The Importance Of Knowing Your Stuff

I’m not feeling well… For the second time in a month, I’ve got the flu and feel like a wet bag of poo.  You know the days where your body hurts, you feel hot and you’d rather be doing anything other than working.

That was how I felt today.

Except I had to go to an important client meeting today for work and deliver part of a very important sales pitch.  Yay me!

For a bit of context, this potential client is a pretty big deal, it’s worth millions and I’ve been working on it with a small team for about two months now.  So, of course, the day we have to present our proposal, I’m feeling like crap.

Yesterday at 3pm I got called in by one of our sales managers and the account executive for this client and was asked/informed that they wanted me to present a significant portion of the proposal.  My role was to “tell the story of our solution offering”.

The idea was that someone with my experience, expertise and background was more relevant to the client and they said, “We think you’re the best storyteller.”

West flank assault on the ego, well played.

“But I’ve not really done any preparation and I’ve not put a slide deck together… How can I do that by tomorrow morning?”

I tried to demonstrate the practical limitation of what they were suggesting while also articulating that I was a tiny bit miffed that they sprung this on me at the last minute.

They had a slide deck ready to go so we went through it, I changed it around a bit to make the story flow and pointed out some things they needed to fix.  I was told I would have it by 8pm last night so I could review it and prepare for the presentation which was happening today at lunchtime.

Needless to say, the slide deck never arrived last night and because the client’s office was a bit of a hike, it arrived in my inbox while I was driving.  Not much help really.

During the five minutes we’re setting up before starting the presentation meeting, I noticed that several of the key slides have totally changed since yesterday afternoon.

“What gives?  Why did the slides change?”

“Oh, these ones are better.”

It’s now time to kick off and the Account Manager starts with the fluffy bunny intros and talks about how honoured we are to have the opportunity to present our solution… Blah Blah Blah.  He’s going through his slides and suddenly, “Ok, now I’ll hand over to Sean to walk you through our understanding of your business requirements, talk about the solution we’re proposing and how we think it meets your success criteria.”

I look at the screen and I’ve never seen this slide before.  I have no idea what it says – it may as well be Sanskrit.  I take a drink of water – luckily they know I’m a bit sick, so they couldn’t see I was stalling to read the slide and check the laptop to see what the next slide was.

At that point, I broke into a story about how three years ago, I was where they are at now.  I spoke to the challenges I had and drew the parallels to the journey they wanted to take.  I talked about the way my stakeholders felt about things and the pressures of the task they were facing.  Then I moved on to share with them the success I had and offered them hope that they could get out of their current situation… if they chose us as their service provider.

I never looked at the screen, I just turned and spoke directly to them.

It went well, they were engaged, listening, nodding along and laughing at the right times – that’s actually a really important cue as a speaker; when your audience is listening and engaged, they will react the right way at the appropriate points in your presentation.

The reason it went well was because I knew my stuff cold.  I knew their challenges and struggles, I understood their aspirational goals and over the past couple months I soaked up the details around some of their business’ idiosyncratic ways of doing things.  I wasn’t presenting to them, I was having a conversation with them about helping them achieve their goals and become better at their jobs.

The basis of great sales based storytelling is knowing your stuff and knowing who your audience is.  You need to be able to identify and call out their pain points, irritate those sore spots a little, offer some pain relief and then help them cure the problem.

And all of that comes from knowing your topic and your audience really well.

Four months back I stood up in front our 100 account managers in a sales meeting and had not prepared at all.  I saw the guy speaking before me and I liked his last slide, so I told him to keep it up there and I’d speak to that.  I did my whole fifteen-minute talk off the back of one slide I’d just seen from the speaker before me.

You can’t just fake that, you have to understand your topic to do that.

In the online businesses that I come across either through our SEO and Content Services, my coaching program or some of my Casual Marketer members, I routinely encounter people that are stuck.  They don’t know what the next move is, they don’t have anything to sell and when presented with an opportunity, they don’t know what to do with it.

Without question, every time I see this, I know it comes down to not having a rock-solid understanding of your market, your product and your value proposition.

The person might have some of that information, but not enough of it to string together a cohesive story.  They might know their market really well, but can’t figure out how to put together a product that solves their pressing issues or maybe they have a great product, but no idea how who the ideal audience is.

To me, “knowing your stuff” is one of the key components of success, without it, you’re just someone floundering around looking for answers.

It’s impossible to lead your audience to the promised land if you’re as lost as they are!

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