In the profession of sales, where some rules tend to be as rigid as overcooked pasta, I have found one inviolate rule. Driven by goals, budgets, timelines, measurable metrics and compensation plans that reward performance TODAY, process and rules are frequently treated in a more fluid manner than the goals themselves. That inviolate rule?
Sometimes surprises are good, like when your decider picks up the phone after you’ve made dozens of attempts. The other kind of surprise, we all know what that is. I got a different kind of surprise recently.
A large prospect to whom I presented back in the fall emailed me to say they narrowed the choices down to my company and a competitor, and invited me to a meeting of the whole group where we would both be presenting. The email came with a list of about 8 bullet points they wanted covered in the presentation along with the date and the time 2:30 – 4:30.
I replied to the email, telling the prospect I had another meeting at 1 and wouldn’t likely be there before 3, so I asked to go second. Then, I began customizing my Power Point to address the bullet points she requested. I built a 30 slide deck, with a pause in the middle to go to our site for live examples of the key bullet points. I even included case studies from current clients, demonstrating solutions to the items in the request. I was gonna nail this.
SURPRISE #1 – The client called me the day before the meeting, responding to my email about my earlier meeting and said I could do my presentation from 4:15-4:30. WHAT? A 15 minute presentation? So, I whittled it down to just 5 slides and shortened my online demo, relying on leave behinds to tell the rest of the story. I did also ask how many would be in attendance, and prepared the ample folders of leave behinds for the group.
I arrived a little bit before 4pm and went to the C-suite. In the waiting room was, presume, my competitor. The C-level exec came into the room, and as I stood up, we greeted each other warmly. My competitor, still sitting down, was told “We’ll be with you in a couple of minutes.” He was called in shortly thereafter and 10 minutes later, I saw him leave the conference room. Then, I was called into the Board Room. (Relationships MATTER and I had built one here.)
The C-level executive was seated at the head of the table, with the rest of the seats taken up by Directors, and I was told to sit at the end of the table, directly facing the executive.
SURPRISE #2 – No projector for my Power Point. No laptop, no Internet in the room. When I asked about it, one of the Directors offered to get me a projector, but was immediately dismissed by the executive saying, “We just want to discuss your product. Please summarize it for us.” I began by repeating the bullet point issues in the email and asking if there was anything else they would like me to address.
SURPRISE #3 – Almost as soon as I began, the executive started peppering me with questions, some highly technical and some strategic. Surprise, you are not going to present. I answered the questions one at a time, as they were posed, but tied the benefits in my answer to the specific bullet points in the email. I knew my contact was in our corner and an honest broker, as she told me in her phone call who my competitor was and that she had shared all the same information with him.
Having passed the executive’s test, I was then allowed to summarize the benefits. So, how did I survive these normally deadly surprises?
- Complete knowledge of my product and its benefits from every possible angle.
- Knowledge of my competitor’s product’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Knowledge of the prospect’s needs, goals and challenges.
- Knowledge of how the prospect’s competitors are utilizing and benefiting from my product.
- Years of playing jazz in front of audiences as large at 14,000. This gives you a comfort level with improvisation.
But even if you never played anything other than a CD, the first four will give you the level of confidence you need to clearly articulate your benefits, smoothly, gracefully and project that confidence. That is what wins you the business. So, how did this end up?
After a couple of questions from individual Directors, the executive asked for one final thought I’d like to leave them with. I borrowed a page from my son, a new attorney, who had to deliver a summary in a motion hearing to overturn the Judge’s previous decision. He put the onus on the Court arguing the facts have not changed and the Court got the decision right the first time.
With this in mind, I told the executive that the impact my product could make on moving them forward and accomplishing her objectives was limited only by the clarity of her vision and the creativity, talent and passion of the rest of the people at this table in bringing that vision to life. The ball is now in their court and I left it ALL in that board room.
But the moral of this story is EXPECT SURPRISES and prepare for them!