Friday, July 16, 2004

The Techie Salesman

The Techie Salesman

After spending the last couple days burying my head deep in work, I finally have a chance to come up for a bit of air. I'm happy that my presentation went down well with the customer, but I still have a week of tough work ahead writing up my report.

I've written in a previous posting that a presentation is like a music video. People get bored very easily if they stare at a slide filled with words for more than 5 minutes. So I tend use lots of diagrams in my presentations, using animation to help me build my points. One must however not try to overdo the fancy stuff do, especially if it is a technical presentation. There are way too many cheap IT salesmen presenting "marketecture" diagrams (and they tend to all look the same, with a few vertical blocks sitting on top of a horizontal one).

On of the mistakes that technical folks do make when they are presenting to high-level management is that they tend to overload their presentation slides with too many details. They take great pains to point out the caveats and exceptions. Those things only water down your message. They belong to the appendix of your proposal. Always put yourself in your customer's shoes--what concerns them most? They have a problem--you provide the solution. The products you are trying to sell is purely incidental.

When you want to sell, you must always be aware of the key messages that you want to convey; and concentrate on delivering those key messages well. People go away from a presentation remembering only a few key points. There must be a climax in a presentation where the key messages are delivered. The beginning slides are for you to build your case and to heighten the interest of the audience (priming them for the kill) so that your messages come at the point of maximum impact.

One must also be careful not to be overtly flashy and polished. No one believes a slick salesman. The customer has to be won over by your sincerity and your desire to help him solve his problem. Pick your battles well: if you have 3 products to sell, don't try to force everything down their throats at once. Win their confidence over by telling them that they don't need product 1 and 2 (because they are untested and maybe the competitor has better products); what they need is product 3 because it is perfect for their environment (actually that's the expensive one which you want the customer to buy).

You must of course do your homework--understand the customer's environment well. You must know their environment equally well, if not better than an employee working in the company. You must show empathy for the customer's plight. Give specific examples. Find out what are the important buttons to push.

Never underestimate the customer's knowledge and intelligence. The customer is bombarded by so many vendors coming to preach them on the new world of computing, the convergence of entertainment, telecommunications and IT. People get terribly sick listening to those same things over and over again. Differentiate yourself by showing a willingness to empathise, rather than to preach.

You are there to help them and to handhold them and to make them do their job better so that they look good to their bosses. That's all the customer cares about. The rest is conversation.

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