There I was sitting at the table at corporate headquarters. There were about 20 people in the room. One was the CIO of a large company and many others were his direct VPs. There were other representatives from different teams at my company who have vested interests doing business with the account. And our chairman of the board just welcomed everyone. I had the pleasure of introducing myself right after the CIO who just said he wanted to know how to piece new apps into their business to meet evolving challenges while considering their portfolio of mission critical systems.
My job, of course, is to tell him that I’m the person to explain much of that then stand up and do it. Ordinarily, that seems to be a perfect chance for a stress attack. However, I had a few critical things going for me which really let me enjoy the experience. Let’s have a look at those because high powered meetings don’t need to be high risk or high stress situations.
First, I’ve done work with the account before. I’d just been in a meeting with two of the CIO’s direct reports the previous week. We were prepped, discussed the merits of different solutions, and I had someone from their side in this meeting who could help me explain things when needed. I also got to know the CIO a little at dinner the night before.
Second, I had quality help from our side. There were other people in the room to help discuss the topics. One of them was responsible for the professional services work we’re doing on some of the customer’s critical systems. He knew the environment and the CIO plus has done similar discussions with other companies who are using our solutions.
Third, while we were talking about market trends and disruptive technologies, we were really having a discussion. I wasn’t making a pitch as much as leading a conversation about their needs and options. It’s not the first time I’ve done that and I had a similar discussion with another CIO in the same room last year. Even if they were from a different industry, they’re also facing disruption to their business.
The key lessons here are:
Know the audience, their business, and their concerns. Make it about them, not you.
Craft a relevant message to them and wrap it around a combination of their comfort zone, their challenges, and our offerings.
Unless you’re expected to know all the answers without input, don’t rely solely on yourself and prescribe a solution just for the sake of selling software.
Make relevant points and get feedback to ensure they hit home.
Of course, I wouldn’t have been in that situation without having strong knowledge of our products and how customers need to leverage them plus trends affecting us and our customer. I wouldn’t have been put in the situation if I didn’t. There are quite a number of philosophies to presenting which involve engaging an audience. If you’re in a room full of people with spotlights in your eyes and no time for questions the you really need to follow a strict methodology and plan everything. However, every presentation has a goal of connection. Selling, in particular, depends on it.
If you aren’t pushing a commodity at a lower price point then the buyer simply must believe you know what she needs to accomplish and that your product can help her get that done. The solution itself will not do the job. The people using it will. Until she sees herself doing the job successfully (or her people being able to) then you’re behind in the decision or they’ll just doing business as usual. It doesn’t matter how many bullet points or pictures you have in your slides if you get to the end and shout “TA DA!!!” without any engagement along the way.
The combination of all these elements got the day rolling down the right road. Together, we identified some fears and challenges. We identified some opportunities and resurrected one we’d been ruled out of. We also got enhanced sponsorship. At the end of the day, the CIO toasted our hard work and our friendship. I’m not saying that he is confident that everything will come up roses. What I am saying is that he’s confident we will listen and help him and his people understand what we can do to help.
There really is no substitute for preparation, collaboration, and relevance to your customers. It shows you understand and care which is the first step towards trust.
I've been in the software sales and service industry since 1994. I am an avid biker, father of two, and have been happily married for nearly 20 years. This blog is simply to share some thoughts on what can help make you more aware of yourself and therefore more successful in your interactions.
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