Keeping Your Prospects Out of the Hammock

In a world where there's so much competition for your prospect's attention, how do you stand out? Here's how to make sure you have your audience's attention.

Your prospects didn't wake up this morning and say, "I'm really glad I have that appointment with a salesperson today, so she can get me to stop doing what I'm doing and do something different." No, in reality, when their appointment with you rolls around, they are probably wondering how you even got on their calendar.

From your perspective, your biggest communication challenge is an attention problem. In a world where there's so much competition for your prospect's attention, how do you stand out? Brain science research shows that you have very little time in that meeting to communicate something that will actually be remembered.

Researchers have found that people can remember 70 percent of what they hear at the beginning of a presentation, 20 percent of the content in the middle and nearly 100 percent at the end. So what does this have to do with your sales message? Well, nearly all presentations are designed to be the exact opposite of this curve, which puts you at risk of putting your prospects into the sagging "hammock" portion of this visual.

You open with: "Here's our company history, here's what we do, here's our timeline of innovations, here are our locations with dots on a map of the world and here are the logos of a bunch of customers."

If this sounds like the first five slides in your deck, you have a big problem. You look and sound like everyone else, and by the time you get done talking about "your story," the prospect is comfortably resting in the hammock, pretending he or she is paying attention, but in reality is no longer engaged.

Stop Wasting Your Memorable Moments

In the opening, you've completely wasted the second most important opportunity to say something compelling that will be remembered and re-told. The meat of your message - the part that has to do with the prospect's problems and how you differentiate your solution - shows up too late.

Then, when you wrap up your presentation, the prospect naturally snaps back to attention and it makes sense that he or she remembers the things heard last, best. But, typically how do your presentations end? The truth is, they end pretty weakly. "Does anyone have any questions? Here are our next steps."

Ideally, what you need to do is take maximum advantage of your prospects' rapt attention at the end, and leave them with a powerful finish they will remember and re-tell to everyone who didn't make the meeting. I call it your "walk the halls" moment. Say something that can be spread around the company even after you're gone.

Make Your Message Hot, Grabby and Spiky

You need to completely re-orient your presentations to grab someone's attention and avoid the hammock. This requires knowing how you will open "hot," close "hot," and "spike" your audience's attention throughout.

In the book, Conversations That Win the Complex Sale, we discuss a variety of "grabber" techniques that you can use to create and deliver these hot, grabby, and spiky moments. Here are a few quick examples:

  • Number Plays - Put up a list of numbers so your prospect can see them. Then, go down the line to explain exactly what each number represents, revealing an interesting story and insight that gets the prospect thinking about their situation and whether they are OK or not. Here's an example:
    • 90
    • 40
    • 1,000

Next, explain exactly what each number means: The number 90 represents the percentage of marketing content that goes unused in the field by salespeople. The number 40 is the hours salespeople spend each month creating and re-creating their own marketing materials. The number 1,000 is potentially how many stories your company is telling to prospects and customers because that's how many sales reps you have. How much wasted time and money is being spent only to wind up with this kind of messaging schizophrenia and brand dilution?"

  • Words-in-Common - Ask your prospects to find the correlation between words that seemingly have nothing in common, and then show them how they are connected. The addition of a personal story can also help create a new perception in their mind that your solution may not be as farfetched for them as they may have initially thought. When used properly, this technique is a great way to take advantage of stories to make your message stick. Here's an example:

What do these words have in common: Hail Mary, Buzzer Beater and Walk-off? They are all last ditch, desperation efforts to snatch a victory from defeat. It's not a very sound game plan for a winning season. Unfortunately, most salespeople approach negotiations the same way, trying last-minute heroics to avoid discounting, but often failing. A better game plan is to build value all along the sales cycle that keeps your price up, instead of trying to save it at the end.

  • Big Pictures - These are visuals you can physically draw, which help to explain concepts in a way that's not only easier to absorb initially, but that sticks with your prospects long after you've left their building. Big pictures simplify complex messages and make abstract ideas concrete. The visual and story of the hammock used earlier in this article is a good example of a big picture grabber.
  • "What If You?" Questions - Start off your pitch by asking two or three "what if you" questions in a row. For example: What if you never had to teach another programmer another language again? (Pause) And, what if you could quickly recycle code into new applications 90 percent faster? (Pause) And, finally, what if your documentation was automatically created for you as you wrote your applications? (Pause) That's what you're going to see today. When this technique is done well, it will feel natural to your prospect, and it will peak his or her interest while also introducing the differentiation in your solution.

Getting and keeping your prospects' attention in today's hyper-communicated world is your biggest challenge when delivering a message. Use these grabber ideas to avoid the hammock and you will be more remarkable and memorable in your next conversation.