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.

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