The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Don’t Sell Me, Bro’!
I haven’t stirred blog waters in a while, so let me throw a rock along the surface and see if it skips or splashes.
I admire those who are skilled in the art of persuasion. We need salespeople to bring ideas to help solve business problems. But timing is everything. Solomon waxed it eloquently in ancient days: “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.”
Let me be straight. The right time to sell is never before, during, or after a speaker’s presentation. Yet this happens too often.
I recently finished the keynote for the Texas HIMSS conference. During Q&A, a salesperson launched into an infomercial. I was on my heels a bit and tried to move on. Instead of giving up, he launched into a second infomercial. I just wasted five minutes of precious audience time and subjected everyone to this windbag. I don’t remember a word he said or his company. This type of approach does nothing but spark tension and resistance.
The above incident broke the camel’s back. I am DONE with it. Hence, the motivation for this post and some practical advice on how to put things in their proper place.
Zeitgeist: “Understanding the intellectual and cultural climate of” the speaker presentation. Just for a moment, take off the sale’s hat and empathize with the presenter. Dependent on content, I have worked 10 to 20 hours to put something respectable together. Once it’s assembled, I rehearse at least the same amount.
For the above-mentioned HIMSS presentation, a colleague and I spent 20 hours putting together the content. We spent additional time with Advisory Board and Gartner to review and improve. I stayed up past 2 a.m. the night prior making last-minute adjustments. I spent three hours before the curtain opened rehearsing again.
As is typical, when I finished speaking, I felt as if I’d completed a big race or mountain summit: exhausted and elated. I’m asking myself how I could’ve done better and I’m beating myself over the lines I missed.
After this presentation, a line formed at the stage to talk. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the interaction when it is an exchange of ideas. Ideas energize me. Interacting with individuals often helps me decompress. But I get indignant when feigned interest is actually a veiled sales pitch.
When you sell me, I completely shut down. I will not remember a word you say. I will toss your business card. One person actually pulled out their iPad to give me a demo of the newest product destined to solve our nation’s woes. Really?
What I love is when attendees come up and we share ideas or perhaps I can answer a couple of questions they had from the presentation. This is like a reward, and I will find energy to connect. I love to help. But don’t sell me, bro’.
To keep this from happening again, I developed some untested recommendations. I am interested in your ideas as well. Please contribute with a comment so we all make better use of this precious time. Both audience and speaker will appreciate these.
- Control the microphones. When you hand someone a mic, you have lost control. By holding it for them, you can prevent a hijack.
- Provide boundaries. Let the audience know upfront that questions are welcomed and encouraged, with two caveats: infomercials or pontification are shunned.
- Assertiveness. If someone violates these rules, protect the speaker and move on to the next question.
- Be direct. If someone goes into sales mode, actively shut them down and move to the next question or person.
- Buddy system. Have a buddy with you as you prepare for the talk. If accosted, the buddy steps in.
- An associate. Appoint an associate to stand with you after the talk. If someone goes into sales mode, they can step in and you move to the next person. My wife is great at this during parties. If she senses a sneak attack, you’d better watch out.
What’s worse than being sold post-presentation? Being accosted before the presentation with a sales pitch. When heading into a presentation, the last thing on my mind is listening to someone drone on about their product or service. My thoughts are focused on exceeding audience and organizer expectations. I’m absorbed with logistics perfection: visuals, lighting, and sound. I’m gaining a sense for the flow and vibe of the room. Not to mention I’m straining to remember all my key points! This is a big deal. It is show time.
Don’t sell me, bro’!
I really appreciate the feedback and the ideas. I love understanding the multitude of perspectives. As I stated at the start of the blog, I have great respect for sales professionals. I have wonderful relationships with many that have helped our organization transform its business and clinical operations enabling superior outcomes.
That said, I still stand fast on this idea –you must respect the presenter and never try and sell them before, during, or after. There is a time for sales and there is a time for presentations. But they are distinct.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.