Jeff’s Quick Tips: 5 things techies should NEVER do or say (in sales presentations)

 Do you manage techies who participate in sales presentations for your company?  If so, this rant is for you.

 Slice and dice THIS!

I recently spent six hours listening to three different companies trying to sell “enterprise” software to a   high-profile, highly-successful company. All three companies blew it, and it wasn’t because the software sucked.  They failed because the techies who did the talking and clicking during the demos were terrible speakers. Here are the top five (5) things they did wrong.  The “techies” who represented their companies included a software support engineer, a project manager, and a programmer.

1. The techies couldn’t stop using jargon.  By “jargon,” I mean definition #2 from “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.”   Out of boredom, I started writing down the number of times the vendors used tech jargon or sales buzz words.  In one session, the sales person used the phrase “level set” five times and the phrase “go to market strategy” four times in the three minutes it took to introduce the techie who would run the demo and explain the system.

One speaker had an annoying habit of using “literally” and “actually” every time he talked about a feature. “You can literally just type that right there and the dashboard will actually resonate in real time!  Really? The dashboard will resonate? I think he meant “be refreshed in real time,” but who knows.

Other crazy jargon used in the sales pitches included “modular maturity curve,” “differentiator between us and other vendors,” “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” “blah blah blah,” “under the hood,” “drill down,” “bubbled up,” “time suck,” and “deeper dive.”

In all three sessions, the phrase “slice and dice” was used so many times I stopped counting. To everyone in the IT world, I beg you: Stop saying “slice and dice your data.”  It’s meaningless gibberish. Speak English, people. The only place we should be hearing “slice and dice” is on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.

2. The techies admitted they weren’t prepared.  This sin is possibly the worst of the lot. One presenter apologized for a typo in the demonstration by saying, “Sorry but I literally just put this together last night!” Do you know what the potential client heard?  “I’m so pathetic I waited until the night before this big presentation to start working on it!” People snickered. And they tuned out on the presenter after that.

If you’re going to show up at a place of business and help your company land a 5- or 6- or 7-digit sale for software and professional services, start getting your act together before the night before.

3. The techies were late, without a good reason. There is no excuse for being late. “Oh sorry I’m late,” one presenter said.  “I couldn’t find the building!” 

Really? If you’re going to show up at a place of business and help your company land a 5- or 6- or 7-digit sale for software and professional services, get up early and get to the location early. Looking around at the people in the room, I figured that the 15 minutes of sitting and doing nothing the potential client several thousand dollars in nonproductive time.

Another vendor arrived on site five minutes early to connect his laptop to the host’s overhead projector, but then had to get on the phone and call someone back in the office to get the demo environment set up. Really? The back office support team didn’t know there was an important sales call scheduled for 2:00 – 4:00 PM?


4. The techies didn’t thank their guests.  I hope you don’t accuse me of being too picky on this one, but not ONE of the techies and not ONE of the sales people who accompanied the techies said “Thank you for having us here today.” To be fair, everyone thanked the guests for their attention at the end of the presentations. But no one said “Thanks for having me” or “Thanks for giving us the chance to show you our cool software.” It’s just common courtesy, folks.

5. The techies didn’t use industry-appropriate examples.  The subtitle for this mistake is, “The vendors didn’t know the audience.” 

As the project manager helping coordinate these demonstrations, I had conversations with all three presenters in advance. I said, “Please make sure you use examples of how the software can help people in this client’s industry.”  What happened?  While talking to a group of hospital administrators and risk managers and medical records supervisors, one of the presenters came up with this gem:  “For example, one of our clients using the system is a bank, and they’re concerned with blah-blah-blah and et cetera, et cetera, and…”  Really? You couldn’t think of one, single, solitary example that pertains to hospitals or the healthcare industry?  Do you know what the potential client heard?  “We’re so pathetic we don’t have any hospital experience, so we’re going to tell you how our software helps some industry totally unrelated to yours!” 

Takeaway – Give a listen

As IT managers, you may be more concerned with keeping the network up and secure than you are about sales presentations. But if your people are going to work with the sales people to demonstrate software, in person or via the dreaded “call-in” teleconference, you owe it to your people and to your company to pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. 

How can you help? Make your techie give you a preview or dress rehearsal of the product demonstration BEFORE the techie leaves on the trip or joins the meeting by teleconference.  Tape-record the dress rehearsal or the presentation itself so that you and the presenters can listen to it later and critique the content.  It’s hard to listen to yourself, I know. I spent many years as a stand-up comedian and one of the hardest things in the world is to listen to yourself on tape and be objective about assessing how you did.

If you fail to manage what your company’s techies say in sales presentations, don’t be surprised when the team comes home without the sale.

Join the discussion
Have you attended a software demonstration where the presenter was just awful? Add your suggestions to the list of “things techies should never say or do” by posting a comment below.

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