The last chapter in Theodore Zeldin‘s “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives” lists 36 topics for conversation. I have selected thirteen I think would lead to a serious conversation between entrepreneurs and listed them below (retaining their original number) along with some additional commentary.
My interview with Gabriel Weinberg was originally published Sep-8-2010. He was doing research for what became his fantastic book Traction. We talked for the better part of an hour and a half and I can remember he kept returning in different ways to what was needed to close your first dozen enterprise customers.
Q: In your blog post “Four Presentation Traps to Avoid” (which drew on Mike Monteiro’s “13 Ways Designers Screw Up a Client Presentation” which I found overall to be very valuable) you highlighted his item 4 “Not setting the stage properly” which ends with “Start the meeting by thanking them for their time.”
I feel this puts you below the prospect or customer as a supplicant. Your time is just as valuable. It’s a minor thing but I suggest “I’m glad we could all find the time to meet today.” or something that puts you at least level with who you are presenting to in terms of the value of your time.
Mike Monteiro offered “13 Ways Designers Screw Up a Client Presentation–And One Weird Trick” in a Sep-13-2014 blog post: many of these are also applicable to entrepreneurs making presentations to prospects. The whole article is worth reading, here are my top four presentation traps to avoid from his list (I have retained Monteiro’s numbering scheme).
Here are ten tips for managing new product demos to prospects. While it’s always a good idea to preview inside the team and perhaps call in some favors for “friendly fire” review, at some point you have to bite the bullet and start giving new product demos to prospects. Here are my top ten tips (or lessons learned) for a new product demo:
The best demo–a Great Demo!--is a conversations driven by mutual curiosity. Your goal is to learn more about a prospect’s current situation and needs while they want to learn more about your product and services and how you can help them.
“Before I demo to you, why don’t you demo to me what you are currently using?”
If a customer has an existing software system, this can be a wonderful way to understand the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in their current system–particularly from the customer’s point of view. They’ll tell you what they like, what they hate, what’s missing and a range of other delightful Discovery information.
Additionally, this also inverts the traditional process of the vendor presenting to the customer, to one of the customer presenting to the vendor–an experience often remembered by the customer as remarkable and interestingly different!
Q: My research focused on the assessment of atherosclerosis in coronary arteries using Computed Tomography examinations as the imaging modality. I have looked at various aspects of atherosclerosis such as volume scores, automatic extraction of anatomical structures, plaque detection, dual energy CT and plaque distribution patterns. I am new to the lean innovation methods and am having difficulty applying methods like minimum viable product (MVP) in my industry, medical imaging, which is heavily regulated. I cannot see how to do incremental updates given the level of regulatory sign-off required.
We have worked with a number of medical instrument and “medical workflow” startups who face this challenge in different ways. And our work on the BeamWise team has led to a number of conversations with medical imaging and instrumentation companies developing new products.
Lean Innovation: Established Firms Vs. Startups
An established firm with existing customers should invest effort in instrumenting current offerings to get a better handle on actual use and duty cycle, and allow the technicians/researchers/doctors to provide feedback in context (at point of care or point of use) for shortcomings or issues. More simply, take a hard look at how folks are using your current product before proposing something new.
Startups need to separate the challenges of image collection from the usability. For new modalities of image collection you need to work with research groups to be able to get access to tissue samples or live subjects depending upon your application. Often a veterinary or agricultural application is an easier way in than aiming directly at human subject applications, once you have established the usefulness finding teams that want to work with you on human subjects becomes easier. If your primary worry (or innovation) is more about usability or image presentation then you can work from “canned” image data sets and pay technicians, researchers, or doctors to take part in feedback sessions where they interact with the images produced (perhaps in the context of your user interface) and give you feedback.
Net net, even though the final configuration is subject to rigorous review you can find ways to test different critical aspects of your product and iterate without having to get final approval.
Consider Attending Great Demo Workshop
You might also consider our October 15-16 “Great Demo” workshop, a number of medical imaging firms have attended over the years and have found that Peter Cohan offered a number of valuable insights they were able to incorporate into their discovery conversations and demos of new products.
- Register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/
great-demo-workshop-on- october-15-16-2014- registration-8886962143
- Briefing on Great Demo methodology Recap of How to Give a Great Demo
You are also welcome to schedule a no cost office hours session if you want to talk further and have us help you design some experiments to move your MVP forward.
Managing key commitments to customers is essential to closing deals and preventing churn. Getting a customer the correct answer to a question is a critical sales and support skill: the first step is to write down the question when you don’t know the answer.
Write Down Key Commitments
My second “real job” was doing pre and post sales support at a software startup. I had been hired at the same time as an older and more experienced engineer and after about two weeks on the job he took me aside and advised, “buy a notebook and write down any commitments you make and any questions you promise to get answers for.” He was about eight years older so I figured his memory had started to go. Also, he was not my boss. I ignored him.
Within about six weeks I had missed a few deliveries on promised items or answers and it was clear that I had mis-assessed. So I started to carry a lab notebook and write down summaries of every conversation. I included details to jog my memory like date, time, location, attendees and highlighted any commitments I made or answers that I promised.
I learned that the act of writing down a commitment in front of the customer and then replaying it for confirmation underscored that I was actually listening. At the end of the meeting I would summarize all of my commitments (or “action items”) and any questions I needed to research for a final check.
Write Down Key Questions
Later I learned a technique called “the parking lot” where you write down on a flip chart or white board any questions you that either want to defer to later in conversation or you need to research. I then discovered that once I started to hold myself accountable in a public way in a meeting I could also include commitments that others had made or questions that they had promised to research in my closing summary and now we were all jointly accountable.
There is a strong temptation to avoid saying “I don’t know” and to guess at an answer or to provide a partial answer. For complex technical questions, answers that you may score as “mostly correct” tend to be rated as “you wasted my time with a wrong answer” by the customer.
In particular in a pre-sales situation saying “I don’t know, let me get back to you this afternoon (or tomorrow or next week depending upon urgency and complexity)” makes your other answers more credible because you have shown that you are willing to admit when you don’t know.
In my next job I was surprised when my boss’ boss would say, “I don’t know” clearly and frequently and I came to appreciate that “I don’t know” is actually an answer that is a hallmark of expertise. Experts know where their knowledge ends and are willing to label speculation as speculation so as not to intentionally mislead.
Some Refinements For Remote Meetings
- In a Skype session I take notes of what the other person is saying in the text chat. This demonstrates that I am actually listening and allows them to correct something I have gotten wrong or to add a key point that I didn’t include in my notes. When the session is done I have already documented it and had it reviewed by the other attendees so I can mail out the transcript if I am pressed for time, or take 10-30 minutes refine and summarize in addition to providing my raw notes.
- The option for shared note taking by contributing to the chat also encourages the other participants to add their own notes. If many people are on the call the text chat can also allow one or more chat-based conversations to proceed in parallel.
- You can also run a separate chat window just for your team so that you have a back channel to enable better coordination. Be careful you are typing public notes in the public chat and private notes in the private chat. Typing a public note in the private chat has an effect similar to waiting for an answer after you commented when your mike is mute. Typing a private note in the public window can be much more problematic – don’t write anything you would not want disclosed accidentally.
- Shared note taking works if you want to use Google Docs or Primary Pad or another shared edit platform that allows for realtime update by multiple people.
- In a webinar or screen sharing session open a Notepad or Word Doc or text file and type your “parking lot” notes into it as you are walking through a presentation or demo. As you go back you can turn them into strikethrough text or put an [x] in the front of each item as you complete it. You are left with a set of action items you can then confirm need to be address–and by when–for all parties as appropriate.
Related Blog Posts
- Are You Using a Realtime Shared Document Editing Tools? Let’s Compare Notes
- The Benefits of Collaborative Writing, Interviewing, and Improvisation
- Debugging Teams/Meetings: Start With Goals & Roles
- Social Software Speeds Team Decision Making
- Three Features for a webinar or conference call
- How Do Blogs and Wikis Help Me Collaborate With My Customers?
- Presales Anxiety: Not Knowing All of the Answers by Peter Cohan
- Updated Conference Call Meeting Tips by Nancy White
- Using the Parking Lot by Rick Brenner
- Meeting Tools: Using the Issue Bin by Kevin Eikenberry
- Conference call practices to generate knowledge and record learning by John D. Smith and Shawn Callahan
- Combining Conference Call With a Wiki by Shawn Callahan
- A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky
(in particular in Part Two: Why Now starting at “I’ll start a conference call.”)
- Project Management for Work that Matters by Seth Godin
Distinguish tools vs. methods vs. policies. Tools that support a range of methods and policies are much more useful a and much more likely to get used.
I had a great time at the Cofounder Club last night. Dea Wilson, founder of Lifograph and organizer for the Meetup, invited me to talk about “Giving a Killer Demo.” We had a lively discussion upstairs at Procopio: starting with some introductions and then short demos by the attendees, then I gave a formal recap of the Great Demo methodology and how to apply it.
The key to a Great Demo is to “Do the Last Thing First” and get to the point immediately about the critical results that your software will deliver to the prospect. This is counter to many entrepreneur’s inclination to build up to a big finish after 15 or 30 minutes or longer.
But by starting with a illustration of the key deliverable and then demonstrating in as few steps as possible how to achieve this result, you ensure that senior decision makers are still in the room when you get to the “Ta Da!” They can ask questions about other capabilities that they are interested in or start a conversation about how they can get started.
The second most important element of a Great Demo is appropriate preparation and a specific and detailed understanding of your prospect’s situation:
- Job Title and Industry: this provides a context for understanding how they are measured, likely objectives, and what examples or illustrations may be relevant.
- Critical Business Issue: What is the major problem he/she has?
- Reasons: Why is it a problem or what is the problem due to?
- Specific Capabilities: What capabilities are needed to address the problem?
- Delta: What is the value associated with making the change?
- Date: Is there a customer critical date or event that needs to be met?
If you are selling software to businesses, consider attending one of the two Great Demo! workshops we have scheduled in 2014 in San Jose
May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA
October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA
After every Great Demo! workshop we contact the attendees with a short E-Mail that reads in part:
I want to check-in to see how you have been doing using the ideas and skills we covered in our Great Demo! Workshop three months ago. Specifically, I’d like to hear:
- What have been the results so far?
- Do you have any success stories to report or share?
- Any questions or new situations you’d like to discuss?
What follows is a redacted e-mail from a real attendee at a recent Great Demo workshop. We have his permission to post it, but he asked that we remove identifying information because of his candor about his approach to demos before he came to the workshop.
I would like to tell you that your workshop has had a positive impact not only on my demos, but also on my customer meetings in general.
The key message I took away, “Do the last thing first,” has proven very effective at increasing customer engagement in our demos. Our product is a sophisticated one with a long history–what are prospects sometimes describe as “very complex” or “arcane” even “confusing.” We sometimes present modules that–in hindsight–were of no of interest to the customer. This can not only turn a demo into a waste of everyone’s time but also convert a hot prospect into a lukewarm one.
It’s seems obvious now, but getting right to the point and then working backwards based on the customer’s level of interest (“Peeling back the onion”) has triggered a lot more questions and demos that end in clearly defined next steps instead of “you’ve given us a lot to think about, please let us get back to you.”
The example that really punched me in the gut when I realized what I had been doing was your hyperkinetic impersonation of someone doing a demo of Microsoft Word. Your first answer to the question, “Can you print?” seemed reasonable: you opened the print dialog box and walked through all the print options in detail–portrait or landscape, single or double-sided printing; color or black and white, number of copies, print quality, etc…
But when you did the second take and said “Yes, would you like to see it?” and clicked the print icon I had this terrible sinking feeling.
“Holy Crap! My demos have too much detail,” I said to myself.
Change is hard, but the three of us who attended your class took the “Great Demo” approach back and have seen a difference in the number of demos that now lead to sales that are progressing.
You may be in the same predicament if your approach demos involves one or more of the following:
- You include a multi-slide corporate overview whether the prospect requests it or not.
- Demos are viewed as an opportunity to provide training on your product.
- It’s not uncommon for a demo to end with prospects sitting in stunned silence or murmuring, “let us think about this and get back to you” instead of asking questions.
We have two Great Demo! workshops on on the calendar for 2014 in San Jose
|May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
Q: What sales traits are crucial for entrepreneurs?
This principle of clarity. Entrepreneurs are moving from a world of problem-solving to a world of problem-finding. The very best ones are able to uncover problems people didn’t realize that they had. Today if the customer knows precisely what their problem is they will probably be able to find a solution on their own. The entrepreneur is more valuable in cases where [customers] don’t know what their problem is or they are wrong about their problem. So surfacing latent problems, anticipating new problems, is really powerful for entrepreneurs.
We partner with Peter Cohan to offer open enrollment workshops in Silicon Valley for his “Great Demo” workshop. In the last two years he has added a much more content on discovery and diagnosis as key elements of the sales process. A software demo is just one component of the customer discovery and validation challenges that founders must navigate; a demo can be used early in the process to offer a vision of a solution or later to provide technical proof of a a software product’s capabilities. But without a clear understanding of the prospect’s needs a demo will often miss the mark, hence the need for discovery and diagnosis.
Peter normally works with larger software organizations on-site at a sales all hands meeting but three times a year we partner with him so that startups and smaller software firms can attend a multi-firm workshop in San Jose. Our next Great Demo! Public Workshop is scheduled for March 5-6 in San Jose, California; register at http://skmcohan140305-cohan.
It’s a day and a half well spent: first day focuses the core Great Demo! concepts and the morning of the second day addresses advanced topics and techniques. We also have one coming up May 21-22: http://skmcohan140521.
I have blogged about Daniel Pink twice before:
- Entrepreneurs, Luck, and Silicon Valley
- Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation Worth Revisiting which highlighted his 7 Laws (my three favorites are bolded)
Law 1: Independence is the best hedge against a downturn.
Law 2: When times get tougher, quality counts.
Law 3: Free to be you and me? We’ve got to be you and me.
Law 4: You’re on the line. Where else would you want to be?
Law 5: Up isn’t the only direction.
Law 6: Bigger isn’t better. Better is better.
Law 7: Forget survival of the fittest. Think Golden Rule.
I have blogged about BeamWise™ in
- “BeamWise Blends Biophotonic and Model Based Design Expertise”
- A First look at BeamWise in Operation”
If you are interested in getting a closer look, Kinetic River will be demonstrating it in booth 8639 at the BiOS Conference February 1-2, 2014. If you don’t want to wait that long contact Giacomo Vacca directly or take a look at a new BeamWise demo video.
Dr. Giacomo Vacca of Kinetic River will present a briefing on BeamWise™ at the Twenty-Third Cytometry Development Workshop in Asilomar today. Here is a silent four minute video of some key aspects of BeamWise operation he will narrate live as a part of the briefing. Tapio Karras of Design Parametrics will also be on hand to answer questions. The video was created from a screen capture of BeamWise in operation by Hannu Lehtimäki.
“Memory is a net: one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook, but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Have you stocked the stream of words in your presentation with at least a few of the fish that your audience is looking for?
What do you hope your audience will remember?
“Always be shorter than anyone dared hope.”
Another excerpt from Peter Cohan’s very insightful new article “Stunningly Awful vs. Truly Terrific Competitive Differentiation – What, When, and How”
From the customers’ perspective vendors are “differentiating”, positively or negatively, with every contact, every meeting, and every deliverable. Let’s explore possible negative differentiation first. How do you feel about:
- Vendors that cold call you – repeatedly?
- Vendors that take forever to answer your email inquiries – or ignore what you asked?
- Vendors that leap right to showing you a “solution”, without sufficient Discovery?
- Vendors whose demos look complicated or confusing, in spite of having a pile of “competitive differentiators”?
- Sales people that speak ill of their competition?
- Sales people that are “cagey” about providing pricing information?
- Vendors that over-promise and under-deliver?
Interestingly – and sadly – the list above is what often occurs with typical, traditional vendors and sales people. Most of us as customers perceive these items as unpleasant and they contribute to an overall negative impression. Unwittingly, perhaps, these vendors and sales people have differentiated negatively.
Let’s look at the same list again, but with a different approach to each item:
- Nurture or “trickle” marketing activities (as opposed to cold calling).
- Rapid, specific responses to email inquiries.
- Thorough and intelligent Discovery – before presenting solutions.
- Crisp, focused, engaging demos of the Specific Capabilities needed by customers.
- Sales teams that are clear and honest about their own offerings’ strengths and limitations.
- Clear and transparent pricing information.
- Building a vision of how the customer will move from their current (painful) state to their desired (glorious) future state with the solution in place and operating.
Generally speaking, these activities are viewed favorably by customers. Vendors that follow these processes are already differentiating positively in comparison with “traditional” vendors.
My take: a startup is negotiating from the first contact with a prospect. They are negotiating for attention, time, insights, data, feedback, revenue, endorsements, etc.. The more you can do from the very first contact to show that you value your prospect’s time, opinions, and ultimately business by how you treat them, the better able you are to differentiate your startup from many common practices that communicate a lack of respect for the customer and their needs.
Related Blog Posts
- Cold Calling Won’t Find Your First Business Customer
- Purpose, Patience, Politeness, and Prudent Risk Taking
- How To Start a Warm Conversation About a Customer Problem
- Are You Generating iPod Fishbowl Leads?
- Treat Prospects Well–Allow For Another Conversation
Great Demo! Public Workshop October 15-16, 2014
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
Our next public Great Demo! Workshop is scheduled to take place October 15-16 in San Jose, California.
This is an excellent opportunity for individuals, small groups or for teams that have new hires.
We’ve found that these events are most productive when there are two or more participants from each organization (singletons are also fine). This helps to mimic real-life interactions as much as possible, both when preparing demos and delivering them in the role-play sessions.
Peter Cohan has a very insightful new article out, “Stunningly Awful vs. Truly Terrific Competitive Differentiation – What, When, and How“, that outlines how to use discovery conversations to enable effective product differentiation. What follows are some excerpts with additional commentary but the entire article is worth reading.
I respect your time so I will keep this short.
In two minutes I can explain why getting to the point immediately in a presentation or demo to an individual or small group is good for not only the survival but also the growth of your business. It’s the approach least likely to waste your time or theirs, and the most likely to start a serious conversation that can form the basis for a new business relationship.
If you communicate the key points first your audience is much better equipped to process the details: this means that they are more likely to understand you, believe you, and do business with you.
This matches the way the brain works. In “Brain Rules” author John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, cites cognitive research results that demonstrate that the brain processes meaning before details. He advises:
“Don’t start with the details. Start with the key ideas, and in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions.”
What are two key points to communicate?
- First, that you will repay a few minutes of their attention with information that is relevant to their situation and actionable.
- Second, how your offering will help them address a critical business issue–and result in more revenue, more profit, or reduced risk.
If you present the meaning first, you will naturally adopt the other person’s point of view and you will be much less likely to overwhelm them because you are presenting your ideas in a way that is most easily processed.
Why is this hard to do? Because we like to save the best for last.
Whether it’s the punch line to a joke or the identity of the killer in a whodunit, we like to withhold the key piece of information that organizes and make sense of everything else that has been said.
But this is a match to the wrong presentation format for the story you want to tell.
Instead think about the Lego box photo, the first thing that you see on a store shelf or on Amazon.com. Lego has a well-known brand name, founded in 1932 and still privately held, it has produced more than 400 billion toy bricks.
The company puts the most important information first on the box. A photo of the Lego Star Wars x-Wing Starfighter provides a clear context to the prospective parent buyer or a child who is building a birthday wish list.
The first thing you see after you open the Starfighter box is 560 multi-colored pieces and a collegiate dictionary-size book of assembly directions. It’s obvious why the company does not put these images on the box.
Two final examples.
- A cooking show will start with a shot of the final dish, for example barbecue spare ribs for your next cookout. Because we eat with our eyes first, this may entice you to continue watching to learn how to prepare the ribs.
- A newspaper prints headlines in large type, and the gist of the story in the first sentence, so that you can decide whether or not to read the whole article.
Why should your presentation be any different?
Michelle McIntyre (@FromMichelle) contributed to this blog post. She is the president of Michelle McIntyre Communications, a public relations consulting firm serving small businesses and software start-ups in the U.S. and Europe. McIntyre has won 10 awards in the past two decades in her career at IBM and three public relations firms including Global Fluency, parent company of the Chief Marketing Officer Council.
Q: I didn’t get any questions at the end of a recent demo. The audience was quiet and respectful and our point of contact said “It’s an interesting product, you’ve given us a lot to think about.” But it’s been two weeks and I haven’t had any response to my two follow up e-mails and a voicemail.
A: It’s very likely that they felt your product was not a fit with their needs and being polite was the fastest way to get you out of the room. Avoid the temptation to demo to early by first getting agreement on what the key business is that they are looking for help on and then clarifying what are two or three capabilities they believe they need to address their needs. A crisp presentation that demonstrates those capabilities–and only those capabilities–should lead to a longer conversation.
Q: I didn’t get any questions during a recent demo, and two of the key audience members spent a lot of time e-mailing on a tablet or texting on a phone. What can I do when a prospects starts to multi-task?
A: If you have a whiteboard or flip chart ask them to sketch an answer to a question. If you open with a very brief intro that confirms their critical business issue and the capabilities they are looking for it’s less likely they will tune you out.
If you are not sure what business challenge they are looking for help with open with some questions of them about what they are using now, what their current workflow looks like, and where they are looking for help. Diagnose before you prescribe and you should be able to get their attention. If that does not work then you may be a “check in the box” that they have talked to enough vendors (also know as “column fodder” where they can compare your offering to several others including their first choice).
Another alternative for a large group is to offer a menu of features or capabilities and ask for a show of hands to prioritize what you should show first.
If it’s a senior person or decision maker who is tuning you out, you need to engage them. If it’s only one person in a group of five or six and everyone else is engaged I would not be as concerned. They may either be bored (in which case engaging them will help) or worried about another situation (sick child, major service outage, urgent text from their boss) in which case they may need to leave.
|Core Seminar & Advanced Topics
October 9 & 10, 2013
Cost: $930 (Before Sep-8: $895)
Where: Moorpark Hotel, 4241 Moorpark Ave, San Jose CA 95129
For out of town attendees: The Moorpark is located 400 feet from the Saratoga Ave exit on Hwy 280, about 7 miles from San Jose Airport and 35 miles from San Francisco Airport Hotels Near Great Demo! Workshop