Friday, 18 November 2011

Marketing Against the Real Competition - Dealing With the Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore and Upton Sinclair spotted it: we ignore those facts that make us uncomfortable. Gore's compelling documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" left most of us nodding sagely and promising to do better by our planet.
But we still leave the TV on standby and drive to the newsagent.
Upton Sinclair, that flawed but brilliant polemic, made a comment even closer to home for those of us with a sale to make: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
If you worry about losing sales to your competition, you need to understand what, not who, is your competitor. It's not that bunch of cowboys who keep undercutting your prices; it's not the market leader with its stratospheric market budget. It's inaction.
Here's an exercise for you to try: pull out your prospect list for the last twelve months. Look at the sales you didn't get. How many of them were lost to competitors? How many of them just never happened at all? How many of them are still on your list, but the project's on hold?
See what I mean? Who's your main competitor now?
While I'm asking questions, how often do you come out of a sales pitch feeling it was a complete disaster? Pretty unusual isn't it?
You have a compelling, logical proposition; it makes perfect sense for people to buy from you. If that weren't the case you wouldn't survive. So you usually feel that your presentation went well. You probably heard encouraging comments: "That's very interesting; it's something we do need to do." Your prospect list is full of customers who definitely will buy from you. One day.
As for the environment, so for business-to-business purchases: the action happens when the desire for the outcome outweighs the personal inconvenience.
Like it or not, your solution almost certainly creates a measure of discomfort. It's unusual these days to deal with a dedicated purchasing department. You're usually talking to a departmental manager or director, and they have their own jobs to concentrate on. They'll consider your swamp drainage proposals once all these alligators are out of the way. Another inconvenient truth is that your customer's principle personal driver is the salary continuation scheme. If your solution involves risk of exposure to criticism, you're pushing string uphill.
The logic behind your proposition is important; of course it is. It'll be used when your customer justifies the purchase to his or her peers. But the spur to make the purchase will come from the desire to acquire the personal benefit you identified.
Business-to-business marketing is effective when it's as personal as a LadyShave. You have to get inside the head of the individual you're dealing with, not just find features and benefits for their market sector. Most people don't do this; it's easier to churn out a lot of formulaic rote. Why? Because the personal approach might be more effective, but it's also more inconvenient. So you're as guilty as your customers.
Give up; I've got you surrounded.
In sales and marketing, desire trumps logic every time. That's why we'd rather drive a Ferrari than a Toyota. The reason those stalled sales are still on your prospect list is quite simple: you showed them what they needed, but you didn't make them want it enough. If you can get your head around this single mechanic you might well double your sales

Monday, 14 November 2011

Are you on the job with Twitter?

Maybe I'm getting cynical, but I keep seeing a parallel between the mid-nineties Website fervour and today's obsession with social media. Back then, everyone was clamouring for "an Internet presence", but few had a clear idea what to do with it. Cross out "Internet" and insert "Facebook", "LinkedIn" or "Twitter" and that last statement has a disturbing resonance in 2011.

I'm not about to give you yet another list of killer social media techniques; if you have something to say that Tweets well, then go to it.  What I do want to do is put this 21st Century mania in its proper context for B2B companies.

First, here's a new concept for you, I call it On/Off the Job Marketing.

When you're selling B2B, your customers tend to focus on their own daily tasks far more readily than they do on your proposition. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to involve them deeply enough that they come to want your solution. The best way to do that is to help them with their job, not just tell them that you're going to do something splendid for their company. People become involved with your proposition when they can see it making their life easier right now, not producing a corporate benefit sometime in the future.

And right now, they have a job to do.

It's true that social media can encourage involvement, but they're not central to your clients' business.  They'll look at LinkedIn when they've got time.  Are you sure you're talking to them and engaging them effectively when they're actually doing their job?

One of my clients asked me to help with their social media marketing recently. This, with their permission, is an extract from their Website content:

XXXX is a leading supplier of YYYY, with a first-class portfolio of products and services for architects and specifiers. We are pleased to provide detailed information to support your specifications and client proposals. We hope that you'll contact us for help with your next project*.

Excited?  No, nor me.

My question here is: does it make sense to invest energy and expenditure on entertaining potential clients in their spare time, when we're doing little to engage them when they're concentrating on their job?

Instead of trying to think of something witty to say on LinkedIn, or complaining about the M6 traffic on Twitter, the priority for this client is become involved in his customer's actual work, not their social life. So we're putting our energies into creating tools that help those architects and specifiers to create and present their specifications.  That's what I mean by on-the-job marketing.

If you already know what you want to say on social media, as I've said, go to it; I'm not disparaging an unquestionably powerful medium.  But if it's on your list because everyone else is talking about it, think carefully and decide if it's really the next priority.

If, deep down, you feel it's a distraction from your real job, remember that your customers may have exactly the same opinion.

* Don't bother searching for this text - I promise you we killed it very quickly.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Shut up and listen!

Do you remember those bloody awful sales videos you had to sit through in the 80s and 90s? The ones that had you drawing a line down the middle of the page; that made you remember the alternative close, the puppy-dog close, the assumptive close, even the ludicrous Duke of Wellington close. It took you, maybe, two sales pitches to work out that none of them worked.

Sales pitches account for the majority of presentations, and presentations probably account for the majority of books, how-to Websites and general win-new-clients-and-look-sexy training courses.

Amazingly, in the enlightened 21st Century, we're still stuck in that groove of someone's theory of how the world ought to wag.  So we hear about "information-loading colours", "optimum bullet weighting" and God knows what other bananas.

About the only sales training tip I ever picked up that's been useful is the old one about the ratio of ears to mouth.  Good sales, we're told, stem from listening twice as much as we speak.  And most of us are willing to accept this as fact.

So when was the last time you made a sales presentation this way?

Unless you're as relentlessly vigilant as a wheel clamper at the Olympics, presentations have a habit of becoming didactic lectures.  Their whole structure encourages you to talk at your audience rather than with them.  I've had clients comment, "Sure, but we'll have a proper conversation afterwards".

Great, let's hope there's time.

This is fresh in my mind after a pitch presentation I made last week for a Web project for my Internet business.  I'd put together something that looked professional and slick - there'd be something wrong here if I didn't.  But the whole production was presented as a discussion document, not a "Here's what we can do, aren't fabulous?" propaganda attack.  It took two full hours to work through around 15 slides, because all of us were talking in detail around each point.  Except that they talked a lot more than I did.  In those two hours we advanced beyond where we'd usually be at the end of the second meeting.

We got the deal (smug mode ON <k-dzzz>).  Not only that, we got it on the day and before the end of the presentation.

So here's a thought: Drag out your most-used presentation deck and ask yourself how you could make it more like a conversation.

Your best presentation tools are stuck each side of your head.

Rules? What Rules?

Anyone who's attended a presentation techniques seminar will have been indoctrinated with pretty much the same set of edicts: Speak in a lower register, rehearse exactly what you're going to say, don't read off the screen, minimise farting and nose-picking and so on.

Well, in fairness, you wouldn't hear much of that stuff at one of my seminars*, but you know what I mean.

Today's post follows a seminar I attended yesterday by Calloway Green, and presented by Andy Calloway.  They're experts on search engine optimisation, and the seminar was a revelation, not least because Andy's either never seen the rule book or decided to use its absorbent qualities for personal use.  He turned his back on the audience and mumbled at the screen; he digressed, swore, lost his thread and wandered between his own presentation, somebody else's, a few strange Websites and the unpredictable scrawlings he effected on the whiteboard.  If he'd prepared his speech, he clearly changed his mind a few times.

Know what?  We loved every minute of it.  He had the audience completely enthralled.  For three hours.

I came away buzzing with ideas, not just about SEO, but about my whole Web strategy.  Was it despite Andy's bizarre style or because of it?  Without doubt, the richness of information and obvious expertise made the seminar useful, but it was the enthusiasm and humanity that carried the day.  We'd have listened to a three hour dissertation on Oxo cubes with just as much attention.

Beware presenters' rules; they make robots.  Your SatNav delivers great information, but you'd rather listen to Chris Moyles**.  Get enthusiastic, relax and have some fun and the audience will come with you.

Go to one of Andy's seminars and you'll see what I mean.

* Especially the farting and nose-picking, which I encourage.
** Thinking about it, this analogy isn't as clear cut as I intended. I rarely want to punch my SatNav in the face.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Case in Point

OK, I admit I tend to bang on about not starting your presentation by telling people how great your company is.  But reading back I realise I’ve highlighted the problems and not spent a whole lot of time on solutions.  Dale Carnegie would turn in his grave.

So, with a respectful nod to Mr C, here’s a suggestion.

Your case studies are a goldmine of credentials.  Here’s a chance to brag about what you do best, and the results you deliver, but stay relevant and interesting.

As long as they’re relevant and interesting.

Anyone who neglects their case studies is missing a huge presentation opportunity.  What could be more convincing than proof that what you’re offering really works?  So spend some time on them; make them sell, not just report.  Tell a coherent story, and be consistent in your format.  For each study:
·         Create a headline – a short, concise statement of the result you delivered. (Not just what you sold them)
·         Briefly outline the customer’s position and requirement
·         Show how your proposition answered this need
·         Where relevant, mention implementation time
·         Explain any problems that were encountered, and how they were resolved
·         Highlight the beneficial results, including (or even especially) side benefits outside the original requirement.

You’ll notice that I included problems in the list; clearly I’ve lost whatever grip I once had on reality.

Except that it works.

I’ve always maintained that inaction is your biggest competitor.  It’s almost always easier and safer to do nothing than to take on the risks associated with making a major purchase.  By explaining problems you’ve jumped a number of hurdles:
·         You’ve demonstrated your experience and resourcefulness
·         You’ve proved that you can deliver, even in the face of setbacks
·         You’ve reassured them that they won’t be left personally exposed and endangered if something goes wrong
·         You’ve shown integrity and honesty, bringing greater credibility to your whole pitch

Your case study library should be updated every time you achieve a significant result for one of your clients.  Many of my clients have case study forms that are distributed regularly to their sales force.  This gives you a great source of material for PR stories and internal communications, as well as building an unbeatable bank of proof.

Great, so that’s the magazine loaded, now how do we fire the bullets?  In my next post I’ll be looking at how to use your case study library to make your audience ask all the best questions.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Don't throw out the bullets with the bathwater

Search the Web for presentation tips and you'll find a pretty consistent condemnation of bullet points. So you should never use them, right?

Hang on a minute though; just because people inflict paragraphs of garbage on us, each prefaced by a little dot, does that mean a global moratorium?  Should we forbid music players because people sometimes use them to play Jedward?  Don't mistake me here: I'm just as set against bullet points as a means of non-surgical lobotomy as the most militant PowerPoint adviser.  But sometimes they're the right thing to use.

Let's look at the popular alternative to bullet points.  You'll often see advice to put one concept on screen at a time.  You'll usually be told to add a relevant graphic, and sometimes it'll be suggested that you leave the text off altogether.
No need for bullets when... there's no need for bullets

It's good advice as far as it goes.  And following it will usually leave you with a clear, attractive slide with plenty of visual impact.  But beware of another important factor: presentation audiences often have the memory capacity of a goldfish.  If you want to put over a series of closely related statements, there's every chance they'll have forgotten the first before you get far down the list.

In my not particularly humble opinion, a short list of bullets is often the best way of developing a single specific area of your proposition.
What's so painful about these bullets?

Bullet points are brief headings, not a substitute for the presenter.  If the audience could read and understand them without you present, e-mail them the presentation and save yourself a lot of time.

Used correctly, bullets work absolutely fine.  Here are a few guidelines to keep away the atrocities (in bullet form of course):

  • No more than four or five to a screen
  • Keep them very short
  • Never try to cover more than one information thread per screen
  • Don't build your whole presentation on bullet point screens

I'll talk about what the presenter's doing while the bullets are flying in another post.

  • Bullet points are a Bad Thing when you don't consider the alternatives.  
  • Bullet points aren't in themselves a Bad Thing.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Why John Wanamaker should have listened to Tommy Cooper

You’ll like this; it gives you the chance to do impressions. Tousle your hair, stagger slightly, put on a gruff, slurred voice – if you like you can even wear a fez – and when you’re ready, say the following:
“I went to the doctor’s yesterday. I said ‘it hurts when I do this’. The doctor said, ‘Well don’t do it then’.
OK, so you sounded more like Arnold Schwarzenegger doing dalek impressions, but that’s not the point. The point is that today I’m going to hold up Tommy Cooper as a marketing guru. And on the way I’m going to make the same deposit on John Wanamaker that pigeons outside the British Museum make on Horatio Nelson.
John Wanamaker, so we’re told, originally coined the phrase “I know half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half”. If I’m lucky enough to be remembered when I’m gone, I hope it’ll be for something less fatuous. If Tommy Cooper had been around in 1886, he’d have fixed Wanamaker with that glorious bloodshot, gap-toothed stare and said, “Well don’t do it then”.
This thought came to me on the road to Damascus. Well, OK, the road from Barnsley to Stafford, using that really cute road across the Peaks – you know, through Warslow and… sorry, back to the plot. I’d just been to see a new client who showed me the adverts they’d been running in trade magazines.
What I saw was typical trade magazine fare – quality, customer service, excellence, all the words to fill your BS Bingo card. I asked how well they worked and braced myself. Sure enough “I know half my…” etc. Suddenly I sensed the ghostly figure of a 6 foot three drunk magician at my elbow and, with all the conviction of Derek Acorah preparing to make Yvette Fielding’s pupils dilate even further, I grunted “Well don’t do it then”.
This client sells to multi-million pound players in a clearly defined market. He has maybe 100 potential new customers in the UK, and any one of them can add a million pounds to his annual turnover. To meet his growth targets he needs two new clients a year.
So why is he advertising? If we take his existing marketing budget – of which apparently 50% is wasted – and turn it all to bear on that small, defined market, surely we can win two new customers in the next twelve months? If we spent, say, £1,000 on a drop-dead pitch to one new customer, what conversion rate could we expect?
Obvious, yes. But don’t judge my client too harshly. They’re running one of the most successful businesses in their industry. They’re smart people. But they’ve fallen into a trap that I see at least once a month. They’ve seen what other people do in their marketing, and simply done the same.
Don’t do this. If Tommy Cooper had done it he’d have been just another reasonably competent magician. John Wanamaker made his millions the same way: he looked at what other people did, and told people about what he did differently.
When my clients look at their marketing, do they realise they’re being advised by a comedian?
Oh I hope so.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Turn the Camera Round

It happened again the other day.

One of my clients called to say they'd won a big deal, using a pitch that we'd built together (Smug mode ON - Tzzzt!).

Now these guys are smart enough to ask why they won, and this was the response:

"Well [competitor one] came in and talked about [competitor one]; [competitor two] talked about [competitor two]. You came in and talked about us."

What baffles me most about this is the fact that it should be unusual.  But if there's one battle I fight more than any other, it's to strive against the presentation format that begins with "About Us".

"Yes, but people want to know who they're dealing with!" comes the protest.

You won't like this, but I'm afraid they don't.  Not yet, at least.

I've alluded to this in an older post - Smile for the self-portrait - but it's worth pushing the point a bit further.  The problem appears when you put the corporate story ahead of the reason why you're here to present.  They're waiting to hear what you can do for them; instead you're banging on about your commitment to excellence, your customer focus, and that new high-capacity intracombifenorealisator you've just bought.

Turn the camera round.  Paint them a picture that makes the result of what you're offering completely real.  Talk about cost savings in terms of the result they - not you - will have produced for their company.  Show the marketing director how your environmental benefits can be used in his* PR campaigns.  Explain to the production director how he will be able to simplify manufacturing procedures.

What you're doing here is changing your pitch from something that makes logical sense into something that they want.  And what we want always wins out against what we need, otherwise we'd all spend our money on fewer holidays and more life insurance.

So is the corporate story irrelevant?  Anything but.  Because some audiences will want to know what authority you have to say you can deliver all this great stuff.  So they chip in with, "Could you tell us a bit about your company?".

Now you can tell them how fantastic you are, and they'll actually listen.

* Sexism versus readability: I don't suggest that women are any less able to fulfil the role of marketing director. But I refuse to keep typing "he or she", "his or her", or "their" because it looks horrid.  Anyway, if sexual equality actually existed I'd dare to answer back to my wife, so get over it.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Act of Uniformity

What d'you mean it doesn't fit?

Thankfully, I was born too late to get called up for National Service. That's probably why I spent so many of my formative years listening to the Incredible String Band while wearing loon pants and the outside of a yak. As a result I was spared the joys of a uniform that fitted (and itched) where it touched, and was almost capable of ambulation without its conscripted occupant.

Thinks: Maybe I'll try The Hedgehog Song next
Today the one-size-doesn't-really-fit-anyone approach is found only in Italian driving seats, baths and - yes, you knew I'd say it - presentations. The first two can be ignored because Armitage Shanks has a long tradition of employing alien life forms in its design department, and Italians can justify Fiat by pointing at a Ferrari.

But presentations? No-oo I think not.

Most of your marketing materials have to be fairly generic; you can't afford to change them for every possible customer. But the people in your audience are as individual as the architecture in Orangi Township. A presentation is a rare opportunity to craft your message to fit perfectly.

I regularly hear people refer to their slide "decks". "We'll use our leisure industry deck for this presentation", they announce glibly, and the customisation is complete. But the Financial Director in their audience has more in common with the FD of a double glazing company than with his own IT Manager; where did we get this idea of industry sector being the lodestone of our pitch?

Everyone in the room with you has opinions, biases and agendas. They're the things you have to deal with if you want a successful outcome. So a beautifully logical explanation of the lifetime cost of your proposition won't float the boat of someone who's thinking about this quarter's VAT bill.

Most of the time, your biggest competition comes from inaction, not from your biggest competitor; it's usually easier to do nothing than to take on a huge upheaval to achieve the end you're proposing. To get the decision you want you have to make everyone in your audience want what you're offering enough to put up with the inconvenience of making a decision.  That means it needs to be as personal as a LadyShave.

But most presentations are less bespoke than the grey overalls in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  They deal with a few features and benefits, sure, but mostly they're concerned with telling you about the people behind the pitch.

Which means you might as well have sent a fax.

Look, you're going to spend a couple of hours in front of an important customer.  That's costing you a lot of money. And someone's putting aside a similar amount of time to listen to you, and that's costing them too. 

So talk directly to the people who'll be there, not just their market sector. Think of what you have to offer them, personally, to make their lives a bit - or a lot - better. Make it fit.

If you don't, all they'll feel is a slight itch where you touched the spot.

Going Logo

How would you feel if I treated your logo like this?

Should you include your customer's logo in your presentation?

The jury's still out on this one; just recently a few of my clients have referred to embedding a logo as "a bit nineties". I'd be fascinated to know where this came from, because it seems to have gone viral.

I'm still a fan of displaying the logo; it's a small signal that you've put some thought into personalising the presentation. But if that's all the personalisation you're going to do, it ain't enough.  Both you and your audience are making a big investment of time, so you owe it to yourself as well as them to make it look as though you made the presentation just for this pitch.

I'll deal with personalising the content in another post. For now let's focus on the logo.  Most companies have invested a lot of money and time into their visual identity.  A lot of them have corporate ID manuals that set out rigid rules for how their logo can be displayed.  You're not going to stamp all over that flower bed are you?  No, of course not, because - like people who never move out of the overtaking lane - it's only other people who do that.

One of those other people came to pitch their product to me recently.  The logo at the top of this post came from his presentation.  Know what he was selling? Print and design services.

So just to make sure you don't get mistaken for one of those other people, here are a few play-safe rules for using your customers' logos in your presentations.

Scaling Down=Good. Scaling Up=Bad
When you go looking for your customer's logo, you'll probably start with Google's Image Search. That's fine, so do I.  But make sure that the logo you use is at least as large as you want it to be in your presentation.  If it's too big, scale it down to the right size in Photoshop, taking great care not to alter its proportions.  You could paste it directly into PowerPoint and scale it down on screen, but doing it that way bloats the file size, uses up system resources, and may not look as crisp as a properly resized version.

Never ever scale a too-small logo up by more than around 10%.  When you scale down, information in the image is lost, but Photoshop cleverly smoothes everything out so that it looks fine.  When you scale up, nothing can put that information back.  Individual pixels become large blocks, and it all goes horribly wrong.

Don't take risks with the background

Unless you're very sure of your ground, always put your customer's logo on a white background. Many corporate ID manuals specify allowed background colours - and anything that isn't specified is prohibited. But I've never yet seen an ID that prohibits white.  Don't risk it: white is the safe background.

That doesn't restrict your presentation palette; just make sure you leave a white area that will hold the customer logo.  And please make it look as if it's meant to be there - a floating, closely cropped white rectangle insults your customer's brand almost as badly as a poorly-rendered logo.
Dropping the logo into a lozenge - one of PowerPoint's built-in shapes will work fine - and setting the border to match one of the colours in your customer's logo makes everything look as if it was designed-in.  Make sure the logo has room to "breathe" in its holding shape.

...And don't ignore your own logo
It should go without saying that your own logo deserves the same respect as that of your customer.  But it's amazing how often I see text and graphics that overlap the presenter's own logo.  As a rule of thumb, leave space around any logo equal to the height of one of its principle elements.
Am I being precious here?  Quite possibly, but companies spend a lot of money on their brands, so they may well be equally precious.  You're there to get them to listen to you, not sit seething about what you've done to their logo.

In a Packed Programme Tonight...

Simon Cowell leans back, pokes his pen into the side of his face and leers, "So Tarquin, what are you going to do for us today?"

"Well Simon, first I'm going to tell you a bit about my training as a street dancer, then I'll be looking at the growth in street dancing over the last five years.  Then I'd like to explain why my dancing is different, unique and dynamic...


The guy in the black tee shirt might always be impatient, but not everyone with a short attention span wears a black tee shirt.  If you draw this on a Venn diagram you'll uncover the possibility that the people in your audience are as attentive and patient as Alan Sugar at a cake-icing seminar.

I've already covered getting straight to the point in my post I've got something you're interested in, but first..., but today I want to mention my absolute pet hate.

It's called The Agenda.

Where do you think the audience is looking?

I'm sorry, I have no idea where the idea first developed that this was a Good Thing.  OK, I know that most of you are now muttering "tell 'em what you're going to tell em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you've told 'em".  Fine, but you don't have to tell 'em the stages involved. 

"Hi Simon, I'm a Street Dancer."

"Oh good, we're really short of those at the moment."

You beat your competition by being better than them, not by making your presentation look hideously long and boring.

So stop describing the act and start bloody dancing.

PowerPoint: There IS a substitute for rehearsal

In my last post I talked about that embarrassing shuffle when you can't remember how many bullet points you put on that screen.  As promised, here's Daniel to show you how to get PowerPoint to warn you automatically when the last point has appeared.

Before you get too impressed with his technical brilliance, let me just point out that he used one of our free PowerPoint templates - and didn't notice that there's already an automatic slide marker in there.  So eagle-eyed viewers may spot two warnings that the slide is ending.

You just can't get the staff...

It'll Be Alright on the Night

Listen to any seminar on presenting and they'll all ram home the importance of rehearsal. They're clearly correct, and so we all devote several hours to getting every gesture, every pause prezactly right.

Don't we?

Oh, OK, I'll agree that there are just a few people who never seem to have the time to do more than run through the slides half an hour before.  Good job you and I aren't among 'em, eh?

So this morning's post is for that vanishingly small minority who wing it every time.

Bullet point screens often give me trouble.  Sorry, I mean I know someone who often has trouble with bullet screens. It's that moment when you can't remember whether there are any more points to reveal on this screen.  It looks about full, so you do a big wrap-up, ready for your next topic. Then you click the mouse and another bullet point sneaks in, leaving you mumbling "Oh yeah, and that as well."

The alternative's no better. You convince yourself there's another bullet point to come and click the mouse. The screen clears and your next big topic pops up. "Ah," you stammer, "I didn't mean to go onto this yet, let me just go back for a moment to the last screen." 

So slick; so polished; so don't.

This person I know- the one who doesn't rehearse properly - gets round this problem by making a small, barely noticeable marker appear after his last bullet point.  It'll be a tiny change to the screen that the audience is very unlikely to spot, but that tells him the screen will change next time he clicks the mouse.

We build markers like this into our Configurative presentations, and it's easy to add them to your own PowerPoint; just add a small block or other shape after the last bullet point on each slide.  In fact you can even set this as part of your template by building it into your master slide.  Daniel's just recording a video to show you how.

Fortunately I never need it because, just like you, I rehearse my presentations to perfection.

And that ranks alongside "There's a cheque in the post", "Of course I love you" and... the other one, among the greatest lies of all time.

Presenting the Numbers

I'm wearing my serious trousers today, so let's get straight into talking about stuff.

There's a distinct type of presentation that causes alarm, despondency, terror, global warming and scrofula wherever it's encountered.

It's the one that includes numbers.

Numbers are scary. You have to walk into the firing line and hold your hands up. You have to say something concrete and measurable. One slip and you'll go down like Willem Dafoe; and thanks to multimedia technology, you can even pipe in Barber's Adagio.

It's OK though. If you use the usual approach and paste in an Excel spreadsheet, no one will be able to read or understand any of it anyway.

This is a shame.  We recently put together a numbers presentation for one of our long-standing clients. They wanted to show one of their major clients just how much money they could make for them. It was a big story, with more than twenty separate propositions, each with its own financial model. If the customer went for half of the suggestions, this would be a massive win for everyone in the room.

We could have pasted in twenty-odd spreadsheets.  All the numbers would be there, and if the audience wanted to challenge any of them, they could even be changed on the fly.

But that's not a presentation, it's a maths lesson.

So here's how we approach numbers presentations.  You start by splitting the models onto separate screens; typically this means you'll end up with a page for assumptions, one each for the current and proposed situations, and a final summary. 

A typical - though in this case deliberately anonymous - numbers presentation

All of the background workings are kept out of the picture, so it's easy to see and understand, and your big proposition isn't lost in a mass of identical figures.

Audiences tend to challenge figures.  If you've put your case together properly there's no need to fear this. In fact it's worth encouraging them to explore the what-ifs; they'll become more involved and enthusiastic.  In the case of our client's big numbers pitch, their customer green-lighted every one of the propositions.

Daniel shows us how to leave behind an edited copy of the presentation

If all's gone well, you should have succeeded in turning the presentation into a planning session. Instead of telling your audience what you want them to do, all of you're all already talking about how it'll happen.  That's serious progress. 

Now's when they'll ask you for a copy of the presentation, so make sure you're able to load up a memory stick with numbers that reflect what you achieved together.

Shameless plug warning: With a Configurative presentation, this is easy...

I've got something you're interested in. But first...

So there you are, leaning on the rail of the cruise liner, musing on the infinite, when somebody floats by below you. That must be what caused the splashing noise.
Let's lay out your solution in bullet points:

What you can offer:

  • Unmatched Experience in the Provision of Lifesaving Hardware to Drowning Voyagers.  
  • A Lifebelt.
So you explain this to the flagging passenger as he goes under again. Obviously, your experience is important to him; how else can he judge your ability to save him? So as his head briefly surfaces, you tell him that you've

  • rescued more than twenty people in the last ten years, and that... 

oh hang on, he's sunk again.
Then a flailing hand breaks the surface and grabs the inflated hot water bottle that the guy next to you just threw in. The guy with half your experience and a solution he made up on the spot - and yours had a British Standard Kitemark and everything.

I think I've probably made my point.

Presentations nearly always start with a grinding exposition of your company's credentials, experience and approvals. And pretty much ignore what use all of that is to your customer.

Please, just get to the point. They'll want to know who they're dealing with after they've decided they want to deal with you. Give 'em what they want first and everyone will have a nice easy voyage.

OK, so nobody's going to drown while you meander to the point of your presentation, but your audience's interest will have gone down for the third time, and you'll have got all wet for no good reason.

Copy and Paste - Your Embarrassing Assistants

If there's one thing we British dread above everything else it's embarrassment. We can stand losing at sports we invented; it's the humiliation we struggle with. We don't really mind that Robert Green couldn't win a game of catch, but we'll never forgive him for letting those upstart transatlantic revolutionaries believe they're our equals. We'll eat sautéed cockroach in a restaurant, and assure the disinterested waitress that "everything's lovely, thank you".

Because otherwise people might Look.

Which is why presentations baffle me. How do you feel when you know your audience is so bored that they're considering eating their toenails? Can you really be entertaining, witty, urbane and persuasive when you feel like Howard Hughes doing a last-minute replacement speaker spot at Nuremberg?

Two words that changed their meaning somewhere in the early nineties have a whole lot to answer for: their names are Copy and Paste.

Try this for starters: how many people does it take to produce a new brochure? I’ve seen brochures that have involved input from more people than the client actually has on the payroll. Aside from the armies of designers, consultants and copywriters, we also show draft copies to the sales department, marketing, accounts, the cleaning staff, the bloke at the golf club who knows a bit about marketing, and next door’s budgie. Meanwhile the corporate identity police have the Agency’s visual strapped in a chair in a basement while they positively vet the Pantone references and… ha! I thought so! The white space around the logo isn’t exactly one third of the height of the third “J”!

The new Website tends to develop a similarly inflated supporting cast. Steven Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan with fewer people and in considerably shorter time. In fact you can replay the scenario for pretty much all of your marketing exercises. God can make a universe in six days. Humans can make more humans in nine months. The impossible we can do at once. Marketing takes a little longer.

Unless we're going to turn up in person.

All your marketing time and expense led up to this. Someone actually wants to listen to you. So the day before the presentation you start thinking about what you're going to say. But you're a bit busy, so you'll get your friends Copy and Paste to help. OK, so this means that your new customer's going to listen to a bunch of stuff that only marginally applies to them, and get to hear you saying "actually, that last point there isn't strictly true anymore", but they'll also catch the odd glimpse of their main competitor's logo, so that's alright isn't it?

No it bloody isn't. If you're British, this sort of embarrassment is as painful as watching Jedward perform The Comedy of Errors. With John Prescott as Emelia.

This blog is about taking the pain and embarrassment out of presentations. They're arguably your most important communication. You're there in person, and you're going to get listened to. So don't waste the opportunity by recycling something you spent five minutes putting together a couple of months ago. Create something new, relevant and persuasive.

And if that feels too comfy when you present it, you can always moon the audience at the end.

You embarrassment junkie you.

Smile for the Self portrait

I’d like to tell you how fabulous I am. No, seriously, you’d be amazed what a rounded, caring, all-round amazing guy you’d be talking to if we ever got to meet. In fact I’m going to put my e-mail address at the bottom of this piece, because you’re going to need it. I’m just that good.

Still reading?

If you’ve reached this paragraph, it’s either because I’ve convinced you, or you can’t believe this garbage is for real. And I’m betting on the latter. So if it’s such outrageous twaddle, why do you present your company this way? Come on, own up, you know you do. I’ve seen your brochures – you’re unique, you’re innovative, you’re focused on customer service, you tailor solutions and, unless I’m mistaken, you’re one of the leading companies in your field.

If any of those statements do appear in your brochures, on your advertisements or on your Website, call every one of your customers in turn and apologize for the time they had to waste either throwing them in the bin or looking for a more interesting site. And if they turn up in your presentations then get out. Now. I mean it. When you’re done apologizing, join the Caravan Club. It’s full of people who point their cameras in exactly the wrong direction. They hook their Sprite 14 (whatever that is) to the coathanger thing on the back of the Maxi and chug off to an area of outstanding natural beauty. Then they park in front of it and take a picture of the caravan. “Here’s Ethel and me completely obscuring the view across Loch Stochanbarel”.
If I’m being unfair to you, congratulations: you’re one of those rare people who’s learned which way to point the camera. How come my opening paragraph gave you a picture of an egotistical twerp suffering from terminal “I” strain? Could it be that you’d rather form your own opinions?
The core of good presenting points its camera at the customer. It puts him at the centre of a picture that shows exactly where he wants to be. As soon as you move the caravan out of the way, the view behind it becomes clear. I work with a client who prints barcode tickets for retailers like Next and Arcadia. It would be easy to focus our camera on those tickets, and the (genuinely excellent) service behind them. But how much quality do you need in a piece of cardboard that will be thrown away anyway?

Now look at what the ticket does: without that piece of card, the whole supply chain stalls. If the tickets aren’t right, how much is lost in missed opportunity? If market reaction can be speeded up, how much extra profit can we drive to the bottom line? The benefit that my client brings to his marketplace carries the focus completely away from the product he’s selling, and into a world that’s real and persuasive to his customer.

The bad news is that this takes more thought than throwing out a few more “experience to deliver” and “customer-driven” clichés. But put that extra thought into your presentation, and you’ll immediately pull ahead of 90% of your competitors.

And your holiday pictures will be more entertaining too.

But that’s enough about you, let’s talk about me…

Jem Shaw - (Told you I would)