Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

OVER THE LAST couple of weeks, I have been bemoaning the fact that it is proving difficult to find experienced, competent salespeople who do not have to be trained from scratch. One solution to this problem is to look for technical people from within the organizations and transfer them to sales. As it happens, I have one such chap who has the academic qualifications and technical background to make him a good candidate. The trouble is, he really doesn’t know how to sell!

All in good time! I will make sure he gets the very best sales training available when I can sit him together with other new hires and neophyte salespeople to make it worthwhile running a sales training program. In the meantime, I need to get him up to speed on product knowledge and give him the tools to stand in front of a client and deliver an effective presentation.

Let me explain; we have recently launched a new product in the Philippines market. This comprises of steel fibers mixed homogeneously with concrete negating the need for expensive and hard to lay rebar in industrial flooring. It has some very significant advantages over more traditional flooring methods; it will certainly save clients significant sums of money, allow for easier installation, faster curing time and a floor which will better withstand the stresses placed on it by the passage of equipment, containers and other very heavy objects.

Local engineers can be very slow to adopt to change often preferring to stick with tried and trusted methods rather than using products that are innovative but perhaps not fully understood. To change to something new will always involve risk. “What if it doesn’t work?” “How will we manage if local contractors don’t have previous experience with this material?” And consider for a moment that even if the materials is a big cost saver, this is of little interest to the consultant engineers or the contractors!

So back to my newly transferred salesperson. I asked him to take his technical knowledge of the material (which is extensive) and to prepare and deliver a sales presentation for me to observe. I could then give him feedback on his presentation style and the appropriateness of the content. After a week, he forwarded his draft PowerPoint presentation which I went through in detail. It was okay I guess but certainly would have done little to persuade me to switch to the new technology. So I asked him to come to my office where we could sit and discuss content and delivery.

My first question was a simple one. “Who is the presentation for?” Hardly surprising he said it was for me to listen to the following Friday! This was not what I meant. Looking at what he had prepared, it was clear that he had given no consideration as to whether the presentation would be delivered to technical people or laymen. Content was too technical for non-engineering people but still rather lacking in technical details for those who design concrete flooring.

My second question asked for the purpose of the presentation. What did he hope to achieve by the end of the presentation (assuming it would be delivered in front of a real audience)? Was he seeking to persuade or inform? Again, he seemed unclear about answers to these questions.

I will discuss in next week’s article some of the mistakes he made in the delivery of the presentation. Let me say however, that the lessons to be learned from this exercise is that if you are preparing a presentations, it is essential you give some thought to the nature of your audience. In this way, you will design and prepare a presentation that is neither too complex nor too simple for the people you will deliver it to. It will also give you a chance to think about what sort of questions will arise from the presentation and how you might best prepare to answer them.

In respect of the second question, preparing a presentation must always be done knowing whether the purpose is to inform or to persuade. Purely informative presentations must be concise (otherwise they become very boring) and they must always and only deliver relevant and useful information. Over the years I have sat through far too many technical presentations that have imparted information about product history, bio-sketches of the designers, and technical information which has no relevance in the context for which the product is to be used!

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.