customer service best practicesThe other day, I was speaking to a sales executive.  We were talking about improving the impact of sales people in engaging customers, finding and pursuing more opportunities.

Before I go further, this was a very sharp executive.  The sales organization was very focused and appeared to be a high performance organization.  They had a fantastic solution that solved important customer problems.  The sales people were sharp, articulate, appropriately aggressive.  The executive described the things they had in place, the things they were doing, their tools, systems, processes.  They were doing “Vito” letters, developing, and presenting cost justified solutions.

Both the things they were doing and the results, several years of double digit growth, seemed to indicate everything was going right.

I’m providing this introduction only to say that even the best of us get things wrong.  We get blinded by our success.  However well we are performing, some things are off, we can improve, creating even higher levels of performance.

So as we continued our conversation, I was wondering, “What’s wrong?  Why are we talking?”

The executive described, “We are doing the right things, we are focusing on the customer, we research them, we’re prepared, we know what to do in that very first meeting.”

“OK,” I responded, “So what’s wrong?”

“Well, we don’t seem to be engaging the right people.  We think we should be talking to more people, at higher levels.  We think we should be getting greater results from our first meetings,” he responded.  He asked if he could show me the “First meeting ” pitch–I mean presentation.  (I bet you can start to see where I’m going.)

He started walking me through their first meeting PowerPoint deck——now let’s put that to the side for a moment.  Yes, I wonder too, is that really the way you want to conduct a first meeting?  But their deck is illustrative of things all of us do unconsciously.

The deck had 18  slides.  The first was a personalized cover slide.  But it was a little odd—half the slide was filled with the logo of this executive’s company.  The title said, “Introduction to [Our Company]“  It was in 32 point font, bright blue.  Immediately below that, in a medium grey, in 24 point font, was the customer’s name.  “Hmm,” I’m thinking, “I’ve always thought these introductory presentations are supposed to be about the customer.”  I didn’t say anything, after all this had been refined in dozens of pitches.

The second slide was about the customer.  It was a great slide demonstrating the sales person’s understanding of the customer’s business.  They highlighted the customer’s business objectives, strategies, key initiatives and so forth.  The discussion that went with the slide focused on the sales person demonstrating their understanding of the customer’s strategies and challenges.

“This is great,” I thought, “They really do their homework about the customer.   I’m anxious to see where this goes.”

The third slide was the “About Us,” glamor slide–not the customer, but this executive’s company.  You know what I mean–the company’s great track record of growth, the list of big customers, awards, and so forth.  All the stuff that makes sales people puff out their chests, exclaiming, “We’re hot!”

The fourth slide was another glamor slide–it was the big corporate logos.  It’s purpose was to say, “Look at all these huge companies that must think we are great because they do business with us!”

The fifth slide was the “Why we’re the company to do business with slide.”

You can imagine my concern at this point.  5 slides in, they’re talking about why the customer should be doing business with them.  I think I missed the part where they determined that the customer felt they had a problem this company could solve.  I also must have missed the part where they determined whether the customer even cared about those problems or wanted to consider a change.  I guess the premise for setting up the meeting may have covered some of that—after all the customer wouldn’t meet unless there was some level of interest.  But somehow, it seemed by the fifth slide, they’d jumped all the way past, “let me understand what you are trying to do…..”  Somehow without learning whether the customer even cared, they were presenting why the customer should do business with us.

I won’t go through the remaining slides in detail. Slides 6-13 explained what their products did.  The 14th leapt into a demo, assuming that in this first meeting the customer would want a demo. and they could hit on the customer hot buttons with the demo (I wonder, did I miss where they determined the customer hot buttons).  Slide 15 reiterated why the company was so fantastic.  Slides 16-17 outlined next steps, using the assumptive close.  Slide 18 was a simple ending “Thank You.”  There were another 23 backup slides that did a deep dive into the features, functions, feeds, and speeds of the solution.  These were optional, based on the customer questions.

So in recap, out of 18 slides in the deck, 1 was about the customer.  The rest were about this executive’s company.  Perhaps, this is the reason they struggled to engage the right customers in the right way.

I didn’t go through this to embarrass this executive or this company.  This is an illustration about what too many people and organizations do.  Maybe not with this structure and flair, but in some way, all we really want to do is talk about ourselves, our products, and our companies.

Take a look at your own presentation decks–whether they are introductory decks or even closing decks.  Count the number of slides that are about the customer.  Count the number of slides that provoke the customer to talk about their business, what they want to achieve, goals, visions, dreams.  Count the number of slides that talk about opportunities they may not be aware of, things they can do to grow, things they can do to ramp their own performance to the highest levels possible.  Count the number of slides about the issues, challenges, or problems the customer cares about or may be facing.  Then count the slides that are about you, how great you and your products are.  What proportion are customer focused, what are “you” focused?  The majority–regardless where you are in the sales/buying process need to be about the customer.

But most of the time we fail to do this.  Perhaps, we have the mentality that because the customer has agreed to the meeting, they must be interested in us (in some cases, we’ve mistakenly trained customers to act this way).  Perhaps, we really don’t care or haven’t taken the time to learn.

And this is the great disconnect.  Customers don’t care about us, how great we are, or even about our products.  If they do, they’ve already learned all the stuff we are dumping on them.  They’ve visited our websites and seen all the same stuff there.  They’ve done their research and homework.  They already know about us, the great logo’ed customers, and a good deal about our products.  So why do we insist on inflicting all of this on them?

What if we turned things upside down.  What if we made 17 of the 18 slides about the customer?  Naturally we would focus the discussion on opportunities or problems they have that we could do something about.  What if in those slides we engaged them in talking about their business, what they could be achieving, what they should be achieving, and what it would mean to them–individually and organizationally? What if we provided insights about what could be?  About new possibilities and how they might achieve them?  What if those slides guided a natural conversation in which both the customer learn?  What if we designed those slides and the conversation in a way that evoked a commitment from the customer, “This is too important for us to ignore!  We have to do this, we can no longer live with the status quo, but we must change!”  The 18th slide becomes very simple, it becomes, “Here’s how we will help you do this.”

What if we made the conversation about the customer.  After all from their perspective, “This conversation is really about us.”