In your quest to win government contracts, you may find yourself in a presentation "shoot out" with your competitors. One after another, vendors are paraded into a conference room to show their stuff. In this episode of Myths of Selling to Government, we tell the story of a shoot out where we participated on the government vendor side, hired by a state agency to help them make their selection. We summarize each presentation, then tell what the selection committee really thought of them and why.
There's a moral to the story.
So, despite your best efforts, you find yourself in a presentation shoot-out. Bummer. Some inside information coming up.
The presentation shoot-out. That’s when the government prospect declares that its selection committee has chosen its finalists and wants to see a final presentation from the finalists. Rats! You thought you were the only one...but, you’re not.
We’ve earned our stripes selling to the government partly because we've found ourselves on both sides of the table. We've spent more than our share of time on the "pitch" side, working hard to help government agencies decide to do business with us. And, we've found ourselves on the "catch" side, working hard to help government agencies decide to do business with other vendors. Now, that's not because we work hard for our competitors. It's because we were hired by the government to help make buying decisions. It's an interesting place to be.
Not too long ago, as catchers, we were asked to help a state agency choose a software vendor from a very competitive market place. We helped the selection committee narrow the finalists to four, and then watched as the games began.
The dreaded shoot-out day was scheduled. Each vendor was given an hour to show their stuff. They were all well prepared. They all knew what the customer's hot buttons were. They all knew who their competition was. They all had strong solutions with strong feature sets. They all had a shot at winning the business. Shoot-out day was to be a game-changer, a time for a vendor to stand out. So, who stood out? See if you can decide.
Vendor Number One: One person showed up, a young fellow. Although he had been told who would be in the room, he asked everyone to introduce themselves. He had been told what they wanted to hear, but he sat down at a table (instead of using the podium) and asked a batch of questions that we had previously answered. Then, he went rapid fire through his presentation and demonstration, occasionally stopping for a question or two. He finished a bit ahead of time.
Vendor Number Two: Showed up with five representatives, two of them local. The presenter did a fine job connecting the dots between the customer’s needs and the company's solution. His sales engineer was on-hand driving the demo, for the most part keeping up with the fast-pace. All five of the company's representatives participated in the dialogue.
Vendor Number Three: An impressive presenter, the President of her company. Her presentation was slick and she showed not only a strong feature set, but new things in development she thought would interest the customer. She dropped impressive names.
Vendor Number Four: He immediately established credibility by stating he had worked in the agency's profession of law enforcement. He answered very quickly on his feet when challenged. Why did you stop being a cop? Were you indicted?" the crusty Major asked with a smirk. "No, I left to follow my true love to another state", the presenter answered. Even the Major was impressed. The presentation was smooth and genuine. Although his customer interface wasn't real cool, his demo showed a feature-rich solution.
Now, which of these stood out? Think about it a bit. Number One asked good questions (and you know how we love questions). He was proficient at his presentation and demo.
Number Two came in force and showed a good understanding of the customer.
Number Three demonstrated strong commitment by the president and a good product road map.
Number Four really connected to the audience.
Not a simple selection, is it? Can't decide? Well, neither could the customer.
After the last vendor left, the customer team said all presentations were good, but none of them stood out. They said they saw very little that would help them make their decision. (Fortunately, they had a good consultant to help them figure it out.)
You see, it's tough to stand out in a vendor shoot out...almost impossible. Your best bet is to make your prospects love you so much that they won't find a shoot-out necessary. (Yes, this is possible. Listen to the rest of the podcast episodes, read our book, or read our blog posts). If you find yourself in a shoot-out, you'd best not count on standing out in a presentation. At the same time, you'd best not blow it...or you'll find yourself standing out in a way you hadn’t hoped. Even if a good presentation doesn't win a sale, a bad one can certainly lose one.
Here are some lessons from each of the presentations:
Vendor Number One: Even though the presenter’s questions had been answered ahead of time, the customers were impressed. They didn't tell him anything he didn't already know, but they liked being asked. It made them more confident that what was to follow would address their needs.
Vendor Number Two: Despite having an excellent presenter, the break-down in communications between the presenter and the engineer driving the demo cost them. The customers noticed and complained about it...to us and the other committee members. They said the presentation was confusing, made worse by the fact that several of the company representatives started talking at once. We are pretty sure they were trying to help out their struggling colleague in the front of the room. But, they didn't. The presenter never regained control.
If you're going in as a team for a presentation, make sure everyone knows their role in advance. Whoever is in the front of the room should keep control of the presentation. If you do not trust him to steer, don't give him the wheel! Rehearse as a team. Then, rehearse some more.
During the presentation, non-presenting team members should show support for the presenter. Give the guy up front a discreet encouraging smile or thumbs up. And, if he gets a frog in his throat, get him some water! [OK, a sensitive subject. I went through a grueling all day Sunday pre-presentation session once where seven people spent the day telling me what to say rather than listening to what I had planned to say, which, had they listened, would have known that my plans were very similar to what they would harp on. (We should have spent the time rehearsing.) The next morning? More of the same.
That afternoon during the presentation, I got a frog in my throat and was hoarse. I needed a drink of water. I thought one of my seven colleagues would notice, and come to my rescue. I did everything I could think of just short of stopping the presentation and asking one of them to fetch me some water. My colleagues missed every clue. I worked through it and the presentation was well-received. However, I'm still touchy about the whole ordeal (as you can tell.). Folks, if you're in the back of the room, do the guy in the front of the room a favor and show him some support. Heck, do it for yourself. The better he looks up front, the better you look.] (OK, vent over.)
Vendor Number Three: Bringing out the big guns can be a winning strategy if deployed at the right time. On one hand, it illustrates commitment to the customer at the highest levels of the organization. On the other hand, depending on what is being sold, relying on the company President to deliver the bulk of a presentation may raise questions as to whether the company is sizable enough to really meet customer needs.
Vendor Number Four: He did a fine job, but remember, his solution didn’t seem user friendly. And, I don’t care what kind of presenter you are, these days, if the user experience appears weak, the presentation is weak. Not much he could have done about that. However, because he established a rapport with the audience, the private customer post-mortem was kind to him.
We use this example to let you behind the scenes of a presentation shoot-out and to let you know that you can do a good job...even a great job...but don’t count on the presentation winning you the contract. Don’t blow it, but do the work throughout the sales cycle. Know more...really know...what pain you’re trying to relieve and what the hot buttons are of the individuals involved in the selection. Do the pain map we talked about in the last episode. And, listen again to the Freebird episode. Some of you skipped over it. Find out how to really structure an effective presentation.
This stuff isn’t easy. But, we figured it out, and so can you.