A couple of smart sales consultants first raised this question to me some years back. And, my initial response was to get defensive and assure them that this was not an issue for our company. But it made me curious and over the following months I sat in on more base level sales presentations as they were delivered to early cycle prospects (something management personnel can get out of the habit of doing, especially if you have a seasoned sales force). And boy was I surprised … and not in a good way.

Unfortunately, the sale consultants’ concern was valid. Our sales message was not being delivered as designed. In some cases the variances were minor and probably didn’t impact the result much. But in too many cases, the variance was enough to significantly distort the message and decrease the effectiveness of our sales efforts.

Now, your first thought could be that this is easy to diagnose: bad sales team, bad sales messaging or a combination of the two. This of course could be the cause of such a problem and if so, should obviously be addressed post haste. But what I found was a more nuanced set of cause and effect scenarios that lead to the problem, including:

1) Key Points Fail Challenges – points in your messaging get challenged in unexpected ways or with unexpected veracity. Your sales reps fail to defeat the challenge when their response goes off book and both the rep and presentation lose credibility. Next time out, the sales rep softens or all together deletes the point from the message to avoid a repeat occurrence. This happens a few times and the overall message is substantively changed.

2) Sales Entrepreneurship/In My Own Words – Many sales reps are entrepreneurs at heart. In addition, it is human nature to be more comfortable presenting material that is more in our own words. Thus, the sales rep modifies the presentation and likely does a better job presenting, but just not the message you want delivered.

3) Opportunity Dynamics – you built a 30 minute sales presentation (maybe with particular industries or company size in mind) for a half business/half technical audience. But your sales team rarely encounters that exact scenario. The sellers then feel compelled to modify the material to try and fit their specific opportunity and inadvertently change the message in the process.

You might encounter other reasons for this challenge. I did as well, as this was just my top three list. But the good news from my experience is that a few key changes in your business process will catch and fix the vast majority of causes and in our case we figured out the needed fixes by considering this list. The most important of those being:

1) Marketing/Sales Collaboration – typically marketing builds the messaging and presentations and sales delivers them. If you are figuratively throwing your messaging and presentations over the wall from marketing to sales, you create significant risk of message modification. Building a small sales review team to work with marketing and fostering an environment of marketing and sales collaboration on this front will go a long way towards mitigating the risk.

2) Modular Messaging/Presentations With Guidance – it is a bit more work but highly valuable to build messaging and presentations with opportunity dynamics in mind. Core content, business and technical audience content, key industry content and guidance on how to select content for different scenarios including shorter and longer periods of time to present the message.

3) Training and Oversight – even with a seasoned sales force it is risky to assume that sellers can teach themselves how to deliver new sales messaging. In addition, some in the office or in the field review (even if spot checks) is needed to make sure that the messaging is working and that the sellers are delivering it as designed.

Let’s put this in perspective. Your organization has worked hard to build offerings that add true value in your target markets. But if that value is not effectively communicated to prospective clients, what does it matter? Taking the time to understand the challenges related to accurate and effective sales message delivery and making the investment in a few straight forward and relatively inexpensive fixes could ultimately be the difference between failure and success for your business.

Brent Bussell
Managing Partner

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