Tag Archives: Presentations

How to Handle Sales Competition

I had an interesting conversation last week.  I was talking to a prospective client and toward the end of the conversation, he said, “You should know that I’m talking to one of your competitors, too.  Would you like to know who it is?”  I think my response surprised him. You see, I have a pretty definite idea on how to handle sales competition – and I hope you adopt my idea.

I said, “You’re welcome to tell me if you like, but it won’t change my behavior.  My offerings are dependent on my clients, not my competitors.”  He was surprised by this, and I understand why.  In sales, we are constantly having our competitors being used as leverage against us by customers who want to gain better pricing, terms, etc., and a potential service provider that won’t play that game is anathema to many people.  But, why did I say that?  Therein lies a window into my philosophy, as well as some hard questions you might want to ask yourself.

I find that too many companies focus inordinately on their competition, rather than their customers.  That manifests itself in any number of ways; here are some of the most common:

Pricing: When a sales manager demands to know “who we’re up against” before issuing pricing, you have a problem.  I’ve seen that in a number of my clients, and I always ask the same question: “Why?” Dithering over pricing based on your competition is one of the dumbest, and least customer-friendly, things you can do.  You know what your costs are.  You also know what your acceptable profit margin is.  You also know, or should know, what the common market pricing for your services is.  So, why not offer a deal you are comfortable with?  If your pricing is dependent upon having fewer competitors for the business, aren’t you incenting your customers to bring in multiple vendors?  And for the love of God, don’t ever match price.  That’s NOT how to handle sales competition.

Hiring:  There are certain industries where the “competitor hire” is way too common.  Company managers, instead of having the courage to hire people from outside their industry and grow their own talent, decide that they should hire salespeople from their competitors.  The problem with this approach is obvious; you seldom if ever get your competitors’ top people. Usually, you get the people they are glad to get rid of, which makes them stronger and you weaker in one hire.  Competitor hires, in my experience, have about a 90% fail rate.  If you’re struggling, my hiring assistance programs might help.

Proposal presentation strategy: Recently, I was presenting a training program when a salesperson said, “I always like to be the last person to present my proposal; that way they have everyone else’s numbers when I go in.”  Seriously, what difference does that make?  From a strategic perspective, I actually prefer to be FIRST, for a couple of reasons.  First, the first person to propose is the first person to have the chance to close – and I’ve seen, and sold, many deals where the second person in never had a shot because the first person got the business.  And second, if you’re trying to communicate to your customer that you will have a sense of urgency in servicing the business, why not demonstrate that by exhibiting that same sense of urgency in proposing the business?

Your offering: I see many companies and sales teams that want to alter key pieces of the offering, such as product specs, service frequencies, contract terms, and more, based on who their competitors for a given deal are.  This makes no sense – value, and solutions, are driven not by your competitor, but by your customer’s needs.  Focus your offering on solving your customers’ needs, and your competitors become irrelevant.

The problem with all of these approaches, and other competition-dependent sales tactics, is that you are allowing your competitors to set the arena and the rules of the game.  One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t BEAT your competitors if you’re trying to BE your competitors.”  When you are as reactive to your competitors as in the examples above, you’re simply trying to be a less-effective version of your competition.  And worse – your customers will sense it.  Set the agenda and expectations – don’t follow the agenda of other competitors.

Now, are there times when competitive selling is important?  Sure.  For instance, if the customers of one of your competitors suddenly start informing you of service problems that the competitor is having, with resultant dissatisfaction, you might want to put together an attack on that competitor – AS LONG AS it doesn’t distract your salespeople from building productive funnels.  Sales blitzes can be great short-term tactics.

Here’s how to handle sales competition:  Act as the best possible version of YOU.  Focus on your customers and their needs.  And act as if your competitors don’t exist – you’ll be surprised how often this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How to Fix a Bad Sales Presentation

We’ve all been there.  I don’t care how good you are as a salesperson, a manager, or a speaker – you’ve been in the middle of a sales presentation and realized that it was going sideways.  In titling this article, “How to fix a sales presentation,” I don’t mean that I’m going to tell you how to CREATE a great sales presentation.  I already have videos and articles on that topic.

No, I’m going to tell you how to do something more challenging – how to fix a sales presentation while it’s going bad.  It requires some heavy mental lifting on your part.  It also requires an uncomfortable level of transparency on my part, because I have to tell you about my biggest failure as a professional speaker.  It’s a story that I don’t enjoy telling, and one that still bothers me, nine years later.  But to tell you how to fix a bad presentation, I have to tell you about my worst one and how I didn’t fix it.  So, if you’d like to watch me kick my own ass in words, click below.

It was the spring of 2014, and my national speaking career was still very much in the growth stage.  I was on a little mini-tour.  On Sunday, I was to give a keynote to office furniture dealers in Palm Springs, CA.  Then I drove to Las Vegas on Monday to speak on at a different conference on Wednesday (an extra day in Vegas is always a good thing for me).  Then, back to Long Beach to speak at yet another conference on Friday and Saturday.  Four different programs in seven days, at three different conventions, in three different cities, all of which promised a lot of fun.

It’s that first speech that I want to tell you about.  I was delivering a morning keynote.  At the time, keynotes were not my specialty (I’ve since come up with a couple of really good ones), but I was pumped up.  However, ten minutes into the speech, I noticed that it wasn’t landing.  There wasn’t any note-taking.  The laugh lines weren’t generating laughter.  And worse, the hundred faces staring back at me were blank.  I knew it was going bad.

Still, I pushed through.  I gave my speech as planned.  After all, it was the topic that the head of the association and I had landed on.  My speech couldn’t possibly have been the problem.  Maybe it was just too early in the morning.  When I called for questions after 50 minutes, there was one or two – I can’t remember which.  In a good speech, I typically have more questions than I have time to answer.  And when I ended, there was the politest of applause, and then everyone filed out.  NOBODY came up to talk to me afterwards.  That’s when I knew that I had well and truly laid an egg.

When the post-conference evaluations were sent to me, I was embarrassed.  The scores were low and nearly every comment was about how the topic wasn’t what they were expecting to hear.  I got no business from attendees (unusual), and to this day, that association won’t consider bringing me back.  That bridge is burned.  Understand – my speech wasn’t offensive, I used no profanity or off-color humor, nothing like that.  I just missed the mark by a long shot.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then.  If I had it to do over, I’d have done it much differently.  You see, what really bothers me is that I knew that I was missing the mark, and I did nothing about it.  I wasn’t being lazy – I just didn’t know what to do.  Afterwards, I decided that I’d never finish a speech that was going wrong without doing something different.  Here’s what I’d have done, if I had it to do over.

I’d have stopped my speech.  I’d have said something like, “You know, based on your expressions, I’m not talking about what you want me to talk about.  Let me ask YOU a question.  What can I do, from this stage, to make the rest of our hour together time well spent for you?”  It’s not like I didn’t have other material; at the time, I probably had ten other good speeches, and I’m good at winging it and making up material on the spot.  I have a feeling that if I’d asked, they’d have given me an idea that I could have used, and I could have shifted gears and done something they’d have appreciated and enjoyed for the last 45 minutes of my time.  Would it have been unorthodox?  Heck, yes.  But the key is that, at that point, my risk was zero. I was already bombing, and my choice was to either keep bombing or to try something.  If that other something hadn’t worked, either, so what?  I’d at least have gone down swinging, and I might have saved the speech and the relationship with the association.  Instead, I ruined both.

Maybe you’ve had that experience during a sales presentation – it’s going flat and you don’t know why.  If that happens to you (and if you sell enough, it either will happen or has happened), here’s how to fix a bad sales presentation.

  1. The first rule of finding yourself in a hole is:  Stop digging.  Stop the presentation when you realize it’s going bad.  If the presentation is falling flat, always remember that the risk of changing it up is zero – so your fear of doing so should be zero as well.
  2. The person in the room who knows what they want is right across from you – the customer.  Ask why your presentation is going wrong.  Put the burden on yourself – “You know, Mr. Customer, I feel like this presentation isn’t hitting the mark.  What have I missed?  Did I misinterpret your needs?”  In my case, the problem was that I hadn’t talked to any of the dealers who were attending the conference beforehand, so I didn’t know what it was that they were looking for.  I’d asked the wrong questions of the wrong people.  Most of the time, when a sales presentation goes wrong, it’s not the presentation itself – it’s the needs discovery beforehand.  At this point, if you have to go back and ask the right questions of the right people, DO IT.  Pressing on could cost you the customer.
  3. Change it up. This step requires a high degree of confidence and mental agility.  But we salespeople have that, don’t we?  Once you understand the real needs of the right people, NOW you can move forward.  Don’t be afraid to create a presentation on the spot.  By “presentation,” I don’t mean a slide deck (unless you just happen to have some visuals on hand that can help); I mean your VERBAL presentation that will address their needs.

When your risk is zero, the potential reward is high.  High reward with low risk is what we all want.  That presentation still bugs me, but I’ve never made that mistake again.  Ever since, I’ve been more careful about pre-conference preparation.  I’ve never given that particular speech again; in fact, I don’t even list it anymore. And only once since have I ever had that “This is going flat” feeling.  That was two years later, and I did exactly what I suggested above.  The last 30 minutes of that program were very well received, and I still speak for that association.

That’s how to fix a bad sales presentation.  Be mentally agile, able to perceive that “moment,” and mentally agile enough to change gears, and you won’t have to have that feeling that I have as I write about my biggest failure as a speaker.

The Four Decisions Every Buyer Makes

Sometimes I think we make selling entirely too complicated – and by “we,” I mean my profession of sales authors and trainers.  Sure, selling can be difficult.  That’s why they pay us the big bucks.  We’re dealing with people and trying to persuade them, and that’s always a challenge.  Still, why make the sale more complicated and cumbersome than it has to be?

The truth is that, boiled down to its elements, every sale consists of a prospective or current customer making four decisions.  The trick is that there’s no gray area – every decision must be in your favor, or you won’t win the sale.  Here they are:

Decision One:  The decision to engage with you.  Yep, the first decision that your customer makes is the decision to talk to you – or to engage with you, if you prefer that terminology (and I do; “engagement” implies a two-way street).  If you can’t get an audience with your customer, you can’t sell them.  Yes, you can receive an order from someone who doesn’t talk to you (technology these days is wonderful), but you won’t have an opportunity to persuade or affect the outcome of that decision.  This means that your approach to them MUST communicate the value of a conversation with you.  In fact, in most cases, that’s all you should be shooting for; by trying to sell more than the simple value of the conversation, you can get neither.

Decision Two:  The decision that you can solve their need(s).  Every customer has needs.  Your ability to discover their needs, and then solve them, is the key to getting a “yes” at this stage of the sales process.  That means that, first and foremost, you must ask copious amounts of questions.  Even if you THINK you know what the buyer needs, you don’t KNOW until you ask them.  Ultimately, you must know how the BUYER will define a successful purchase.  Not how you define it, not how most of your other customers define it, not how your boss says it’s defined, but how the buyer defines it.  Without knowing how the buyer will define a successful work, everything else is just guesswork – and guesswork rarely wins sales.

Once you know their needs and how they define success, two burdens are placed upon you.  The first burden is this – if your offerings do not and cannot solve the buyer’s needs, and meet their definition of success, you must bow out.  This is the only way to retain your (and your company’s) professional credibility.  Yes, I know, there’s nothing more painful than walking away from potential dollars – but would you rather collect the dollars by hammering someone into a bad purchase, and then live with the failure?  Walking away early means that you live to sell another day when your solution fits; making a bad sale means that you are forever disqualified.   Even pushing a solution when your buyer knows it’s not a solution can forever disqualify you.

The second burden is that, if your solution does meet the buyer’s needs and definition of success, your presentation must be specifically and intimately tailored to those exact needs and definition.  This is harder than it sounds, as sometimes (many times) you have to develop a presentation on the spot.  Salespeople can get into the “sell sheet” or “slide deck” mentality that says, “I have all this great information, and I have to get it all out,” even when the customer doesn’t care about all the information.  If I go to the doctor for a sore shoulder and he gives me a pill that will fix it (I know that’s not a real thing, but work with me here), I don’t care that it will also solve a sore throat because I don’t HAVE a sore throat.  When presenting, present specifically to the customer’s needs.  Hit the points hard and often that are meaningful and leave out information that is meaningless.  If you execute these steps correctly, your buyer will make the second critical decision – that you can solve needs – and move you to the next step of the process.

Decision Three:  The decision that your solution represents good value.  If your buyer is interested, he/she is probably going to say, “Okay, how much?”  At this point (or as soon after as you can), you offer a proposal with price and terms.  Your buyer is then going to evaluate your offering and basically ask themselves whether it’s a good spend of money, time, and resources, or not, and make their third decision.  If you’ve asked enough questions about priorities, needs, and the impact of solving those needs, you should already be 80% toward the answer to this question. Still, we sell to human beings, and those human beings can be somewhat unpredictable.

Decision Four:  The decision to buy from you.  “But wait, Troy, isn’t the decision that you represent good value also a decision to buy?” Nope.  Not in the slightest.  This is where variables outside of your control come into play.  Sometimes your solution is a good spend for the department you’re selling to – but corporate priorities dictate that resources go in a different direction.  Or, the timing just isn’t right (maybe they have other projects going on that require the attention and resources that would otherwise be devoted to yours).  In any case, you can have the greatest solution to a big problem, priced right, and still not win the sale because some externality is blocking you.  Your best strategy here is, back when you’re doing the questioning, to ask questions about overall company priorities, ongoing projects, etc.  Sometimes you can sell against those priorities if you know about them – but final decision time is too late to ask or sell against it.

Here’s what you need to know.  All of these decisions MUST go in your favor, and each one qualifies you to move to the next step.  Fail any one and you will not win the sale, even if your buyer “allows” you to keep selling (by offering a price that won’t result in a sale, for instance).

A Don Doesn’t Wear Shorts.

I loved the HBO show, The Sopranos.  I’m a bit of a Mafia aficionado; I’ve been fascinated with that culture ever since my grandmother (!) gave me a book by Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno to read when I was 16.  In an early episode of The Sopranos, James Gandolfini, playing Tony Soprano (the main character and the leader or “Don” of the Soprano mob) was hosting a barbecue in his back yard for other mobsters.  Tony manned the grill while wearing Bermuda shorts, and this prompted a visit the next week.

As Gandolfini told the story, at a shoot the next week on location in New Jersey, he was approached by a man that was obviously a real-deal mobster.  The man walked up to Gandolfini and said that he loved the show, “But Jimmy,” the man said, looking dead into James’ eyes, “Dons don’t wear shorts.”  Gandolfini took it to heart, and Tony Soprano never wore shorts again in a Mob gathering.  In fact, this became part of a Sopranos episode later when Tony was reproached by a boss for the shorts.  What the mobster meant, of course, is that when you have that kind of a leadership position, you can’t afford to look too casual to those that you are supposed to be leading.  It’s a lesson that’s often forgotten.

I thought about this recently when watching a Zoom sales meeting.  Zoom has been a great tool that has enhanced the capabilities of managers and sales reps alike – but it’s also, in my opinion, contributed to a loosening of standards that isn’t healthy for sales managers or salespeople.  In this meeting, the sales manager had 20 sales reps on the line, all were ready and able to hear what he had to say.

The problem was that the manager, attempting to be too cute by half, had employed one of those digital backgrounds on his screen.  Those backgrounds suck up bandwidth, so instead of being a clear communicator, his image was pixelating, his voice was cutting in and out, and he was virtually unwatchable.  In fact, the only clearly visible image was the background itself, and when the manager attempted to share his PowerPoint presentation on his screen, the entire screen locked up.  What ensued was ten minutes of the manager attempting to get rid of the background, then logging off, and finally being able to get back onto the meeting – by which point he had lost his audience, in attention of not reality.

The manager forgot that Dons don’t wear shorts.  He had important information to convey, but lost his chance to make it impactful because he was trying to take a too-cool, too-casual approach to the meeting.  How often have you seen this since last year?  I’ve experienced it myself, many times.  During a Hiring Assistance program, there was the guy who logged onto a Zoom job interview for a sales position (he was the applicant) in a T-shirt and ball cap, for example.

Video calling is here to stay.  I do not expect it to replace face-to-face selling (we human beings crave actual human contact), but the skills and technology will be part of our repertoire going forward, so we might as well do it right.  The key to remember is that Zoom is merely another way to communicate messages – and your message should be the star, not the tech!  Whether you’re a manager addressing your team, or a salesperson making a sales presentation, there are a few fundamental best practices you should employ:

  1. Forget the silly backgrounds. Yes, these platforms allow you to use a lot of cool backgrounds.  When you use one, in many cases, the background itself becomes the star and you’re just in the way – or worse, the background eats up your bandwidth.  Stick with a stationary background.  Even a blank wall is fine, or your office, or whatever.  If you want your company branding in it, make up a banner for a backdrop and use it, but the background should be a physical background and not an electronic one.
  2. Dress like a pro. Casualness is the enemy of persuasion; when you are presenting, you should look and dress the part.  Dress and prep the same as you would for a live meeting or sales call.
  3. Get the camera at eye level. Looking down at the screen makes you look amateurish – whether you’re using a phone or a laptop, position it so that you are looking directly into the camera lens while looking straight ahead.
  4. Look into the camera lens, not the screen. This is the hardest to master, but very important.  When you’re speaking, you should be looking at the camera lens – that means that you’re making eye contact with your recipient.  Peripheral vision is a wonderful thing; you can always see their movements and expressions out of the corner of your eye even when you’re looking at the lens.
  5. Get good sound. If they can’t hear you, they can’t buy from you.  Make sure that you have a good microphone setup, if your device doesn’t already have a good microphone.  Lavaliere or USB microphones are less than $100, which is a cheap investment.
  6. The best way to get good at anything is to practice, and presentations are no different.  Practice, practice, practice, until you know the tech, you know how to quickly share your screen without fumbling, and you are able to handle all other aspects of the technological platform you’re using.

Remember – you want your video presentation to be just as professional as, if not more so than, your live presentation.  Dons don’t wear shorts.  Be a Don.

Better Presenting Through Storyselling

A few weeks ago, I boarded a Southwest flight to Minneapolis. As is my habit, I took the window seat. Soon, a woman in her mid-30s came along, pointed to the aisle seat, and asked, “Is this taken?” I told her no, and she sat down. Nervously, she smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not weird.” “I’m sure you’re not,” I smiled. She continued, “It’s not like I’m a serial killer or anything.” Well, that’s an odd thing to say on a plane, so I said the only thing I could think of. “Of course you’re not. What would be the odds of two of us meeting like this on an airplane?”

If you’re anything like the live audiences I’ve told this story to, you’re laughing out loud right now. Good. The point of the story was to grab your attention and get a reaction. Depending on what speech I’m giving, it could have a few different uses. Right now, the point is to illustrate the power of story in customer dialogue. If your presentations fall flat, perhaps this article will help you find some ways to liven up your presentations.

All too often, our sales presentations are filled with facts, figures, and contentions that we hope add up to a buying decision on the part of our customer. All too often, they do not add up to a buying decision – because the customer isn’t involved, or our contentions aren’t ‘real.’ From the time I started selling, I started storytelling as part of sales – or “Storyselling,” if you will. It’s a natural in sales because we’re constantly meeting people and collecting stories. The bad part is that we only share stories over the watercooler with our co-workers or over a beer with our buddies. What if you collected stories and then used them as part of your sales dialogue? Here are three ways to use stories:

  1. For a little humor. The old saying, “If I can make a customer laugh, I can make him buy,” is at least partially true. Too many salespeople, however, take the low road. They tell jokes. First of all, jokes are hackneyed and false, even in the best of situations. Second, they’re lowest common denominator humor. Third, oftentimes, they can be offensive. We’re salespeople. Funny things happen to and around us all the time, and well-told, those stories will get a laugh out of your customer as well.
  2. To make your customer comfortable. Remember my mantra: “Comfortable Customers Buy.” There’s a built-in tension between salespeople and their customers, and one way to break that tension down is to tell a story that illustrates commonality, either between the salesperson and the customer, the customer and the salesperson’s company, or the customer and other customers of the salesperson.
  3. To show past successes. One of the best uses of a story is to show how the salesperson (or the company) has helped a past customers succeed in an area where the new potential customer has a need. These kinds of success stories can (and should) pepper your conversation – in introductions, in presentations, and in general dialogue with your customers. As they say, “Nothing succeeds like success,” and a success story can and will win business.

In a future edition, we’ll talk about how to tell a story that will sell – from constructing it to delivering it. For now, start thinking about the stories that you have to tell, and start writing them down.

Oh, and the woman on the plane?  She looked at me for about ten seconds.  Then she quietly picked up her bag….and changed seats.  I don’t think I stopped laughing until we landed.