Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Who Wants To Go First?

In this Month's "Ask John" I was posed the folowing question by Bethany:

I work for a small software company here in the Americas. For the past five years, we have focused on the lower end of the Small-Medium Business (SMB) market and have been very successful with our one product. We have now made an acquisition, revamped our sales team and moved upmarket with our target audience. Because of this, we are now involved in many competitive situations with larger companies and are having to give a lot more presentations and demonstrations.

My question is: When a client asks you to make a sales presentation
(as one of four possible vendors)
is there any advantage in going first, last or in the middle?

Thanks for the question. Certainly many sales professionals have debated this question over the years. My personal preference has always been that you should
either be first or last, but never in the middle. There is some basic psychological research around the
primacy and recency effects – the classic example is reciting a list of ten items to a person. They are far more likely to remember the first and last items when asked, than any of the ones in the middle. This applies to sales as well.

Classic sales theory is that if you go first you get an opportunity to redefine the battlefield, set some competitive traps and generally set the high bar for everyone who follows. The other part of the theory is that by going last you have an opportunity to sense how others have performed, possibly adjust based on insider (coaching) information, and leave the final impression in the review committees mind.

Many well-known companies promote the “go-last” strategy. One of the most famous examples was Siebel Systems when selling their SFA application – they always wanted to go last; to the point that their salespeople would find any excuse to reschedule their presentation to go last. It was a standing joke in the industry that Siebal salesreps had to attend their grandmother’s funerals so many times each year that it was a wonder they ever got any work done.

Fortunately there has been a small amount of scientific survey work undertaken to investigate the first-middle-last quandary.
Judy Wagner and Noreen Klein
published a paper titled “Who Wants To Go First? Order Effects Within A Series of Competitive Sales Presentations” in the Journal of Personal Sales and Selling. (A link is here – the article is free if you access it through a US library). The summary of their research is this.
    Sellers who present in the middle are least likely to gain any boost from that position.

    A market-leader does almost equally well going first or last. When market leaders go first, the primacy effect afford more credence to the information people hear first from sellers they already perceive to be the best.

    A “me-too” up-and-coming company does much better presenting LAST. They benefit from the recency effect – meaning that the information people hear last makes the biggest impression – especially if the time between final presentation and decision is short. They gain almost no benefit from going first.

So – the science, and John, says that in your situation you should always go last.

Good selling (but try to be more creative than killing your relatives off every year!)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Original Elevator Pitch

I'm partial to telling SE's to "give the elevator pitch the shaft" and its essentially been rendered useless except as a training exercise.

Yet, reading an article last week reminded me about the original elevator pitch. Here's the story.

It is 1853, and Elisha Otis was trying to figure out a way for him to demonstrate his remarkable solution to what was one of the major engineering problems of the day. Very simply - it was designing a SAFE elevator. Many buildings had elevators, which were incredibly complex rope-and-pulley powered systems, which were prone to failure .. and as a result .. the elevator cage would go hurtling downwards, resulying in death and destruction.

Elisha figured out a solution (which I won't explain) - and a way to demonstrate it. He rented out some space on teh main floor of New York's kargest exhibit hall and announced to everyone at the convention that they would see a remarkable demonsration the next afternnon. He set up his elevator and had his assistant hoist it 45 feet off the ground to the top of the platform. Grabbing an axe, he cut the support rope. The crowd gasped, the elevator lurched .. and nothing else happened. Elisha Otis had developed a safety brake! Saying "All safe, gentlemen, all safe" he then descended.

Elisha Otis went on to found Otis Elevator, but more importantly he developed the very first, (and a successful one at that) elevator pitch.

How impactful are your pitches?


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Third Edition Is A Go!

OK. It was complete March Madness for the blog and my writing.

The good news is that the Third Edition of Mastering Technical Sales is now starting production. We're still mapping out the full details, but it looks like we'll be adding five or six new chapters, ripping out a couple, and giving a complete revamp of most of the middle section around presentatiosn and demos. Exciting stuff! If there are particular topics you'd like to see covered please let us know.

Combined with a totally ridiculous travel schedule (which included Singapore and Thailand) the newsletter got behind schedule. It's now going to come out on Tuesday 9th April instead of April 2nd.

Final note: Interesting note from Simon Reynolds in Forbes Online titled "Is Complexity Ruining Your Business?" It looks at the issue from a corporate point of view, yet the four points he makes in a very brief article can apply to you both on a personal and a professional branding level. Worth a 60 second read.