Anyone that wants to learn how to create and deliver sales presentations should take a little time to study Billy Mays, the famed television pitchman who died over the weekend.
Of course, most people in business would never attempt to pitch with Mays’s revved up, over-the-top style. Â And I would never suggest such a thing.
But there are a several of things we can learn from Billy Mays.
First, energy sells.
Mays is best known for his hyped up style of almost yelling into the camera as he sold everything from OxyClean, to Mighty Putty, to Flies Away. Of course, business people should not present like a television huckster. Â But they do need to speak with more energy. Too many people in business speak with all the energy of a houseplant.
Second, always start your pitch by focusing on the customer’s problem.
In his pitch for the “tool bandit”, Mays starts by saying “Tired of fumbling with your tools or wasting time trying to find them?” Â Use the same approach in your sales pitch. Â Start by focusing your sales pitch on the business problem that your prospect sees. If you’re pitching for the chance to build an office building, start by focusing on what your client sees as the biggest problem with the project. Â If the key issue is cost, then start by focusing on how you understand that your prospect is concerned about getting the project done within budget.
Third, build a relationship.
One of the reasons that Mays was successful was that he was on television constantly. People felt like they knew him. That familiarity led to trust. Sure he was goofy. But people liked him. Â Good sellers understand that a good sales pitch doesn’t stand on its own. They understand that to you greatly increase your chances of winning a sales presentation by developing a relationship with the prospect prior to the pitch. Â For that reason, good sellers are constantly seeking chances to meet with and listen to the prospect prior to the pitch. Those pre-pitch encounters help Â build a relationship that often pays off with a sale.
Billy Mays was a great seller of consumer products. But we can all learn from his ability to connect with prospects and make the sale.
When I learned of Michael Jackson’s death yesterday, I recalled the time that I saw him here in Atlanta at the old Fulton County Stadium. He was at the height of his popularity before he became embroiled in a series of bizarre scandals. We sat in the upper deck of the arena and watched him on a giant screen above the stage.
With binoculars, we could see Jackson moonwalking across the stage. The show was executed perfectly. Â The lights flashed. Â The dancers twirled. But we might just as well have been watching him on television at home. It was such a carefully choreographed show that I felt no connection to him. Â It was disappointing.
In my judgment, the show was a failure. Â Live audiences want to feel a connection.
Similarly, we’ll sometimes come across speakers who are technically excellent. Â They speak with energy. They smile. They use PowerPoint perfectly. They have every hair in place. They have every word carefully scripted.
But like Michael Jackson in that concert, they fail to connect.
I call this the “rock star effect.” Â You’re so perfect that you come off as a rock star and don’t ever really connect with the audience.
So what can you do?
The most important thing is to make sure that the audience has a chance to interact with you. Â Leave plenty of time for Q&A. Ask the audience questions. Â And be sure that you’re willing to adjust your presentation to what you hear from the audience.
In a program recently, one of the participants wanted to know how to organize his thoughts for a conference call. Â I heard what he said and adjusted. Â During the rest of the workshop, I made sure that I came back to the issue of conference calls.
The goal in a presentation isn’t perfection. The goal is to build a relationship. That requires connection.
How you dress can be an incredibly important part of your personal brand.
This morning Peter Bodo, for my money the best tennis writer around, has an interesting piece trashing Roger Federer for his dandified Wimbledon attire. I’ve always thought Federer’s attire a little odd. But I’ve loved his tennis so much that I just ignored it. Â But I have to admit that this year Federer seems to have gone over the top.
Bodo writes:Â “It’s distressing that Federer, who (admirably enough) claims to love “tradition” should be party to what amounts to a grotesque parody of it. Who’s he trying to be, Big Bill Tilden – or some Don Ho cut loose on the greensward?”
It’s a lesson for all of us that are trying to connect with audiences. Â People are not only judging just what we say. They’re also paying attention to how we look.
I write this with a tinge of regret. Â You should be able to express yourself with your clothes. And I encourage you to do so.
But choose your clothes carefully. BecauseÂ when you wear a bow tie, people will think “What’s up with the bow tie?”
The New York Times today (about five years late on this one) writes about the problem of business people paying more attention to their Blackberries than the meeting.
I have a simple solution for this problem. Be better than the Blackberry.
People vote with their attention spans. If what you’re saying is interesting and relevant, meeting participants will put down their Blackberries. If what you’re saying starts out by telling them the value of paying attention, they will look up from their email. If you give them a clear agenda of points that matter to them, they won’t be texting their friends.
But if your meetingÂ is aÂ rambling data dump of irrelevant information, then your listeners will find better ways to spend their time.
The Times missed out on a major part of the story today. They failed to point out that the Blackberry isn’t what makes people not pay attention. People have been tuning out dull meetings for years.Â
Â But in the old days, people were just day-dreaming or doodling.Â
The Blackberry is a technological breakthrough that allows people to do something productive during meaningless meetings.
Will you please repeat after me: “No one cares about my resume!”
That’s my new mantra for people who are putting together presentations to win business or a job.
If you’ve made it to the short list to pitch, you’re most likely already qualified. Your resume gotÂ you to the short list. But now it’s irrelevant.
This week I worked with two clients that drove home this message for me even more.
One client was a judge seeking appointment for a position on an appellate court.Â To be sure, she had a wonderful resume and is a wonderful judge.Â But the three or four people she will be competing against on the short list will also have great resumes.Â
Her job in the interview is to articulate her vision for the position. To win, she now needs to articulate a persuasiveÂ vision of the kind of judicial leadership she plans to bring to the job.
I also worked this week with a real estate firm that was pitching for the chance to represent the owner of a building in the marketing and sale of the building. Once again, the team had made a short list of four highly qualified real estate companies.Â The less qualified firms had not made the cut.Â So the resume no longer mattered.Â All that mattered was their plan for selling this particular building.Â They had to go into the meeting prepared to show howÂ they would be able to sell the building for as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
In a pitch, nobody cares about your resume. What they do care about, however, is how you’re going to help them achieve their goals.
Check out this greatÂ essay on the problem with bores by Mark Edmundson, a professor at the University of Virginia.Â Here’s an excerpt.
What is it with bores? I mean the sort of people who always have to hold the floor. They talk constantly at you, hurling their words like spears, each one tiny enough but nearly deadly in their collective effect. Almost all bores seem to have been born with, or to have developed, an amazing capacity: they can talk and take in air at the same time, so thereâ€™s never a moment to drop in your own two cents. On they go. They take no interest in you or anything about you; at best, youâ€™re a stage prop in the one-person drama that they compose, produce, and star in. These are the people who like to proclaim that they are about to make a long story short, when what they usually do is make no story at all interminable. Theyâ€™re the people who clear their throats, look you in the eye, and, with great finality, say, â€œMy point is . . . ,â€ then proceed to ramble on with no point whatever in sight. Theyâ€™re the people whose idea of human interaction seems to be turning up the volume on the monologue thatâ€™s always going on in their heads.