In Sales Pitches, Stories Equate to a “Test Drive”

When I went to buy a car a couple of years back, I walked into Honda Carland of Roswell and was greeted by a salesman. After chatting briefly, he went into a back room and returned with a set of keys to the silver Accord that had caught my eye.

“Give it a spin,” he told me. “Let me know what you think.”

The car felt great and I bought it, largely based on the test drive.

The problem with most businesses, however, is that you can’t let your client take what you sell for much of a “test drive.”  If you’re in the construction business, the client can’t walk through the building you’re going to build for them.  If you’re an attorney, the client can’t feel what it’s like to have you as their lawyer before you bring the lawsuit on their behalf.  If you sell software, the client can’t really even try out the software to any large extent because most complex software is coupled with a critical consultative element.

That’s why stories are so important in sales presentations. Stories about your successes are often the closest you can come to giving your client a “test drive.”   Tell your client a story about how you built a similar building for another client.  Or tell about how you won a similar lawsuit. Or tell about how your software saved lots of money for another client.

The best sales presentations have stories because it helps the client feel what it’s like to have you on the team. It’s like taking your business out for a test drive.

When watching the following Honda ad, think about the idea that great sellers use stories to give you the experience of what it’s like to work with them. 


Can You Do the “One Sentence Answer Drill?”

When we prepare sales people to handle questions, we always do the “One Sentence Answer Drill.”  

Write down all the questions you expect to receive during a presentation.  You have one sentence to answer each question.  Practice answering out loud.

This is not to suggest that all answers should be only one sentence. But it does help you learn the discipline of giving tight answers. Tight answers inspire confidence. A tight answer says, “I’m on it.”

Most people stumble in Q&A by talking too much. Give a single sentence answer, a little explanation and then stop.

Try it. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to learn how to keep your answers tight.


Does Being a Gentleman Have Business Value?

In the cut-throat business world, does it help to be a gentleman? And what does it mean to be a “gentleman” in the 21st century? Those are questions raised by a recent article in The Times of London.  The author writes: 

Trevor Pickett, the owner of the eponymous luxury leather goods brand Pickett, aims to do business “the right way”, but fears that he’s in a minority. “The idea of being a gentleman in business is definitely dying out,” he says. “But when your back’s against the wall in any industry you fall back on the relationships that you have built with people. You can’t do that if you’ve just screwed them on price, for example. That’s just not the way we do things.”

The article concludes with the following list of what it takes to be a modern day “gentleman.”

1. Some things don’t change: say please and thank you and ask questions about other people rather than talk about yourself.
2. Be punctual. Tardiness does not make you look important, it turns you into an arrogant incompetent who thinks that his time is more important than other people’s.
3. The modern gentleman cares about the planet. Be environmentally aware (but not obnoxious about it).
4. Open doors for people and stand up when they enter a room, but do this for men as well as women. The modern gentleman doesn’t treat women like porcelain.
5. Be modest. Bragging is distinctly ungentlemanly.
6. Be a good father. Nothing is less charming than a man who leaves childcare to women.
7. Be honest about wherever you have come from in life. Pretension is spineless.
8. Flirt – with everyone. Good flirting is a form of politeness. Pay compliments and put your companion at ease.
9. Do not phone/text/check your BlackBerry incessantly.
10. Dress tidily. Whatever style you are going for, scruffiness just isn’t in.

How to Give a Great Commencement Speech

With graduation season upon us, I’d like to invite you to imagine the following.  You get a call from your college president. “Hello [insert your first name]” she says. “You’ve achieved a lot in your life. We think you’d do a great job speaking to our graduates at their commencement.”

“What should I talk about?” you ask.

“Whatever you’d like,” she responds. “It would be nice if you could keep it to no more than 15 minutes.”

You agree and then hang up.

Then what? Most likely you panic.  Few things are more difficult than delivering a commencement speech.  Graduates expect these speeches to be inspirational. They want a peak experience to mark their graduation. But, unless your name is Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, or Zig Ziglar, chances are that you don’t really see yourself as an inspirational speaker. 

In fact, I’ve had several successful business people come to me anxious about how they are going to inspire graduates. Here’s what I tell them: “Forget about trying to inspire.  Instead, use your own story to tell them something that they will find helpful in achieving their goals.”

I worked recently with a very successful businessman who had been asked to speak to the MBA graduates of his business school. “I’m too young,” he told me. “I don’t really have any advice to give people. Plus it all seems a little pretentious. I really have no idea what to say that won’t come off as completely trite.”

But I asked him what these graduates were interested in. “As MBAs, most want to run a business or at least be very successful in a business.”  

I then asked him to name three things he thought were important to reaching those goals.  His answer? “Gaining the proper background and experience. Mastering the culture of your company. Passion for the work.”

I then urged him to tell some personal stories illustrating those points.  He told his own stories and those of people he knew. He then practiced like crazy, rehearsing more than a dozen times.  He did great and received lots of compliments. It was a huge success.

He succeeded by avoiding the tendency to rely on inspirational clichés. Instead, he simply thought about what the audience was interested in achieving and used his own experience to help them get there. And he delivered the message with passion.

You Tube has hundreds of commencement speeches. Most of them are terrible. The best I’ve found is still the one delivered by Steve Jobs to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005.  He made a few points and told his own story.



Five Ways to Beat Stage Fright

1. Rehearse. Practice your presentation so many times that you could do well if a bomb went off.  I practiced the speech for my son’s Bar Mitzvah 35 times. I was nervous but I did fine.

2. Remember that it’s not about you. It’s about helping your audience. Most presenters are worried about what the audience thinks about them. But presenting is not about you. It’s about how you can help the people you’re speaking to with your ideas.  Whenever I’m really nervous I say to myself “Today, I’m going to do everything I can to help these people.” It helps me. 

3. Walk around the block. Flush out the adrenaline with exercise. Billy Crystal does push ups. 

4. Work the room.  Introduce yourself to as many people as possible and make small talk. “Where are you from?” “How long have you been with your company?” Say anything that will break down the barriers between yourself and the audience.

5. Practice some more.  Don’t even talk to me about your stage fright until you’ve gotten in the habit of practicing extensively.  Can you deliver the presentation with the television on?  If you can nail the presentation with the distraction of The Larry King Show, then you’ll nail it with the distraction of your nerves.

Can Your Sales Pitch Top the Cutco Knife Pitch?

One of our neighbors’ kids is spending the summer after her freshman year at the University of Georgia selling Cutco knives door-to-door.  We heard her pitch tonight and she did a nice job. The knives are impressive. We bought several.

But it struck me that most sales presentations in business are no more sophisticated than my neighbor’s Cutco pitch.  She brought out the knives, talked about them, and did a little demonstration. My kids and I particularly liked the one where we try to cut through a piece of rope.

When it was all done, she took out an order form and asked if we wanted any knives. 

Of course that’s fine for a door-to-door knife pitch.  But many sales presentations, for far more sophisticated products and services, do the exact same thing. They show you all their stuff and then ask “Do you think you’ll need any of this stuff?” 

Great sales pitches don’t start by talking about the stuff that you have to offer. The best sales presentations start by showing that you understand your prospect’s business problem. Then you present a solution to that problem.  Great sales pitches focus on nothing other than proposing a specific solution to the prospect’s specific business problem.

For example, start by detailing how you understand that your customer is losing lots of money in shipping costs. Then propose a solution to help them save that money.  The body of your presentation should then be a demonstration of how your software will save your customer lots of money.  Do that well and your audience will hang on every word.

By the way, we bought the small chef’s knife, the kitchen shears, the vegetable peeler, and the bread knife.  The total cost was $344.  They aren’t cheap. But they come with a lifetime guarantee and never need sharpening.