7 factors for perfecting your presentation skills

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If you ever thought that carrying out presentations was daunting, gave you butterflies in the stomach or that you just couldn’t get that response from the crowd – you are not alone. You are like approximately 80% of the working force.  An estimated of only 10% truly love it and likewise, an estimated 10% have Glossophobia – or fear of public speaking.

Although the chance that you become a charming and orator like J.F. Kennedy or inspiring one like Churchill are close to nill (not to break illusions here), there techniques to at least counter many typical challenges.  A recent training I had the chance of jumping onto,”Presentations Skills” given by John May, structured these techniques nicely into 7 factors for perfecting your presentation skills.

mark twain quote on public speaking

The Message:  The first place to start is the message you will deliver itself.  Make sure you follow these 5 golden rules for an effective presentation when presenting: Attention 20/20, Interest, Conviction, Desire, and Conclusion

Confidence & Enthusiasm:  Confidence exhibits that you know and are comfortable with your subject.  People will trust more if you ‘seem’ like you believe in what you say.  Notice that seem is a key word – you can have butterflies waiting to pop from your stomach, yet still fake the illusion of confidence.  Appearances are important here.  Enthusiasm, likewise with believing, being enthusiastic or communicating the emotion will liven up your speech and communicate a positive feeling about what you are talking about.

exhibit confidence when presenting

Voice:  People only remember 7% of the message itself but 38% of your tone of voice.  The tone of voice and speed at which you speak are important in:  Conveying emotion, Highlighting what is important, and allowing people the time listen, process what is said, and let the important elements sink in.  Allow for enthusiasm and for pauses between sentences.

Gestures:  Crossing your arms, hands in pockets or hands moving every second will be distracting.   Envision that you are stable on your feet and hands visible in front of you with palms slightly facing your audience.  As with tone of voice, use your hands to express visually the important elements.  In this fashion you will combine, message, audio, and visual in expressing the important elements of your message.use hand gestures to express visually your message

Body: Being rigidly stiff or flailing about will both be counter-productive.  As tone of voice impact is greater than the message itself, it is estimated that body language accounts for 55% of the importance of your message.  Be stable on your feet, seem confident, stand upright (not like a stick though), and move naturally with your message.  Also, not to forget facing different parts of the crowd so that they feel included as your audience.

 

how much to do people remember from your message

 

Eye contact:  Eye-contact is critical in connecting with you audience and making an effort to try and cover the entire room and not just one area.  From research done on the power of eye-contact:  The research of Dr. Porges and Dr. Bensing reinforces another major tenet of Speaking Circles practice, which is that extended soft-focused eye contact is one of the quickest and most powerful ways for a speaker to build rapport and trust with an audience. (Source)

If you are in a room, just make sure to swipe left to right and connect with some in a soft-focused eye contact (in contrast to just blatantly staring at them).  If in a large audience room, split the audience into 4 regions and sweep your gaze at each quadrant throughout your presentation.

Practice & Practice:  This is probably the most important factor to reduce the anxiety.  Practice till you know your subject by heart.  This will increase your confidence, your appearance as confident, and most importantly if your slides or notes get lost – you wont be standing there speechless and succumb to the worst nightmare everyone always envisions!

importance of eye contact

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A value proposition that changed the world

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poster of diamonds are forever

Writing value propositions is the bread and butter of any sales person.  It is one of the quintessential tasks that you have to carry out, in any form of selling, be it consultative or simple.

And you have 2 ways to do this: either package something you already have OR build it out of nothing! The latter is what I want discuss – a value proposition that changed the world.

I am always on the lookout for ways to improve the way I can show value.  Be it through better presentation skills, public speaking, or storytelling.  With that in my mind, there’s always been one value proposition – simple – but that persists till today and has rocked (no pun intended) the world ever since.

 

A Diamond Lasts Forever!

 

A topic already written about and probably part of the marketing toolbox every student probably has read.  Yet one that deserves to be discussed as I find it terribly inspirational.

Setting the Scene

Prior to WW2 diamonds were said to account for only for about 10% of engagement rings.  They were seen as something only the rich could really afford.

Why spend a fortune on a single rock, that ultimately didn’t bring much ‘value’ to your life.  At times when you have other more pressing needs, like a house, car, vacation – sprinting 2 months wages for one small rock would seem ludicrous.

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3 Lessons: How I failed my customer and they still thanked me

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increasing ROI of your IT solutionWorking in consultative selling is all about knowing your customers needs (almost better than they do), find a suitable solution that will solve a particular problem and ultimately delight them.  The first time I realized I had failed at that, wasn’t when the customer told me but curiously when I found out HOW they were using the solution. And because of that, their ROI on an IT solution was terrible!

 

I had unmistakably painted the wrong image of how & what the IT solution should be used for, but worse not identified inner conflict within the organization itself.

In my particular case, the IT solution was meant to reduce the need for IT infrastructure through virtualization of their operating systems but apart for that detail, the story and the lesson learned can be applied to virtually any complex sale or solution sale.

At the time I believed that I had done all the critical steps one should follow in consultative selling, including:

  1. Listen first, let the customer describe their issues and who they are;
  2. Present the value of myself, the company I represented, and the portfolio of all our corporate solutions;
  3. Investigate, brainstorm the root of the problems, and what they wanted to achieve;
  4. Solution building, draft proposals, and fine-tuning;
  5. Engage with decision makers and identify key influencers;
  6. Destory – I mean – out-beat, my competitors offering through value proposition & a story-line;
  7. Close the deal with a charming smile!

…… or so I thought.

I had engaged with the IT manager of the firm, but knowing he was a key influencer, I needed to get in front of the decision maker. I therefore made a move to get in front of the CIO, who was newly appointed. Perfect timing!

The CIO, with wishes to make his mark, wanted to change the way things were done – and virtualization was one of the many ideas.  His goal was to change the firm’s decaying IT infrastructure and lack of visibility of Total Cost of Ownership on their hardware.  Great I thought – right up my ally!

To cut the long story short, I was successful in getting selected as their IaaS provider (Infrastructure as a Service).  But to get things moving faster, the IT manager discretely mentioned that we should first get some testing servers up and running, so he could “get internal processes fine-tuned”.

I was clear in informing him that they weren’t as performant (lower SLA, lower speeds, and no backup of the data) and although cheaper than the standard enterprise version, would turn-out more expensive in the long-run since you would need more of them.   All was good, his actual words:

“Lets get this baby off the ground and then we’ll fine tune”.

I was a tad-bit suspicious and not wanting for all this to blow-up in my face (typically what happens when sales over promises and or implementation under-delivers), I made sure the CIO was also aware – in writing needless to say!  My back was covered in my perspective.

6 months later, while going through a review of accounts with finance I realized that not only were they still on the test servers, but that they had fully deployed a part of their production onto it! …and paying full premium price! At this point some would say Why do you care?” or “Good for you, greater profits!” or even “Well, if they’re too dumb to figure it out!”.

I wasn’t of this opinion.  If you want to distinguish yourself from the competition and ensure customer loyalty, you have to make some concessions. Short-term loss maybe, but long-term win, in my humble opinion.

I set a meeting with the IT manager and the CIO, for account management purposes. When discussion about what they thought of the solution and how were things going, apart for a few support issues (when are there not), I got an all outstanding “Things are great! Why do you ask?”.

The solution was working as they expected, and not only that, they found their cost of ownership had gone down.  I had lived up to the expectation I had set and the customer was delighted.  What more could I ask for?

After a detailed discussions, I came to the following findings:

  1. They were comparing the IT performances vs their previous in-house solution, which had daily disruptions.  With us, this was only happening weekly  (FYI for testing servers this is ok, but ones destined for production this definitely should not be happening)
  2. A combination of factors, led them to see a brilliant increases in terms of speed, responsiveness, and flexibility setting the belief the system was upto to its standard (vs the old again).  Yet they were only getting approx. 60% of what they should have been.
  3. In terms of cost, their total bill turned out at over $4000 a month ($48,000 a year).  Under a standard yearly contract, this could have gone down to $2750 ($33,000 a year). In other words more than 30% premium!
  4. For them, a combination of internal financial analysis and misdirect, led them to believe that in reverse, they were in fact saving 20% per year!

But how could the solution be under-performing, be more expensive, and that on-top of that I had been explicit about it – were they still delighted?

After some more digging, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. Despite me informing them that the solution would under-perform and be more expensive in the long-run, they thought I was dishing the normal run-of-the-mill “Sales Speech”.  They perceived that the system was working better than the previous one and they were saving money.  Happy days!
  2. The IT manager had in-fact been overstating the internal costs.  In order to work free of the hassles of haggling with finance and keep a larger IT team, he had obfuscated the maintenance costs of the existing system.   Once costs were allocated to their correct budget line, it was apparent they had experienced no savings whatsoever.
  3. Finally, my sales speech had always discussed increased performances, better flexibility, and savings.  All of which were apparently happening, to a degree, – oh that, and that I was perceived as Sales Guy, so they would take everything I said with a pinch of salt.

My conclusion from all this? 3 valuable lessons….

  1. There always inner conflicts and agendas that simmer below the surface.  In my case, it was beneficial to my sale and my over solution delivery.  It can likewise just as go in the other direction. Uncovering it will ensure you position the solution in the right light.
  2. There’s always a degree of mistrust between buyers and sellers in complex solutions scenarios.  Sure buyers rely on your ‘free expertise’ to help them design the solution, but in the end, deep down, they still are wary of the typical sales-slingers pushing more than a customer needs. Let a customer discover the mistakes of some of their decisions so they can later see the value of your proposition.
  3. The Most Important! For point 2 above to work and not backfire, you must regularly follow-up with customers.  Either spontaneously or via an account management process, to ensure that the customer is getting the most of their solution.  In other words, that they are achieving significant ROI on an IT solution.  If not, this leaves a wide open door for any competitor.  Competitors will use that gap as an opportunity to displace you and point to all the ‘problems’ of your solution.  Wouldn’t you do the same? Providing some ‘free’ post-deployment reviews can lead to a long way in terms of revenue generation and customer loyalty.
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Life in the day of Channel Sales

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channel sales

 

Ever wondered what channel or indirect sales was all about?  Not always the easiest thing to explain to folks.  So here is a quick life in the day of channel sales, recapping a typical day.  This is not exhaustive but its a starting point.

First of all, a definition of channel sales:

A method of distribution used by a business to sell its products, usually by dividing its sales force into groups that focus on different selling conduits. For example, a company might implement a channel sales strategy to sell its product via an in house sales force, dealers, retailers or by direct marketing.

This diary log is one from a channel sales position in a large IT solutions corporation with a global reach.  Working in IT solutions involves complex or consultative sales techniques.

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Consultative Selling Factors 1/5: Customer Speaks First

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Dilbert on customersAs discussed in 5 Factors to Consider in Consultative Selling, I will dive into each factor in separate dedicated posts, to allow the opportunity of presenting the rationale for each… and also admittingly in good part due to the fact that the original post was becoming way too long for any sane person to bother reading till the end.

Lets hope the splitting of the content will incite greater interest!

  1. Customer Speaks First!

  2. Present the BIG picture….NOT products!
  3. Uniqueness
  4. Promotions
  5. Likeable

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Factors to Consider in Consultative or Solution Selling

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Solution Selling picture with trees

For anyone in solution selling aka consultative selling – the picture above speaks for itself. (click on it to see in higher resolution).

I find that it evidently highlights the difficulties of selling complex solutions, typically IT-related ones, and how each key actor in the sales and pre-sales process ‘interprets’ needs differently.  The comical part being the difference between “how the customer explained it” and “what the customer really needed“!!  This is the crux of consultative selling.

Consultative or solution selling is a major point of discussion for many corporations, especially in the IT-related sector.  Having worked in a few of them, the shift from classic or relationship-selling to consultative-selling is a ubiquitous problem, existant in all industries, including telecommunications and travel.

Managers invest heavily in training programs to coach their sales forces to shift their habits, but old habits die hard.  A possible shift can really only occur if a few variables are put into place, notably:

  • State-of-mind, because understanding there is a need to change is the first of many steps – some say its half the battle!
  • Practice, Practice, Practice! Sales is a collage of human understanding, psychology, sociology, and possibly a sprinkle of street-smarts
  • …and a sincere desire to win;

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Travel Arrangers & IT Solutions: A Key for Success

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powerpoint slide for Self booking tools

With the advent of the computer, we replaced the type-writer; with the advent of  the mobile phone, fixed phones are becoming a rarity.  Each technological solution addressed a particular pain-point or need, allowed for the development of new services and revenues, and required an up-skilling of the labor force.

 

So what about Travel Arrangers and Business Travel Management?

Business Travel Management

There is much literature and research conducted on this subject, seen that it is one of the highest controllable costs that a corporation will bear (see previous article).  One memorable one was conducted on 600 corporations in Western Europe, detailing the % of these and the types of services they sought from their Business Travel Agency or Travel Management Companies (TMC).  Ranging from Policy Definition, Supplier Selection Assistance, Expense Reporting, Repatriation, etc… the one that hits you smacks you in the face was “Online Booking Tool”, with an clear 20-30 point win ahead of all others.  Totaling a whooping 56% of all corporations in 2013 having purchased one, this one also saw the largest increase in 1 year – another 10 points, totaling 66% of all corporations in 2014.  This number is expected to have another clear rise for 2015 (although now tangled with an Expense Management System or EMS, is the burgeoning trend).

Advantages for Travel Arrangers & Managers

Naturally for Travel Arrangers or Managers savings is great, but the $$$ don’t necessarily get into their personal pockets.  And although Travel Arrangers or Managers might not be the ultimate decision makers, they certainly have a heck of influential weight when it comes to deciding on solutions that will waltz through their front door.  So what’s in it for them?

More research on 1000 interviewed travel managers, asked why did they chose an Online or Self Booking Tool (OBT or SBT).  Reasons such as Single WindowMultiple SearchesAutomated ReportingIntegrated Approval Flow, and about 5 other reasons were cited.   In essence, all the reasons could be categorised into 2 parts: Automation & Simplicity.

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Relationship Vs. Consultative Selling

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picture stonemen fire

Working in channel sales or indirect sales, I have the chance spending a lot of time with various sales teams.  A good part of the time is spent coaching and training the sales teams on sales techniques, but also listening & sharing of ideas on what methods for given situation works best.

It is an interesting journey! Observing sales forces transition on products, sales methodologies, or even personal sales styles. One particular transition that I have remarked and find noteworthy, is the shift from the steroetypical classic or ‘relationship selling’ to complex, solution or ‘consultative selling’.

Relationship Selling – The Classics!

Selling is one of the oldest ‘jobs’ – not the oldest job in the world of course, urban legend reserving this to another ‘sales & leisure’ category.
The first recorded sales transactions can be traced back to approximately 200 B.C with the introduction  of coin / currency, at a time when the Roman Empire started its expansion outside of its natural Italian birth-place.  And this selling method has pervaded through time and still constitutes the majority of selling activity today.

This sort of selling is simple.  Well relatively, but more importantly: the Products are Simpler!  They carry out a particular function (e.g. knife) or fulfil a basic human need (e.g. food).    No necessary need to customize anything – life as the sales person or even as the buying customer, is relatively straight forward. I need, I have, I buy, I sell!

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