Category Archives: Learning

“I’m not dumb, just a little slow”

I picked up that very useful phrase from a passive mentor* of mine years ago.  It comes out once in a while in discovery sessions and in sales meetings.

While adding a bit of self-deprecating humor to a situation, it also conveys that you’re working with your audience to understand what they’re trying to get across.  And with the mix of business process, technology, new ideas, and salesmanship floating around any business meeting, it really can take a little bit for something to sink in.

It can get your audience to rephrase, re-approach, and even re-think how they’re explaining things to you.   They can get downright considerate for you, which is the opposite of the way sales situations are often perceived- a sales team trying to pull a fast one.

So keep it in your back pocket.

*Everyone has the potential to be a mentor if you’re paying attention.  Learn from everyone- the good and the bad.
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A Sales Rep, an Industry Expert, and a Presales Engineer walk into a bar

Without a customer.

Actually, it was a business room in corporate headquarters.  They talked shop.  They shared notes on the different accounts they were working and strategies they were undertaking.  Conversation went a million different directions, digging into this, digging into that, ranging far and wide with just a little bit of gossip.

They came out of the room with fresh insights on approaches high level and low, industry trends, competition, what the solutions could and couldn’t do, and overall enhanced their collective go to market.

It took two hours.

Talk shop once in a while.

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Record It

You invest a lot of effort learning solutions, understanding the marketplace needs, and preparing for presentations.

Why not save this effort by recording it?

Tools like Camtasia can capture your screen and even a cheap USB microphone records broadcast-quality sound.  If you spend an afternoon learning the basics of the Camtasia editor, you’ll learn to cut, zoom, pan, and merge media clips together into a tight, professional video.*  Now you have a backup, a leave-behind, a promotional video, and a growing library of recordings you can depend on down the road.

You might also want to record yourself as you learn.

Turn on the recorder as you work through product marketing presentations of the latest releases.  As you read through them, you can practice explaining the concepts to pretend customers or work out use-cases and examples.  Record yourself as you set up demo data or walk through standard scripts and you’ll always have a reference for those intricate bits.  You may never edit (or even look at!) these recordings, but they’ll be there for future reference.  You’ll be surprised how quickly you recall your thought processes and understanding as you review them.  You’ll be ready to share them with others who are starting down paths you’ve already covered.

And that’s the return on your investment.

*You can even add ukulele background music, if you must.
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An Interesting Analogy

Our audiences best understand complex solutions and messages through analogies.

There are many brainstorming techniques to help find the right analogy.*  While creative people seem to come up with them on the fly, there may be a better source for analogies:

What are your interests?

Do you play a musical instrument?  Are you a photographer? Is economics or politics a passion of yours?  Can you quote Shakespeare?  Can you explain what a nickel-defense package is?  Have you read the daily comics for twenty years?

Your interests are ripe fruit for an analogy, and your depth of knowledge and passion in these areas will enhance its detail and relevance.  Subject matter expertise in your area can represent subject matter expertise in the customers.  Heuristics** are compatible.

Sharing your interests also improves your relationship with the customer.  You’re human.  You’re thinking.  You’re sharing.

* I once had a seminar where we pulled plastic toys out of a bag and had to use it as the analogy.  It was like a comedy session on “Who’s Line is it, Anyway?”
** Big word, but I think it applies.
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Second Person Narrative

You arrive at the customer site twenty minutes early.  Your sales rep and your client chat about the meeting ahead as you set up.  But something’s wrong. You can’t get onto the network, the projector isn’t cooperating with your tablet, and your sales rep starts talking about areas of the solution you aren’t prepared to cover.

I arrive at the customer site twenty minutes early.  My sales rep and my client chat about the meeting ahead as I set up.  But something’s wrong. I can’t get onto the network, the projector isn’t cooperating with my tablet, and my sales rep starts talking about areas of the solution I’m not prepared to cover.

Much is said about “I-talk” and “you-talk,” the idea that you should phrase your demo clicks in the first person or the second person.

Which of the two examples above had you more involved?  When it was happening to you* or when it was happening to me?  If you want to better involve your customers in your presentations, go with your gut.

* I was delighted to realize, upon review, that most of my posts here are in the second person narrative.
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Earn a firmer handshake

One way to judge the value of your meeting is through the quality of the handshake you get on the way out the door.

If you’ve inspired someone, made them think, or incited some action, you’ll probably get a firmer and more sincere handshake on the way out the door.  If you get the dreaded “we’ll be in touch,” you can bet they won’t.

Earn a firmer handshake.

The more you know…

Have you ever had to work really hard to understand a new concept in your industry?

Yes, marketing literature can be out of touch; presentation files can be poorly written and have too many bullet points; demo scripts can miss the value entirely; but once in a while, a white-paper, a blog, a product description can get to the heart of the matter and reveal something new.  It might require you to connect the dots from disparate sources but then, then!  The light goes on.

New insight!

Damn if that insight doesn’t turn out to be relevant, timely, and key in the next three customer conversations you have.

You’re in the center of the buzz and you get it, and you can articulate it to others… because your in Pre-Sales and that’s what you do- make the complex simple through communication.  You’re a transducer of complexity in technology and business.

The more you know… the more relevant you are.

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Spock has a sense of humor. He just doesn’t believe he does.

I’ve noticed through my career that when you bring a creative person (a designer, a photographer, an artist, a Photoshop specialist) into a technology-related project, they get the technical aspects of the project right away.

I’ve also noticed that that the analytic people involved in the project are in awe and amazement at the creative person’s artistic skills.  “I could never draw/layout/photograph/stylize like that.”

My conclusion has always been that creatives can be analytical but analytics can’t be creative.

I have always been wrong.

Analytics have been told (by themselves or others) that they are not creative.  And they (myself included) have been dumb enough to believe this.  I don’t know if creatives were lucky enough to be tagged creative early on, or if they were wise enough to scoff at the notion they couldn’t be creative.  But to accept that you can’t be creative and therefore never try…

That’s just sad.

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Dealing with Obstacles

What will that obstacle be?

An impediment towards your goal?

A sign-post telling you to change direction?

Or an excuse to turn around and go home.

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Failure: Risk it or Fear it

Fear of failure may drive you to work harder.  And in so doing, you may succeed.  But with success will come greater responsibilities, greater potential failure, greater drive to avoid failing.  You may go far, but when fear is the foundation of your motivation, the inevitable failure in your future will tumble the whole tower of blocks.

If, on the other hand, you risk failure by measuring it and its companion, reward, there is joy and art in your motivation.  You will work harder to push the envelope.   When failure arrives you’ll recognize it, welcome it with a hardy “I knew I’d find you eventually,” then shrug and carry on.

What’s your motivation?*

If you find yourself in the fear-of-failure camp, here’s a helpful exercise.  In Pre-Sales, as in Sales as in baseball as in life, great batting averages are barely above .300.  Face it, you’ve failed.  You’ve failed often.  So go back to a few deals you’ve lost and spend fifteen minutes looking at your presentation, your differentiators, your themes, and the way in which you demonstrated your solution.  If it’s  had time to settle, to breathe, then the reasons for the failure will jump right out at you.

“How could I have been saying this when the customer obviously needed that?”

Learn from your failures.

*Failure can be risked and feared in darker, more dangerous ways. Risk without caution, without preparation, is foolhardy and invites catastrophic failure. Worse yet, fear of failure can drive you to avoidance, procrastination, safe decisions. Then there are no rewards; success becomes a failure.

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