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Sales success = knowing your audience

To be successful in sales takes a special je ne sais quoi. Whether you have that special skill or not, and whether you are transacting on technology, shilling services, or pitching products, if you don’t know, and I mean really understand, your target audience, your likelihood of success is significantly diminished.

Most people understand the importance of knowing your audience. Who the audience is, doesn’t matter – a big pitch to the executive, a presentation to your own team, or a sales demonstration for a prospective customer or client – you need to know who is in the room so that you can speak to their interests. Misjudge your audience and you can kiss your funding/sale/promotion good-bye.

Sitting through a day-long presentation (or three) with a vendor that doesn’t consider the needs and interests of the clients in the room, or spends much of their eight hours “pitching” rather than demonstrating the strengths of their solution, is frustrating on many levels. It also adds a layer of complexity to the decision-making process because now the evaluation team has to sift through negative gut reactions to the presenters, rather than focusing solely on how the product does or does not meet their project’s objectives.

Case in point: I recently sat with a client through a series of vendor and partner presentations as part of their selection process for a new technology vendor and implementation partner. It was painful. Each of the potential partners had been well prepped, provide copious amounts of supporting documentation that outline the client’s objectives, focal needs, requirements, etc. yet most of them still missed the mark. We even had one vendor flat out refuse to follow the agenda and sent their D team to present. Shocking really considering there was a multi-million dollar, multi-year contract at stake.

With that in mind, here are nine presentation/demonstration tips for anyone out there who’s involved in a sales process, technology or otherwise.

  1. Know your audience.
    Yes, I know I am repeating myself, but this is really important. Put in your due diligence; call the client and find out who you will be presenting to and if there is anything in particular you should focus on. The worse they can say is “I can’t tell you that.”
  2. Don’t oversell.
    Answer questions – in writing or during presentations – thoroughly but concisely. Make sure you answer THEIR question not the question you want to answer. Again, if you are unsure of what the client is asking, qualify. Better to be seen as cautious than miss an opportunity to prove your muster.
  3. Be respectful.
    You would think this one is obvious, but after having sat through more than one vendor demo where presenters mock the client’s process and/or dismiss part of the audience, it needs to be said. Said it. Moving on.
  4. Engage the audience.
    There is little worse than sitting through a long session with someone talking AT you. Unless, of course, it is someone talking at you on a topic that is dry, boring, and/or irrelevant! Moral of the story? Be sure to include the client team in your presentation. Ask them questions about their experience, discuss specifics about their areas of interest with regards to your solution, and find out what challenges they are looking to overcome. Not only will this help in keeping their attention, but you will learn a lot about the company and the evaluation team.
  5. Pay attention to the vibe.
    Listen as much as you speak –  are people in the room actively engaged with what you are saying or are they more interested in their email and playing Angry Birds? Don’t be afraid to break mid-stream to get the focus back on you. Also, be sure to listen to the questions being asked and refer back to those questions later in the presentation if necessary. This shows you are both listening and interested in what the client team has to say.
  6. Be prepared – part 1.
    Anticipate questions the audience might ask. Then be ready to give the answers. Dig deep into the who the client is, what they do, and how they do it in relation to what you are pitching.
  7. Be prepared – part 2.
    Follow the direction provided. If you are given an agenda or schedule for the day, follow it. If not, ask for one. Keep in mind that your competition will likely have the same schedule and it makes it much easier on the client if you follow their guidelines.
  8. Be honest.
    Talk about the present reality of your solution, not its future state nirvana.  Roadmaps are a great way to demonstrate innovation in thought and direction, but the real focus should be on what the technology can do today. To a certain extent, what has been tested and locked down for the next release and/or update can be discussed, but don’t get bogged down in the “what might be.”
  9. Have a plan B or Be prepared – part 3.
    Showing how the solution works is really the best (and only) way to prove to the audience that your technology is the best choice for them. You need to know every inch of your demos and precisely what can go wrong.  Ensure your presentation goes off without a hitch regardless of any technology glitches that may arise by following these bonus tips:
    –       Backup all presentation material to: a USB stick, the cloud, and at least two laptops that will be with you.
    –       Bring your own projector.
    –       Be able to run your demo offline.
    –       Bring your own internet access (phone hotspot already set up, WIFI air stick).
    –       Remote slide advancers are great for keeping the flow of a presentation going.

Last point – good manners are always in order. So regardless of the outcome or how the presentation actually went, follow up with the client afterwards. A phone call or an email the next day thanking them for the opportunity to share your solution, and an offer to follow up with them if there was anything else they needed is a great way to leave a positive impression.


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