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Speaking Their Language
Want to come off as relatable to potential stakeholders and earn their trust? Start by speaking their language.
Everyone has their own set of go-to phrases, terms, and acronyms. The key is to listen, and I mean really listen. Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference, had something so simple yet so impactful to say regarding this: “listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.” Put aside your desire to keep talking up your amazing product every second. Sales conversations are not about you and your product. It is about them, the potential stakeholders, and their needs.
Recently, I was working with a stakeholder to help secure a solid long-term relationship with them. During my first call with them, I took note of different keywords they kept saying. “Labor day sale," “UAT (user-assurance testing) environment," “SOX audit," “platform engineers," etc. At first glance, these all may seem like normal words, but they are more important than that. On the next call, I was prepared to mirror their terminology.
“We are here to help prepare you for the Labor Day sale. Our focus is on working closely with the Platform Engineers to address SOX audit requirements for the UAT environment.”
This is a much more tailored message compared to:
“We are here to help you with the upcoming sale. Our focus is working with your team on setting up a new environment that meets security requirements.”
This technique is subtle and makes a real difference. It builds a subconscious connection with any partners you are working with. They are more willing to keep the conversation going, reveal more useful information to help set up all parties for success, and they will have more confidence in you. Try it out for yourself next time you are in a meeting!
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Dealing with Disastrous Demos
Demos, demos, demos. Working with potential stakeholders means showcasing your products and proof-of-concepts. Sometimes it feels like everything revolves around the demonstration. Now what if things go south? And I mean really south.
Let’s take a step back to talk about demos and how we can avoid some common pitfalls.
De-emphasize the demo. This is a very important concept I learned from the book Mastering Technical Sales by John Care and Chris Daly. Don’t keep telling your stakeholders that all of their problems will be addressed in the upcoming demo. Imagine if you did and the demo failed horribly. They’ll feel as though the product does not solve their problems and instead is full of new issues!
Keep it simple. Keep it focused. You do not have to show everything and the kitchen sink. Hone in on what the audience is there for. Do they not care about authentication? Great! Skip it. Do they want to see more automation? Keep the conversation focused on that.
Uh oh. The demo’s on fire (and not in a good way). This is fine. No, really, it is. Stay calm and listen up.
Don’t focus on the demo failures. Push the presentation forward. It is common to draw even more attention to an issue by pointing it out and talking about it. Acknowledge that there was an issue, shut up about it, and then move on. If you force yourself to forget it happened so will your audience.
Team work makes the dream work. Coordinate with your team to set up hand signals or a back-end group chat. That way, you can alert your team when you feel that you need help. Then they can swoop in to help save the day.
Have a backup plan prepared. Live demo didn’t work? Go figure! It is Murphy’s Law in full effect. Good thing you came prepared with a pre-recorded demo and backup slides! Have something else prepared in your back pocket that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice.
These are a few tips I use on a daily basis. Hopefully this’ll help prepare you for those demos that almost end up in a worst case scenario! Preparation is everything.
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S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that will help you make the best pitch possible when talking to stakeholders (potetional or existing). Here’s what it stands for:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
SPECIFIC. Set focused goals for the presentation. Address why you are there and what value you are trying to add. Communicate to your audience what those goals are at both the beginning and the end of the presentation.
MEASURABLE. How do you know if the goal has been met? Clearly define something such as “after X amount of time, Y should be delivered and lead to Z amount of cost savings.”
ATTAINABLE. Avoid impossible tasks and be reasonable in what can be done while considering constraints such as budget, time, and other resources. The objective is ultimately to deliver a good and realistic solution. Over-promising often leads to under-delivering.
RELEVANT. Every goal needs to be relevant to the stakeholder and their market. Do your research before the presentation to understand the competition (both the stakeholder’s and your own) and where your product fits in.
TIME-BASED. To quote Anthony Robbins, “if you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.” Make it real and schedule it! Use your best judgement and experience to figure out a projected timeline. A good tip is to take your instinctual best guest and then multiply by 2 to 3. There will always be unforeseen slowdowns and complications. Plus, if all goes smoothly, under-promising and over-delivering will delight your stakeholder.
If you address each of these often overlooked topics, then you are sure to have a stellar foundation for your presentation!
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Top 5 Words to Avoid During a Sales Pitch
Many words have the power to trigger specific emotional responses. During a sales pitch to a client, this is incredibly important to keep top-of-mind. Based on both experience and research, here are my top five words to avoid, along with their related synonyms and alternative phrases.
Buyer (or customer)
- These words indicate that you’re only interested in making money and that you don’t care about them as an individual.
- Alternative: “potential stakeholder” for a new customer or “stakeholder” for an existing customer.
Competitor (or rival)
- These are phrases you use around co-workers, not stakeholders. These words signal to your potential stakeholders that the conversation is not about you and them, but rather that it’s about wanting to beat out others in the market.
- Alternative: “alternative solutions.”
Maybe (hopefully, probably, or sort of)
- These words do not spark confidence. Give firm answers whenever possible to build an image of certainty and reliability.
- Alternative: “yes,” “no,” or “definitely.”
Contract (deal or opportunity)
- This takes them out of the experience and, again, makes them feel like you selfishly want to hit your sales quota.
- Alternative: “partnership” or “relationship.”
Problem (objection, issue, or pain)
- The words that should be avoided typically invoke negative thoughts. You want to keep the tone positive. On the contrary, a “challenge” indicates that there is something that can be overcome (with the help of your products and/or services).
- Alternative: “challenge.”
Next time you’re practicing your sales pitch, have someone listen to you or record yourself and watch it back. Ask for feedback on the words you are saying and tweak them if necessary. If you remember these tips, they will help you with your next potential stakeholder call. Becoming an excellent salesperson is a never-ending journey of learning and discovery with opportunities for growth at every step.