Everybody Sells–Not Everybody Admits It

I’m still figuring out what my own strengths and weaknesses are.  If I look close enough, I’m reminded every day.  If I’m in work mode and just trying to get things done, I may not smell the roses (or the corpse flowers) along the way.  But I try to take an objective step back every once in a while to see how I’m doing.  After all, this is my career, and nobody else is going to care about it as much as I do.  I can’t rely on others telling me when I’m doing well or when I’m in need of a correction.

That said, I also have regular opportunities to coach new employees on things like building and delivering presentations, running meetings, and influencing others.  There are two things I find myself saying more than anything:

  • What are you selling?
  • So what?

First, let me define what I mean by “presentations.”  A presentation is any time you share a new idea, make a recommendation, or need to educate an audience or at least one.  It could be as big as a multimillion dollar software package recommendation, or as routine as a weekly status report.  It could even be a 30 second elevator speech.

Especially at the junior level, presenters seem to forget what they’re selling.

Every presentation is selling something.  No exceptions.

The two questions I always ask myself before I prepare a presentation are 1) What am I selling? and 2) What’s the purpose of this presentation?  The two are usually tied together, right?  But it’s still important to separate the two.  Let’s look at a common scenario.

Bad Status Report
What am I selling?  That even though our progress in the last period was halted, we’re still a good project team.  We have a recovery plan, we have the right people in place, and within a short period, we’ll be back on track again.  What’s the purpose of the presentation?  To get the steering committee to walk out of the room with increased confidence in our team, and to provide support for any special requests that help us get back on track.

Most people don’t see a status presentation as a chance to sell.  But whether they like it or not, they’re selling.  Everybody sells–not everybody admits it.

I say “So what?” all the time because most of the presentations I see at the junior level are focused on listing out features rather than benefits.  Even if most people in the room understand the features at a high-level, we can’t assume they can make the leap to the benefits.  Why do they care?  So what if your new strategy involves three fewer steps?  Who cares if your recommended software package needs 30% less data storage capacity?  Nobody buys into new ideas because of features.  They buy because of benefits.

When I review presentations, I write “SO WHAT???” after almost half the bullets in each list.  For example, I can imagine these points being made while unveiling a new health plan to employees:

  • Third largest health insurance company in the world
  • More doctors under the age of 40 than any other network
  • Corporate commitment to use of new technologies

And, of course, I’d ask “So what?” to all three points.  I mean, who cares if they’re the third largest health insurance company in the world?  What specific value does that bring to the me?  Does it mean a larger geography of in-network providers?  Reduced costs for routine procedures?

Who cares about young doctors–doesn’t that mean inexperience?  Or does it mean that if I chose a new doctor she’ll be with me for a much longer time?  Or that she’ll be conversant in new technology?  The last bullet intrigues me, but I’m not sure how it benefits me.  Are these new MRI technologies, or do the doctors have their own blog?  I’d rather see bullets like this:

  • Most in-network doctors and facilities in the region
  • Youngest physician base at the forefront of recent medical advances
  • Tech-forward company saves you time with on-line appointment scheduling, smart phone apps, diagnostic web conferencing and electronic billing

It’s so important A) Admit that you’re selling something; B) Plan how you’re going to sell it; and C) Focus on the benefits, not the features.  And it’s pretty easy to do.


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