I’ve always been impressed by a good presentation. The first sales presentation I was ever shown was a full script, which we had to learn word-for-word.
This seemed impractical to all of us on the first day of the training course. Firstly, who could possibly remember all these words? I foolishly wondered that one out-loud. Secondly, how phoney would it sound reading a script to a prospect, as was pointed out by my fellow trainee, Jim.
Luckily we had an excellent trainer, Will.
“What do you mean, Bob, that you couldn’t remember all these words? You play in a band don’t you? Twenty, thirty songs a night? That’s a lot of words. And I bet you remember them?”
“And what do you mean, Jim, that a script sounds phoney? A script in the hands of master will make you, laugh, cry, transport you to another place. It’s an art. In the hands of an idiot, sure, even the best scripts will sound phoney. But I can see you’re not an idiot, Jim, so you’ll be fine.”
Also, don’t forget to use your senses in the same proportion as God gave you them. Two ears. One mouth. Prospects speak too. You see, the best lines are often given to us, not by God, but by prospects.”
Will went on to say that, of course, certain situations demanded the salesperson improvise but unless you know the script – and its purpose – backwards, then you’d not really be improvising at all.
You’d just be making stuff up as you go along. Besides, how well you learned the script indicated your attitude to everything else.
Those who knew the script best made the most money. That was the final judge of everything. No arguments.
Will also pointed out that each presentation was weighted, structured, like a poem, he said. There were critical lines that if used at the wrong point were useless but, used correctly, were dynamite.
Timing, said Will, was everything.
Suffice to say we learned it backwards. Sure, the more we used the presentation the more of ourselves became imbued in it. But the core structure remained the same. Years later, when I created a presentation for guys selling to retail which I’d only just started doing myself in a new venture, Will’s word’s came back to me.
We were selling books to non-book retailers. The first objection they raised, usually during the first line of my evolving presentation, was: “But I don’t do books!” I was long enough in the tooth to hang in there and respond but was conscious that I didn’t have a killer line to put them at ease and allow me to continue.
I threw myself into action as often as possible, knowing that practise makes perfect. But it still just wasn’t happening. I was trying too hard. Talking too much. Then I remembered Will’s advice. Go out there and listen.
The next day, in a Spar store, while encountering the usual, “I don’t do books objection”, I heard the retailer’s wife say, “But that’s exactly why he’s here!” She was almost scolding him for being so closed-minded.
The retailer looked at me. The game was up. He was mine now.
I smiled, and said, “exactly”, as if I’d been waiting to say just that line, which had never once occurred to me before his wife had come to rescue. He was a pussy cat after that, because he was listening and, effectively, giving me permission to sell to him.
That night in my hotel, I rubbed and crossed out on the page the presentation that was still a work in progress (this was before the rise of computers) and, in the margins where suggested responses to objections lay, proudly inserted Mrs Retailer’s line, “That’s exactly why I am here.”