Your team comes together to prepare for a sales presentation, project interview, or presentation to a client or leadership. Some of the team is excited, others are frustrated, and a few are downright nervous.
You need a team on the same page of strategy and execution. Plus, you need a clear message delivered with personality and conviction.
But so often you get something else.
Strategy is elusive. People have different ideas on approach. Prep time is limited. Key members are unavailable. Everyone works in different ways.
As you near the big moment, strategy gets lost in the shuffle, your unique approach gets replaced with the standard approach, and you realize you have too much information for your timeframe.
Why does this happen so often, and what can you do about it?
Problem #1: Your Team Has No Strategy
It’s easy to imagine that what works in one interview will work with all interviews. So you try to apply every lesson learned from the past to create one perfect approach for your firm that will always optimize your chances of success.
It’s a nice thought, but one doomed for failure, because every sales presentation comes with unique circumstances, and very often what works for one selection committee will fall flat for another. What is vitally important for one audience is irrelevant to another.
So what you need to do is devise a unique strategy for each opportunity. And the way to get there is to start the presentation preparation process by asking and answering some good, focused questions, like:
- Which firm is favored? If one of your competitors is the presumptive winner, you’re going to need to come out swinging, challenging the selection committee with the idea that they’re in danger of making a mistake, and that they need to choose the best firm that can guide them through the pitfalls of their project. If your firm is favored, you’re going to need to show you’re not resting on any laurels or being presumptuous, but that you’ve thought the project through and have a high quality solution, regardless of any pre-existing relationship. And if there are no clearly favored firms, you’re going to want to simply focus on distinguishing yourself from the others.
- How formal is this experience going to be? Some selection committees are under a magnifying glass and need to conduct interviews without any appearance of bias, and so are very rigorous around timing and rules. Others run under their own auspices and encourage creativity and interactivity. Get clear on their expectations and preferences so can you can be sure you give them what they want.
- What communication styles do the decision-makers prefer? There are four basic personality types, each of which has preferences for how they receive information from people. Drivers prefer efficiency and pointedness, don’t want to hear about problems or details, and want to focus on results. Expressives need to know that you are passionate and emotionally invested. They want you to connect to them. Amiables want to know that you understand and can take care of their problems. Analyticals want to hear a logical argument for solving their problems, and appreciate detail.
Problem #2: Your Team Has the Wrong Mindset
Too often your team is focused on looking good. That’s a self-focus, and it reverses the flow of productive, creative thinking. Self-focus is protective, and protective thinking leads to defensiveness and holding back.
Instead, get everyone on your team in a helping mindset. Don’t have them present to impress. Don’t have them present to win. Instead, they can impress and win by throwing everything they’ve got into helping. If the presentation helps the selection committee move forward in any way, your team will win with them. In the process, presentation prep will feel good for your team, maybe even fun, and it will align their thinking with the daily service mindset that you want them to have with your clients every day.
Don’t present to get. Present to give. Give solutions to help your prospect get closer to their goals.
Problem #3: Your Team Keeps Discussing to Avoiding Practicing
Nothing is more uncomfortable than a practice run in front of your peers. That’s why most of your team’s prep time will be burned up talking through details. In many presentation preps, little to no rehearsal happens on the rehearsal day because your people just keep talking their way out of it.
Instead, try this approach:
Right from the first day of prep, make each person stand up and present whatever they’re thinking to the team, so every bit of discussion comes in presentation form.
If you’re the leader, don’t ask, “How are you going to cover your talking points?” Instead, say “Show me.”
When someone shares an idea for a talking point, say, “Good idea. Stand up and let me hear it.”
By taking a stab at presenting your message throughout the exploration, you will be rehearsing all the while, fitting the ideas into words and timeframes, while creating a muscle memory of presenting them.
Problem #4: There’s Too Much Content
I can’t think of a time in the last fifteen years when people didn’t have more to say than they had time for. Presentations are different from encyclopedias: They’re more top-level. But most teams tend to present as many details as possible, and then try to create a single clear point out of them.
Your team will come up with everything imaginable, then they won’t have time to cover it. And details don’t speak well to most of the top-dog decision-maker personality types.
Let’s reverse the process. Define your point first and then hang details off of it. A point is a complete story, going from Problem to Outcome by way of your Solution. Find the simple story. Example:
– Problem: Budget is running out and we can’t seek additional financing.
– Goal: We need to achieve a great end-result with the money we have left.
– Solution/Recommendation: Let’s prioritize the possibilities, so that we hit the most important features and drop the least important.
If every movement of the presentation lays out a simple story before you get into the details, you can make your point and then share as much detail as time allows. So if you run out of time before you get through everything you were planning on saying, you’ve already made your point.
Problem #5: Your Team Reverts to Your Default Approach Under Pressure
Pressure builds as you near a big presentation, so expect your team to fall apart toward the end. They will want to throw your strategy and approach out the window and revert to whatever they do as a default. They might turn on each other and start picking other team-members apart. They may start questioning everything.
They are afraid. And fear unchecked is a major downfall to group presenting.
To remedy this, write down the strategy and approach as soon as they are defined at the beginning of the process. Mention them in emails, write them on the white board, and start each meeting with a verbal review. “Team, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of our strategy, and how we’re going to approach this presentation.”
The number one reason people bail from a plan is that they wait too long to practice it, so after they over-discuss their details, they discover they don’t have the time to reconcile what they want to say, and the approach the team selected days or weeks before.
There are no guarantees of success in any competitive sales process. But there are steps you can take to increase your chances of winning, and they all come in the preparation process. If you follow these guidelines to have your team prep effectively, you will make the most of every opportunity.
What are your thoughts about this? We’d love to hear your questions about the tips we’ve provided here, and get your thoughts about additional hazards that your team bumps into as it prepares for its most important presentations.
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