“Coming a Close Second” – Beaten by a Better Story

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 by Simon Morton

Let me paint a picture of what could be viewed as sales nirvana.

You’ve been asked to pitch (along with a number of other companies) to a new prospect who has a well defined need perfectly matching your company’s services.  It’s a level playing field but, on the surface at least, it looks like things are weighed in your favour – you know the sector, have the better product, can demonstrate expertise through great testimonials and, joy upon joy, your pricing is extremely competitive.

Happy days indeed…  The date of the pitch is booked, you deliver it with well versed confidence and await the phone call.

“Thank you very much for your time but we’ve decided to go with another vendor.  It was a tough decision but you came a close second”.

You lost. 

In case of emergencyIt’s official yet still seems unfeasible for the simple reason that all the cards were stacked in your favour.  Best product, best references, best fit…yet they decided to go with what is widely recognised as lesser competition.

Cue the excuses…

“They’d made up their minds before we even met”

“The competition must have bought the business”

“Maybe they’re related to the competition?”

In my experience, it has less to do with these (occasionally) plausible excuses and more to do with something at your end – the ugly truth is that the competition’s story was simply better than yours. 

But what does this mean?

In simple terms, they delivered their message in a way that truly resonated with the prospect.  This might have been the way they engaged the audience at the start of the presentation (here’s an idea – open up your pitch by sharing insight and understanding of your audience’s needs/sector than rather than banging on about how many offices your business has around the globe).

It might have been the way they used technology and visuals to memorably connect with the audience (a simple visual is worth a thousand corporate speak bullet points).

Heck, it might have simply been the fact that they listened intently to the specific needs of the prospect rather than rolling out the same ‘one size fits all’ generic presentation that had bored less inquisitive prospects before.  Perhaps taking a moment out to carefully plan their response won them the deal.

In short, when it came down to the inevitable beauty parade, you turned up on time, went through the motions as professionally as the next person…but left without ever demonstrating your understanding of their needs or building an authentic connection with the audience.
You undoubtedly have a great story to tell (most successful businesses have a plethora of engaging content hidden way gathering dust) but the sad fact is that you’ve probably forgotten it over time.

Step 1

Take a step back from your well worn ‘creds presentation’ and review it through the eyes of your audience – does the story engage, excite or entice?  Do you feel any connection with it whatsoever…or is it the same collection of business buzzwords and elaborate and overly complex diagrams that do little to differentiate you from the competition?  Answer one simple question – is it fit for purpose in today’s marketplace?

Step 2

Go through your win-loss reporting for the last 3 months (or longer as sales cycles dictate) and honestly ask yourself the question – how different would this be if your sales team were equipped with a story and tools that truly and comprehensively engaged your audience on their terms?

Step 3

Go back to a selection of those lost deals and ask them what they remember of your pitch.  If the answer is that they recall your key message, chances are your presentation is in good stead and you may want to review your value proposition.  If the answer is “um…I can’t recall any specifics”, it’s time to review your story and presentation.

Unfortunately sales isn’t like the Olympics – there are no prizes for second place.

PS – If steps 1 – 3 don’t focus the mind, call upon the professionals to conduct a thorough Presentation Healthcheck and get your story back on the straight and narrow).

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