Sell Before You Tell

You’ve probably heard the saying, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and
he’ll eat for a lifetime.” However, you’ll never be successful teaching him how to, until he
understands why he’d “want to.” Business development operates the same way. Presenters
sometimes jump ahead of that “want to” phase and spend their time simply talking about the
best way to implement their service before making the case why it’s beneficial. They’ve made
the mistake of telling, before selling prospects on the idea. In their zeal to provide information
and share their expertise, they’ve neglected the fact that prospects must first be persuaded,
before they’re instructed.

During an international Human Resources forum I attended, I witnessed two software
development consultants address their ideal target market—a group of senior HR managers
from Multi-National Corporations who had the buying authority to implement their software
solution. There was great potential for large contracts and repeat business throughout these
organizations. As the presentation began, the consultants described their company, how the
software was developed and a list of the features it contained. As the presentation progressed,
they went on to describe in minutiae how anyone using the software could input, analyze and
report the data. They concluded with an examination of how the software could be scaled to
fit different sized organizations. They were clearly experts in their field and demonstrated great
command of the information. Why weren’t they flooded with business afterwards? They spent
the entire presentation explaining how to use the software, but no time convincing anyone to
use it. They somehow thought that the facts would “speak for themselves.” They were focused
on the message instead of the audience.

I once coached a department head who was proposing to senior management a shift in the job
responsibilities in her department. Her primary rationale for the shift was that it would free up
more of her time. She was focused on herself (the speaker) instead of the audience. I
encouraged her instead to stress the increased productivity and more efficient allocation of
resources that would result throughout the organization.

The most persuasive presentations keep the audience on center stage. Here are five
suggestions that will help you make the sale by directing your energies toward the decisionmakers.

  1. Have a clear objective. Know what you want to achieve by the end of the presentation.
    Are you content to explain the advantages of your service or product or do you want to convert prospects into clients? Is understanding sufficient or do you want to move
    them towards action and book the business?
  2. Focus on benefits instead of features. Remember the adage “features tell, benefits sell.”
    What specific benefits are you offering? Will you help prospects save time, reduce costs
    or maximize the return on their investments? Everyone is tuned into a mental radio
    station identified as WIIFM—What’s In It For Me. Only by addressing the needs and
    desires of the prospect can you persuade them to take action.
  3. Think about what problem your product or service solves for the audience. Does it
    eliminate unnecessary effort? Will it reduce anxiety by providing more certainty about
    the unknown? Can it help manage conflict? In the psychology of persuasion, it is said
    that people move away from pain and towards pleasure at about equal speed. Don’t
    neglect the “pain removal” approach.
  4. Don’t provide information simply because you can and don’t explain for the sake of
    explanation. Include information and explanation only if they help you accomplish the
    objective you’ve identified for the presentation. Your company’s background, years of
    experience and professional certifications won’t matter if you can’t tie them directly to
    the needs of the prospect. People care less about who you are and more about what
    you can do for them.
  5. Mentally prepare yourself by completing the following sentence: “The three reasons
    you should accept my proposal are. . .” This exercise focuses your attention on
    providing a rationale for action that is audience-focused.

Remember that it’s not about you, and neither is it about your message. It’s about your
prospects and what they’ll find persuasive. Be sure to sell before you begin to tell and you’ll
enjoy more success in your business development efforts.

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