Planning For The Unplanned In Sales Pitches

May 17, 2012 by  Filed under: Sales 

“Thank you for allowing me to present to you today!”
“No problem. Incidentally, could you do it in 10 minutes instead of 45? Oh, and we don’t have a projector.”  

Sales calls rarely go according to plan. The room isn’t what you imagined. The person you intended to meet with can’t make it but sends his lovely and ultimately powerless subordinate in his stead. There are a thousand variables, and one of them inevitably lurks in your prospect’s office, ready to spring out and surprise you at the last possible moment.

Do you know how to compensate for the variables? Can you win the deal when the board has changed? You don’t have to trip up when the scenario changes and ambiguity needn’t be the end of the world. With a little forethought, you can even use it to your advantage. Here’s how:

You don’t know what your prospect actually does. You’re not sure whether ‘Kinetic Motion Inc.’ produces bicycles or kids’ balloons.

• Look for company brochures in reception.
• Bite the bullet and ask the receptionist.
• Use one intelligent question to prompt a response. “Did the recession affect your industry?”

You’re meeting with the wrong person. You were expecting the CEO. You got Justin, the intern, who can’t quite remember where his desk is.

• Enlist Justin. Sure, this call may not get you the ‘yes’ you’re after. But Justin is now your only advocate, and you need him to represent you.
• Show respect, never disappointment. Justin has a fragile ego, but will be moved by a display of respect.
• Re-angle your message to appeal to Justin. Is there an opportunity for him to shine before his superiors by advocating your cause? You are now no longer selling a product. You’re selling an opportunity for Justin to look good.
• Provide the sound-bites. Justin will not remember reams of information. But he might remember a snappy sound-bite or two that sums up what you’re offering. Think of mnemonics, which he can use to carry your message forward.
• Use the opportunity to glean information. Can you learn something useful about the head honchos, their moods, inclinations, proclivities, the challenges they are facing? That knowledge could be solid gold in the future.
• Create the schedule. Justin will not take charge of this scenario, nor will he act with any sense of urgency to meet your goals. That’s why you must create the agenda and be specific about it. Let him know which day you will be following up, and, in gentle, non-pushy terms, make it clear what you are hoping he will do before then.

The room is all wrong. You were expecting a boardroom with a projector. You got the echoey bathroom in the third floor hallway.

• Where possible, rearrange the room to suit your needs. Remember that the room must facilitate the presenter, rather than the presenter bending to the room.
• If you have a PowerPoint presentation, memorize the three most important key points, just in case you don’t get to use it.
• Don’t be thrown by the change. Let go of any emotional attachment to what you expected and roll with it. You’re a human being; your prospect is a human being. Get on with talking about what you can do for them.

Your time is reduced.

• This happens offten. Be particularly prepared for this one. Don’t just learn the 45 minute presentation; prepare the 5 minute version as well. 
• Start at the end of your message. You don’t have time to lay the groundwork and lead up to the point. Go immediately to benefits.
• Drop the lecture (particularly the part about your company’s history) and ask questions about their needs. Let them determine what they want to hear about. 

They’re not interested in the pitch you’ve prepared. They want to hear about something else. 

• The scenario has changed, and this is no longer a sale. At least, not immediately. Your role has now become that of facilitator, but that’s good, because you can build your reputation.
• Don’t assign blame. Just change to ‘relationship’ mode.
• Seek first to understand their needs. You may know someone who can help them. 
• Give it away for free; Advice, assistance, information. Anything you can do to help.
• If your company can provide the particular solution they are after, turnaround time is everything. Pass this information on internally as quickly as you can, and make sure that the member of your team who is able to help follows up swiftly. 

Your crutch is kicked out from under you. You expected to be able to use a prop, a PowerPoint presentation, or a piece of technical equipment that has somehow failed on you.

• Don’t refer to your missing prop. There is no need to draw attention to an error. A sentence like, “I was going to show you a slide show, but now I’m not,” has no real value.
• Develop reusable anecdotes. A good story about your product or service often says much more than the technical detail ever could.
• Deliver the gist; not the detail. You do know what you’re selling, even if you can’t enumerate all the technical data.
• Ask questions to find out what they’d like to know.

Remember, it’s not about a perfect delivery; it’s about creating a relationship. It’s not about technology; it’s about impressions. It’s not the end of the world if the scenario changes; it might even work in your favour. The board may change, but you’re a professional. Be confident and represent yourself with enthusiasm!

Douglas Kruger is a professional speaker, trainer and author of the ’50 Ways’ series of books. His most booked keynote speeches are: The Rules of Hamster-Thinking, The Big Bum Theory, and How To Position Yourself As an Expert. See him in action or read more of his articles at: Email him at: or follow him on Linked In or Twitter: @douglaskruger

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