Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch are sales guys to the core. They’re co-presidents of IMPAX, a sales training and consulting firm based in Westport, Conn.
They believe in selling, and they like to think about selling and write about it and help others to do it well. Between the two of them, they have more than 40 years of sales experience, and that’s why they co-wrote their 2002 book, Beyond Selling Value.
But there are no sales, and there are even fewer follow-up sales, without presentations. Shonka and Kosch are fervent evangelists for the role of presentation in sales, and one whole section of their book (“The Power of Presentation”) describes how to present the facts that will get you a solid hearing and maybe even help you seal the deal.
But everybody talks about that. Figuratively speaking, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting either a book about the power of presentations or a Web site that offers templates, tips and tools about how to present effectively those crucial facts that make the difference between going home happy and just going home.
We caught up with Shonka and Kosch at their St. Paul, Minn. office, and asked them: What else can you use a presentation for? What about when the sale is made, the relationship is established—and trouble rears its ugly head? How can a presentation help when a client is angry about a missed deadline, a broken promise, or a change they weren’t expecting?
Presentations: Isn’t the time to present past once the sale is made?
Dan Kosch: That’s because a lot of salespeople think about the sale, instead of about overall management of the relationship. Of course a sales rep might be focused on a new opportunity or a new account, because that’s what sales folks do. But there are times when your responsibilities mean that you have to think about how to manage a relationship over time. That’s important because, as you manage a relationship, you can do certain things with the goal of building a wall around that customer so that competitors can’t get around it. You can demonstrate the fit between your company and theirs; you can establish a business relationship with them; you can show why your solution makes the most sense, and then you manage the relationship so that only dealing with you or your company makes any sense to the client.
Presentations: But how does that work with a client who’s upset with you?
Mark Shonka: Well, the value you bring is only as good as the credit you get for it. You want to be the one who does the homework, who is in tune with the client’s business, who understands the challenges the company is facing. You can demonstrate that—and get credit for it—with presentations. And although it sounds counterintuitive, problems or difficulties are opportunities to continue showing that you understand their business and you still know how to help them succeed. Nothing gives you more credibility than to talk about a problem proactively, to be the first one to bring it up and address it.
Kosch: It’s also an opportunity, although it sounds counterintuitive, to talk about things that are going right. We always tell our clients that a presentation on a problem is a fine time to discuss recent victories, or successes, or satisfied customers. When you proactively bring up a problem, including ideas for its resolution, you can use that opportunity to discuss what’s going well and why.
Presentations: That sounds like a dangerous game. Won’t clients see through you?
Kosch: Well, you have to do it right, of course. It should be done sincerely, not as a tricky ploy to evade an issue. We once had a client in the chemical industry, and they wanted to communicate a significant price increase on one of their products. So they just put it out there and hoped the right people wouldn’t notice. It went over like a lead balloon, of course, and someone had to present to those people to explain how they had chosen to handle the price increase that way. We told them to be forthright, say that they had made a mistake, explain why decision was made to handle it that way and to say that they would like to get past it. And apologize, of course. But we asked our clients: After that part, after the issue is dealt with, why leave the customer thinking only about the failure when there have been successes in the relationship?
Shonka: Our client took some of the emotion out of the issue by acknowledging it, and admitting they shouldn’t have handled it the way they did. They also discussed with their customer how to handle issues like this in the future, which re-established the mutual dialogue and allowed them to create a plan that would work for both parties. Having that section of your presentation where you talk about successes helps you to manage the relationship and keep your last contact from ending on a negative note, even when you’ve just handled a really unpleasant problem. Also, it gives you somewhere else to go in the presentation once you’ve dealt with the issue, and gives you an opportunity to make other points.
Presentations: What mistakes can you make when trying to do something like this?
Kosch; If there’s an issue or a problem to address, don’t assume that everybody knows what it is. And don’t assume that you know all the ramifications of this issue. Get more than one perspective on how it affects the company. This is definitely a time to do your homework and know what you’re talking about. You can’t afford not to when the client is already unhappy with you.
Shonka: In a typical presentation, you want to move toward a close, because you’re moving to accomplish something, either to convey some information or encourage the client toward a decision. But you can’t close a presentation on a contentious issue that way. You can guide the conversation toward a resolution, but you need to work toward a conclusion with the person or people you’re presenting to. And you can’t move it too fast, either. You don’t want to ask, “Are we done? Can we move on?” If the client isn’t satisfied with the way the problem is resolved, you’re not done. Here, the presenter is the message—your sincerity, your willingness to work together to fix what’s wrong—and the presentation itself is just the support media.