The Jawbone of an Ass

featured-crewcallPicture this: You’re shopping for a new car. You have a vacation road trip coming up, and you really want new wheels. Your friends have recommended that you look at a couple of cars, at a couple of different dealerships, at a couple of different manufacturers. You approach a salesman at one of the dealerships, asking to look at their various models. He shows you a brochure, and describes their latest model, which appears to meet your needs.  So you ask to see the car. But the salesman doesn’t grab the keys and take you to the lot. Instead, he insists on showing you the carburetor, brake pads, and seats — as separate parts. He then asks you to picture what it would be like if they were assembled into a car.

Welcome to the typical AV demo.

A good friend, Bill Sharer, is a consultant to sales and marketing in our industry, and a really good one. We have taught together at the InfoComm Institute, and he has helped me train sales staff for a number of different companies. One of the great things about Bill is the encyclopedic collection of stories he keeps at the tip of his tongue to make a point. He’s really fond of the biblical story about Samson slaying the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and many sales being lost with the same weapon. And boy, is he ever right.

I started my career in the staging market, and have spent the latter part in systems design and sales. Both are complicated products, combined with complicated services. Both are products sold on trust, where we must first establish credibility with any new client. Often, to close that first sale, we must demonstrate either our work product or our overall capabilities. Sometimes, in an effort to give a killer demo, we pick up that jawbone, and frighten the Phillistines away.

I know — AV guys and gals aren’t Samson (although my wife says I have lovely locks), and our customers aren’t Philistines. But I’ve slain a fair number of sales with my jawbone over the years. And I’ve worked with a lot of other people in the industry who have done the same. So I feel  competent to catalog the ways in which we send our demos south:

We are too good for you: “Here are some pictures of our latest mega show (or boardroom). Of course, this is way beyond what you are considering, or can afford. But don’t worry, we could do a nice job on a ho-hum little project like yours too. “

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Apples and oranges: “Thanks for taking the time to tour our latest boardroom. It’s loaded with incredible technology, and is representative of the kind of things that we do. So, of course, you should choose us to do your robotic surgery telemedicine suite.”

The competitor reference: “Don’t worry. We know all about what you need to do, because we handle all the work for your closest competitor.  We have a very close working relationship with them, and can do pretty much the same thing for you that we have done for them.”

The inverse competitor reference: “Yes, we are familiar with what your competitor is doing. In fact, we did that show, but the one we would do for you would be much better. Really, it was all their fault…”

The out-of-context component demo: “Let me give you a technical demonstration of the projector that we would use for your show (or in your conference room). Of course, this is taking place on a much smaller screen in our overlit warehouse, but I’m sure you can imagine it if it were on a much larger screen, with a different source, under different lighting, in your auditorium.”

The stock reference list: “Here is a list of three of our customers, who have nothing to do with the type of project that you are doing, but who have agreed to tell people how great we are.” (Note: None of these references should have the same last name as yours.)

The storage capacity demo: Nothing makes as much sense to a client as showing them how many trucks you have, or how many boxes you have in your storeroom, or how many road cases there are in your warehouse.

Been there? I have. What do these real-life scenarios have in common? The pitch is all about you — your brochures, your toys, your technology, your… what’s the word… slickness. You’ve got it completely upside down. Get that jawbone in check and understand: The pitch is all about the customer.

Next time, we’ll take up The Art of the Killer Demo, or how not to talk yourself out of a sale.

Reach Joel Rollins at