Remembering the Potato Chip Man
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Road Show Road Kill

I'm doing some consulting these days, and one of my assignments is to help a small managed service provider transition into selling cloud-based services. It's fun work, as it puts me at the intersection of sales and product.

As part of this work, I attended a "road show" put on by one of the (very large) companies whose products/services we currently sell. The focus was on their "cloud" service offerings, and the audience was schmo's like me looking to figure out how to sell these kinds of services… without drowning in a sea of collateral and sales documents available on the company's web site.

I'm well-acquainted with the "road show," at least from the presenter's side. You barnstorm through a bunch of cities, pitching your particular product/service to the audience of customers or salespeople that have been assembled and coerced into staying by the free food and the prize given out at the end of the event. The days are long, the travel numbing, the presentations become increasingly difficult to do with enthusiasm. On the other hand, you're bonding with co-workers and drinks are on the house.

This was one of my first opportunities to experience a road show from the audience side. The free food was fine, a little light on the fruit and vegetable side. The give-away at the end (a video game console) was also fine, though it didn't hold my interest. And some of the presentations were really well done: focused on the needs of the audience, simple but still informative, and delivered with enthusiasm and humor.

But the presentation that stood out, of course, was the one that seemed to break every rule of presenting—in seemingly sequential order.

  • The presenter started with an apology, having to do with not having the usual technical support person available to handle the really tough questions. She may as well have started by saying, "you're not going to get much out of this, but it's not my fault".
    • Don't EVER start with an apology. You immediately take yourself out of the "driver's seat" and undermine your own credibility. Better to wait until you actually have something to apologize for.
  • The presenter's slides had WAY too much information on them. And apparently much of the information wasn't that important, because the presenter made no attempt to communicate it.
    • I've harped about presentations elsewhere, but here's the main point: do you want people listening to you? Or reading your slides? And by the way, are you saying anything interesting that's not already covered on those slides?
  • The presenter said, in so many words, that "Version 1" of the product sucked.
    • NEVER bad-mouth your own product. I've seen presenters do this, thinking it's their way of bonding with the audience. All it does is make the audience wonder, "What kind of a loser would want to work for a company that put out such awful products?"
  • The presenter went on to say (again, I'm paraphrasing), "Eventually, we'll be best in class." So, am I supposed to check back when you actually have something worth selling? It turns out that what she meant to say was that the cloud-based product would eventually offer the same features as the locally-hosted product. But that's not what I heard.
    • It's OK to have a better product later. But don't imply that your product is bad right now.
  • The presenter talked about the product's "agility" and in the next breath discussed six-month (!) release cycles. I'll admit this is more of a nit, as "agile" has special meaning to those in the product development world. And it's true that this product's release cycles are much faster than the locally hosted version's cycles. But most people looking to do "Agile" product development are planning for weekly release cycles, not half-yearly ones.
    • Be careful with your language. You don't want to claim you're something (e.g., "Agile") when the evidence isn't there to support it.
  • The presentation (slides and spoken words) was filled with company-specific jargon and acronyms. Your TLA's are your own. I no more want to adopt them than I want to order a "Venti" sized coffee.
    • Circle every acronym and piece of jargon on your slides and ask yourself, "Do I really need the audience to use this term or know what it means?"

If you don't want this to be you, pay attention to your presentation: its message, focus, and delivery. Or you could make sure I'm not invited to your show.

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