps you up with its momentum, but its meaning depends largely on the context. Without an image of an athlete testing the limits of human ability, it’s hard to tell what it means. On the other hand, once you’ve seen those images, this message readily conjures them again. No wonder Nike dominates athletic apparel. 

And meaningful messages strike an emotional or intellectual cord that resonates in us, at least at the time they are uttered:

I have a dream. 

Meaningfulness may well be the most powerful quality in a message. It is probably the most difficult to create deliberately. Lots of people can create rhythm, rhyme, or alliteration. Anybody with a dictionary can come up with active verbs. But generating meaningfulness requires a deep understanding of an audience’s values, aspirations, and needs, and that usually requires some research.

Even when you understand the audience’s values, aspirations, and needs, you need to put in the effort to simplify the message. Anyone who has ever taken on the task of simplifying a message can appreciate Blaise Pascal’s famous line (from his Provincial Letters): “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” 

Brief, active, meaningful… Which one should you try to maximize in your presentation? My advice is to show off your presentation skills and go for all three.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know


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Have you ever left a sales call and realized you'd forgotten to ask an important question? You'd meant to ask, but your dialogue with the customer took a different turn, and the question slipped your mind. That important question might have given you a critical piece of information to help you create a clear competitive advantage for your products or services.

To make your sales calls more productive, use a line of inquiry as you prepare for your call. It can help you structure your questions so that you uncover the customer's whole situation. Prepare and ask questions about:

  • The customer's current situation

  • Where they'd like to be

  • What obstacles and challenges are standing in their way

  • What's driving their need to move forward

  • The details: numbers, timeframe, budget, decision-making

  • What they've tried in the past and how it worked

When you use the line of inquiry, and make a conscious decision to ask one more question while you have the opportunity, you get the most comprehensive view of your customer's world that you can, and you continue to build a stronger customer relationship.

Briefing Senior Management - Briefly


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Your boss needs an update on your project. What do you do? You could back up the truck and dazzle your boss with every little detail. But, the higher up the management chain you go, the less time the boss has for details. What the boss does need from you is critical information for the decisions the boss has to make.

The operative word when updating your boss is "brief." Ask yourself, what does the boss absolutely need to know? What additional details will help the boss use your information strategically? Limit what you say to the critical details.

Then, if the boss wants more information, it will be additional details vital to the boss.

Selling Skills: Using Customer Objections


Presentation SkillsI recently did a Google search on "sales overcome objections," and I got 485,000 hits. But it was a trick question. I wasn't trying to trick Google, of course. I was trying to get an idea of how many sales gurus think that the way to handle customer objections is to "overcome" them. In our Socratic Selling Skills® program, we teach participants to treat an objection, not as an obstacle, but as a resource.

An objection is a reason the customer gives for not signing the order now: “It’s too expensive.” “The warranty’s not long enough.” Or even, “I don’t like it in blue.” Note that when the customer makes an objection, it is an interaction with the product, which may mean you’re on your way to closing. An objection is not a rejection. A customer would not raise an objection if she weren’t engaged. If you have the selling skills, you welcome objections because they advance the sales process.

In the Socratic Selling Skills program, we teach that a customer’s objection may not be an objection at all. It can be a request for more information, a plea for support in assuming the risk of purchasing, a test of your firmness, a set-up for a negotiating position, or any number of other things. You need to probe to find out what it means. 

You’re selling a great product, of course, and this may tempt you to be dismissive of customer concerns:

Customer: “This contract is too expensive.”

Salesperson: “It’s much more cost-effective than the one being offered by our competitor.”

Customer: “I still think its overpriced.”

Salesperson: “The included support package alone is worth the cost of the contract.”

Don’t give in to the temptation. Objecting to a customer’s objection belittles the customer’s concerns. No matter what the objection is, you should repeat it to show the customer you’ve heard it, then probe to see what’s behind it with a simple question: “Why do you say that?”

Here’s the same conversation, this time with salesperson who has Socratic selling skills:

Customer: “This contract is too expensive.”

Salesperson: “Expensive. Why do you say that?”

Customer: “I can’t budget $10,000 up front.”

This salesperson now has something to work with. In this case, it’s not the overall expense that concerns the customer. It’s the up-front payment.

The salesperson who doesn’t probe an objection will never learn if it’s more than it appears to be. If it is truly just a concern about up-front payments (and you need to probe to make sure of that), you may be able to find a way to work with that – through financing, changing the payment schedule, moving the delivery date, working with the customer’s budget calendar, or some other approach to the problem. In any case, the objection has changed from being an obstacle to the sale to being a problem to be solved. Solving a problem is easier than talking somebody into something. If you and the customer can work together on solving the problem, that’s even better. But if you treat the objection as an obstacle, you’re unlikely to ever get to the problem-solving stage. You’re just trying to change a customer’s belief. Good luck with that.

To a professional with real selling skills, any opportunity for communication is an opportunity to continue the sales process.

Buying Signals


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Socrates said, "Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue-to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak." When you're meeting with a customer, that's timeless advice.

It's not only important to listen on a sales call, but you should also observe your customer and watch for their non-verbal "buying signals." What's the message the customer is sending you in their body language? Are you getting non-verbal interest in your product or

Watch for those non-verbal signals: They may be as simple as a head nod, a smile, or sitting forward in their chair.

Keep your eyes on your customer, and you may be surprised at what you'll learn.

Microphones Amplify Monotone


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Presenters assume that using a microphone will enhance their voice, so they get close to it and go into their lounge act. Far from adding color to your voice, however, most microphones take some of the color out; they don't capture the full range and resonance of your voice. Microphones don't make you sound more interesting-and they only amplify a monotone.

When you're presenting to a large audience and need to use a microphone, follow these tips:

  • Position the microphone at least six inches from your mouth.

  • Speak up. Project so that the first rows of your audience can hear you without the amplification.

  • Deliver your message with passion, energy and enthusiasm.

  • Let the sound engineer ride the volume control.

The sound engineer will love you because you'll make his job easier. Your audience will love you because you'll sound more interesting. You'll hold their attention, and your message will be easier to follow.

Presentation Skills: Crafting the Audience Benefit Statement


persuasive speakingI recently posted about how knowing the point of your presentation can help you focus it while you’re preparing it. But if you are trying to give a persuasive presentation, as opposed to an informational one, you need to take a step beyond making a point. You need to come up with a benefit statement. The benefit statement is a simple description of how the audience's lives are going to be improved by adopting the position or point of view you want them to adopt. If you need to give persuasive presentations, learning to write a benefit statement is a critical but often overlooked tool in your presentation skills kit.

Imagine yourself standing at the doorway to the hall where you will be giving your presentation, and a member of the audience comes up and asks what the presentation is about. This is a test of your presentation skills. Answer with your benefit statement. In other words, tell him how it’s going to make his life better. Your benefit statement explains what your audience will gain from adopting your recommendation:

  • This presentation is about how your department will gain prestige and security by adopting continuous quality improvement.
  • This presentation is about how your sales will improve by increasing the share of radio advertising to 25% in your marketing plan.
  • This presentation will give you a glimpse of the glory and immortality we can achieve by conquering Italy in the name of the Republic.

Each of these is an effective benefit statement. Incidentally, you should only use the last one if you happen to be Napoleon assuming command of the French army in Italy in 1796. I’m not being ironic by including Napoleon. Here was a man with superhuman presentation skills. He had the power of life and death over every person in his audience, but rather than just issue commands, he carefully determined how his audience would benefit from following him. In fact, that army did go on to conquer Italy.

Napoleon knew instinctively the most effective benefits for the soldiers he was addressing. He was, after all, the creator of the Légion d’honneur. You may have to further exercise your presentation skills and do some audience analysis to determine what will most appeal to your audience. You will probably not need to promise them glory and immortality.

There may be a dozen benefits for an audience to adopt the point of view you want them to adopt, but there is one benefit (or at most two) that is dominant. Note that the dominant benefit may vary from audience to audience, even when the topic and goal of your presentation are exactly the same. To take a wild example, if your presentation is intended to persuade an audience of consumers to buy a particular breakfast cereal, the dominant benefits would be different for kids and their parents. You might persuade an audience of kids to eat it because it tastes good or because of its radioactive color. But you would persuade an audience of parents to buy it for their kids because it’s easy to get them to eat it. This is a great reminder that flexibility is one of your most useful presentation skills.

Once you’ve formulated your benefit statement, have it ready for people who ask what your presentation is about. But more important, use it to sell the audience on the point of view or recommendation that you want them to adopt. Learning to write a benefit statement will enhance your presentation skills and make you a persuasive presenter.

The Talking Trap


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You're meeting with a customer or a prospect. Somewhere, midconversation, they say, "I don't know if you can help us with this," or they ask, "Do you do that?"

Beware! You could be falling into (echo sound effect here)...The Talking Trap. Salespeople want to solve the customer's problems with their solutions. We look for a buying signal-anything that might indicate they have a possible sale. And when we hear it, what do we do? We jump at the chance to start talking about all the wonderful things our products and services can do for the customer-The Talking Trap. We unload ten tons of information on the customer before we fully understand the customer's wants, needs and objectives.

Customers say, "I don't know if you can help us with this," to send out a feeler to make sure they're not wasting their time with someone who can't help them. They may be far away from making a buying decision.

Don't fall into The Talking Trap. When you hear a feeler, give the customer a one-sentence reassurance that they're talking with the right person. Say, "Yes, we do that," or, "That is one of our strengths." Then ask a question that keeps them talking-now with the comfort that their time with you will be worthwhile to them.

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