Hey [Voice Assistant]: Find Another Voice to Represent My Business

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

For those of us who remain connected to television programming via cable or satellite, it’s hard not to notice the former CBS-TV network comedy The King of Queens relentlessly being played over and over in syndication. Scroll the on-screen programming menu offered by any cable or satellite provider and you’re sure to find it. The show is on several channels, in the morning, afternoon, and night. It’s on seven days a week.

I never watched the show when it was in its first run on network television. Never. Not once. Nothing against the show, but I just never watched it. But it’s now on television with such frequency that I’ve landed on the show more than once via late-night channel surfing.

A moment from one particular episode caught my attention. One of the show’s characters owns and operates a Queens, New York pizza parlor, and there’s a scene in this restaurant when he’s working behind the counter and in the middle of an in-person conversation. The character talks in a no-accent, Middle America, vocal style. No New York City accent. No Italian accent. No Mid-Atlantic accent. Nothing. Just a straight-forward thirty-something male voice from most Anywhere, USA. But during this episode, that conversation he’s having is suddenly interrupted by the restaurant’s telephone ringing. It’s a wall phone from the 1980’s and somebody’s calling to place an order. But instead of answering the phone in a typical “Hello, How may I help you…” tone of voice, the owner answers in a quickly-fabricated heavy Italian accent. “Hello, Angelo’s Pizza, How may I help you…” (Apply your own interpretive accent to that quote.)

The pizza order is taken, he hangs up the phone, and then goes back to his normal #voice for the balance of the previous in-house conversation. The bit lasts 10-15 seconds, max. It’s an amusing, family-friendly, network tv line from a sitcom, but one that held more of a business lesson learned than the show’s producers, writers, or actors could have known at the time.

Your Voice Assistant Can’t Provide That #CustomerExperience

I’ve read about #Amazon’s Alexa and #Google Home’s ability to locally order pizza from two of the national chains, provided accounts are set-up in advance. (Bugs and shortcomings in the system notwithstanding.) So let’s stay with that example, and imagine if you owned a local pizza place or a chain of regional Italian restaurants. Your target #customer is lying on the couch, watching The King of Queens on late-night TV and gets hungry for pizza. Instead of moving his lazy body to dial for delivery, sit up to use an app, or get up to find his computer, he only has to talk to his voice-assist enabled device sitting on a table on the other side of the room. But instead of delivering a customized audible customer experience, the generic platform voice is the front person for all pizza places within the system. Nothing unique, no Angelo, no Tony, nothing differentiated in the sound of the interaction with the restaurants. Just a computerized voice providing options, and it’s a voice that sounds exactly the same from one pizza joint to the next. At the moment of truth for the vocal and audible customer experience, the interaction is watered down. Homogenized. And that #sales, #marketing, and #customerservice process is going to have to change. One generic voice assistant representing your business – and those of your competitors – can’t last. As nice and sophisticated as your chosen platform’s voice assistant may sound, you don’t necessarily want that male or female voice branding your restaurant – or your chosen line of business.

Three #CX Predictions

1. Across all #platforms, voice-enabled transactions in the next several years are expected to total in the billions of dollars. Given that market forecast, businesses will have to quickly learn how to connect their products and services to this new form of vocal customer interaction, experience, and relationship. They’ll have to do so in a differentiated way or miss out on that future spend. It’s interesting to note that the use of voice-enabled assistants can level the playing field for many smaller or regional businesses (think Pizza Hut and Domino’s vs. Angelo’s New York Pizza), but it’ll be the smaller businesses that are slow to react and invest that could be the most vulnerable.

2. The market should move quickly in a direction that will allow #technology to be developed such that the current platform assistants can connect to corporate-owned, individually-branded voice assistants that will deliver differentiated consumer interactions. This is not a replacement of the current set of computerized voice assistants, rather a connection to one or more voices that specifically represents a particular company, #brand, or business. #Alexa or #Siri could act as a virtual switchboard to route users to any one company’s ability to use voice-assist and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in creative ways their competitor’s could never imagine.

3. For all of the technology and #AI, actual human voices will continue to play a critical role throughout this voice and branding process. I know this seems as if it takes away from some of the futuristic HAL 2000 thinking, but no supercomputer could provide the actual voice used for Tony’s Pizza in Chicago. Or Angelo’s in Queens. Or Hunter’s chain of Western Wear Shops throughout the State of Texas. I wouldn’t want a supercomputer voice to brand my Chicagoland pizza parlors with an automated voice-assist that sounds like a Joe Pesci from Goodfellas ripoff. And just ask somebody from southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama if all southern United States accents sound the same. (They don’t.) Supercomputer voices have a long way to go to reflect the nuances in dialects, and that’s only considering the USA. (BTW, that includes anything uttered by #IBM’s Watson.) For the long foreseeable future, humans will be needed to provide voices for companies seeking to differentiate themselves in the voice-assistance world, and that should make those in the #voiceover industry jump for joy.

Of course the use of differentiated voices for company branding activities is nothing new. Companies have traditionally employed actors with the precise voices they want for everything from radio and television commercials, to Interactive Voice Response systems, to web and streaming media activities, to video games, to, well, computer-generated voice-enabled assistants. But it’s this still-developing link in the voice-assisted customer experience chain that provides the most excitement, and creative possibilities.

Linking AI, to customized voices and crafted sound experiences, through the in-home, in-auto, in-office, or handheld mobile device to represent your business has got to be compelling. Imagine the possibilities, and how your business can own that audible customer experience in ways your competitors could never imagine. I think I’ll stay up late, give some thought to how this economic and technology model can work, and order a pizza.

BTW, Chicago’s pizza is still better than New York’s.

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

Forget Enabling Sales. Or Anything Else. Enable Your Presentation Skills First.

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

It’s about time somebody credibly demonstrated the importance of personal #presentation skills and put it on full display for the global business world to see. During this week’s premier of his new television show The Partner on #CNBC, entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis did just that.

For the past several years, Mr. Lemonis has been the host and business expert on another CNBC show named The Profit. On that show, Marcus documents his attempts to help failing businesses across the USA. Most of the companies featured on The Profit are on the smaller-to-medium size: local and regional organizations across industries that have gone astray with failing business models. More often than not, Marcus ends up investing in the failing businesses featured on his show, and assumes full control of all turnaround efforts. On occasion, Marcus walks away from difficult or reluctant owners, and businesses with seemingly little chance of survival. But to date, he has invested tens of millions of dollars in dozens of businesses across the country. As a result of his investments and increased demands on his time, Marcus Lemonis is in need of executive help. Thus, the search for, and a new TV show named, The Partner.

This week’s premier featured 10 candidates brought to downtown Chicago to start the process of competing for the opportunity to become Mr. Lemonis’ new business partner. 10 outstanding candidates with impressive, executive-level job titles from all walks of life. (On a personal note, the first episode show was set at The Drake hotel, blocks from where I studied for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and minutes from where I’ve lived for most of the past 25 years. Very familiar home territory.)

Each Partner candidate had been successful in the professional world, brought stellar credentials to the show, survived the audition process, and had a great story to tell. Problem was, most couldn’t effectively stand and deliver their story or their messages when it mattered the most: under pressure, on the first show, in the first round, in a surprise business #communication situation many were clearly not equipped to handle.

The setup was this: each candidate was told that they were to be given two-and-a-half minutes to present their case as to why they were the best person for the job. Next, Mr. Lemonis told the candidates he was going to set up for the presentations in a nearby conference room. One-by-one, the candidates made their way to the meeting room expecting a traditional job interview setting. It was anything but.

Unknown to the candidates, a surprise awaited them. Marcus had intentionally filled the meeting room with a large group of business people. There were well-dressed professionals sitting around the conference room table and standing shoulder-to-shoulder across the width of the room behind the table. I estimate the meeting room size was 15’ x 25’ – maybe 375-400 square feet. The number of people in the room was 30-40. Several brights lights from the back of the room illuminated the candidates as they each stood alone in front of the room, and at least one TV camera in the back was visible. The object was to (professionally) intimidate each candidate.

I watched as the candidates opened the conference room door. The solo reactions were priceless. From the footage shown, two or three of the candidates did an okay-to-decent job of handling the impromptu task. Most did not.

It bears repeating. All 10 candidates were stellar, executive-level candidates and have something to offer any business or professional organization. All very good people. But when it came to the first business communication challenge on the show, in this competition, most of candidates fell short of expectations. In fact, some of results were disastrous.

Here’s what I saw: one candidate walked in the room, then out, and quickly back in. Another appeared shocked. Few smiled, or even gave the impression that they were enjoying the moment. In the individual attempts to tell the group why they were the best candidate, many didn’t organize their thoughts and stumbled over their words. One looked away and employed a low vocal volume. Still another complained about the bright lights, and when asked what she would do if she was at an event representing the company in a similar meeting situation, her response was “I don’t know.” (She didn’t advance to the next round.)

It also bears mentioning that the candidates didn’t have the use of PowerPoint slides for these presentations. No slides. No props. No smartphones, computers, or laptops. Just the candidates themselves, standing at the front of the room facing the crowd, the lights, the camera, and the hiring manager – the decision maker – Marcus Lemonis.

I’m certain each had great personal and professional content, but only a fraction of the group had any skill or proven process to communicate it.

And for those who haven’t taken the time to properly enable themselves to use their own content to be effective in such a challenging situation, how could they (or anybody else for that matter) who takes a similar lackluster approach to presentation skills and personal business presence be expected to properly enable sales? Or marketing? Or customer service? Or any area of any business?

I smirk at the current deluge of ‘content, content, content’ without those who order or produce such content understanding how it’s effectively used by those in sales, marketing, service, and front-line executives when they face prospects, clients, partners, and investors in highly-competitive situations. After all, it’s not just the content, nor its delivery model that will win the day. It’s a professional’s ability to stand, deliver, and be heard first – then the quality of the content, second.

One issue is that of straightforward sales enablement. So many alleged sales enablers claim they provide meaningful content to salespeople, via innovative technology, in order to produce increased corporate revenues. But if these ‘enablers’ can’t handle a situation where they have to stand and deliver their own impromptu story to a business group, how can they call themselves sales enablers? Maybe they should enable themselves first with the personal communication skills they need to present their ideas to any audience put in front of them. Then they’ll have a genuine understanding of enabling others to be successful in front any audience, in any given situation, planned or unplanned. It’s only at that time that content – or more content – can be introduced.

Another presentation and enablement issue goes up to the executive ranks. In nearly 30 years of watching executive presentations given by CEOs, VPs, Directors, etc. I can safely say far too many of the presentations are sub-par. Below expectations. Hard to watch. Not engaging. Inexcusable. Good people, great content. Rotten presentation skills. To make matters worse, audiences are now treated to video and audio versions of sleep-inducing presentations, ebooks, and all sorts of amateurish multimedia content that clog social media feeds.

If executives won’t enable themselves to possess outstanding presentation skills, how can they assess any form of personal communication, sales effort, or team enablement via content production alone? If they can’t stand, deliver, and present themselves without the crutches of modern-day slide decks and electronics, how will they really know what works and what doesn’t in front of an audience? And what presentation support or professional development in this situation should their employees expect? (None.)

Just because somebody has a spiffy sounding executive title doesn’t mean they can effectively present. And if that’s the case, don’t talk to me about enabling anybody else. Enable yourself, first.

The ability to pass the tough presentation test put forth on The Partner requires more than a one-off, two-day generic presentation skills course taught once a year at corporate headquarters for the fortunate dozen who are able to attend. It takes continual communication practice to individually prepare for the presentation challenges of executive meetings, sales pursuits, webinars, on-camera appearances, media interviews, conference sessions, industry speeches, trade show duties, product briefings, and traditional conference calls. Lest we forget that everybody has a camera in their pocket and can live stream from any one of your corporate activities on a moment’s notice, whether or not you’re prepared, ready, willing, and able.

I know first hand that many companies won’t take the time or spend the money to effectively develop this area of employee communication performance. First, you have to know what you’re doing in this area, and today’s marketers (digital and otherwise) simply don’t know what to do. Nor do human resources departments lost in the 1980s. Some think the responsibility of presentation coaching falls to product marketing. That’s even worse. Before you know it, employees look outside the organization for presentation help, on their own time and on their own dime, because their employer has nothing to offer in this respect.

Yet we now see just how important this facet of the individual professional game is.

More, for all you Digital Marketers out there… or those that emphasize digital this, and digital that, as the opening for what’s important to lead generation, sales, and marketing, and your business in general, please take note. The candidates were not asked to keyword their way into the interview. Nor were they asked to demonstrate how well they use their Facebook skills. Not yet, anyway. They weren’t asked to Snapchat, Tweet, or show they’re chops on LinkedIn. The opening challenge wasn’t an exercise in SEO and SEM or compiling a text-heavy incomprehensible slide deck. It’s was a test to immediately put their personal communication and business presentation skills on the line, and do so in the a surprise, intimidating environment. Damn right. Pull your collective noses out of your mobile screens and pay attention to the business world around you and what it takes to personally communicate with your target audience – and your sales team.

Finally, some may ask what I would’ve done in a similar situation.

If given 2:30 to present, I would have prepared two short, scripted statements: one opening and one closing. Those statements would work, no matter the size of the audience. I would have physically prepared by breathing, relaxing, and preparing my voice. Again, these tactics work no matter the size of the audience. I’d have water available. Upon entering the room, I would have smiled. I’d smile, and stay in control and in charge of the situation. If possible, I’d introduce myself to as many in the room as possible before starting. I’d organize my thoughts, and do an amped-up voice check so that the very last person in the back of room can hear me – loudly and clearly. I’d gain my balance, establish my stance, pick the first person to look in the eyes and deliver my opening statement.

And I would only start speaking when I’m ready to start. Not one moment sooner.

I’d finish with a call to action, and with a statement with what I want the audience to do.

If you want more ideas about preparing for a planned presentation, webinar, or on-camera appearance, you’ll find them here.

But what I want you to do now is watch the premiere episode of The Partner on CNBC’s website, and share your thoughts on Marcus Lemonis’ presentation challenge.

Then consider what you’ll do to prepare yourself to meet the communication challenges of similar presentation situations. Only then should we talk about comprehensive team sales enablement – and the proper incorporation and usage of content.

Again, that’s only after are personal presentation skills are up to a sufficient level of performance and you’ve demonstrated the ability to pass any presentation test.

I’m looking forward to the next episodes of The Partner, and I hope Mr. Lemonis stays the course with emphasizing outstanding presentation skills from all of his #executive candidates, and the business leaders working within his portfolio of companies.

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

An #OpenLetter to TradeShow Sponsors and Attendees: Demand Excellence

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

The calendar reads October 1, 2016, and the #sales and #marketing dash to make Q4 a success is already underway. But you don’t exactly have 90 days to flood Q4 with newly discovered leads, qualified opportunities, and net-new customers, do you? With the Thanksgiving holiday next month in the USA, and the end of the year holiday season quickly approaching, you have seven good business weeks this month and next. That’s it. And though you may pick up some loose change in December, you know that those OOO emails which read “Thanks for your message, I’ll review all emails when I return to the office on Tuesday, January 3, 2017” will start to appear somewhere around December 15.

Happy New Year, indeed.

Not only is Q4 already underway, but the first quarter of 2017 is already at risk. And for those with offset fiscal calendars, the same applies. No matter how you slice it, the next six weeks are critical to the success of the next four months of the sales and marketing calendar. And it all starts with demanding excellence from all those around you at the major industry events you’re about to attend.

With time being a factor, here’s what I advise in this #openletter for your next industry #event, and to hit the ground running in Q4:

1. Demand Excellence from Event Producers

For those senior-level business leaders who chose to cut the five, six, and seven-figure checks to invest in your Q4 events, demand excellence from event organizers. Are you getting full value for your investment, or are you simply spending money because you feel you need to “be there” because you think everybody else is attending? Is your event experience enjoyable? Have the logistics of getting in and out of the event been carefully coordinated? Are the event attendees ones with whom you can do business? Is the educational platform up to your expectations? Are the sessions and the presenters good at delivering lessons learned and actionable information? Or are the event producers only concerned with getting you to resign for next year, without any evaluation of the results of this year’s show? Demand more from those cashing your sponsorship checks, and demand excellent returns from your show investment.

2. Demand Excellence from Sponsors and Exhibitors

Event attendees should hold exhibitors and sponsors to high expectations. When an attendee approaches a booth, no matter how large or small, that attendee should be treated to the best experience an #exhibitor can provide. Is the booth welcoming? Is the staff welcoming, or are they having lunch, working on their laptops, and chatting on their phones? Is somebody staffing the booth, or are you being treated to scattered brochures on a coffee-stained tabletop drape? Some exhibits are painful to see, staffed by congregating employees, who have been handed demos and slide decks that they struggle to deliver. Attendees are investing time by participating in an event, and in return deserve the best from all exhibitors.

3. Demand Excellence from Presenters

The educational platform of any event is critical to delivering value to the attendees. After all, those sitting in #conference sessions and demo rooms are there to learn something. It’s one of the main reasons for attending a show. But while an event’s sessions look good on paper, reality can be quite different. Within minutes of any presentation, you’ll be able to tell if the speaker has prepared for their session. Is it yet another hour with incomprehensible slides? With presenters who are afraid of speaking in public? Who are more concerned with their product, services, and content, versus their ability to interact with an audience? If your next session is yet another data dump with captured screen shots on eye-chart slides delivered by somebody who couldn’t care less about their personal communication skills, find and fill out the session evaluation form and make your voice heard to the show producers. Next time vote with your feet and your wallet. Attendees have been treated to bad presentations for far too long. I’ve sat through poor performances only to see an audience politely and half-heartedly clap at the end. Bad presenters count on business to go on as-is, and repeat itself, at the next conference. You should demand excellence, from all presenters. Attendees deserve it.

4. Demand Excellence from Show Services

When tackling a major industry event, you’re likely to engage third-party providers to help you with everything from designing and providing your physical exhibit, to supplying audio visual equipment, to renting ancillary tech services, to shipping and receiving of materials, etc. The list of show services can be endless. Sometimes an external show services provider will handle most of your exhibitor needs in a one-stop shopping arrangement. No matter how you approach your next event, be certain that those with whom you contract for show services are meeting your needs – well in advance of the show. If you procrastinate or leave exhibit hall problems for when you arrive on-site, it’s too late. I’ve found that there is tremendous value to partnering with a exhibit services company that can handle booth design and show logistics. There are also some things you can do yourself to save thousands. In any case, demand excellence from your show service providers, and always, in every circumstance, respect the established union labor rules in place at your next convention hall!

5. Demand Excellence from Yourself, Your Colleagues, and Your Partners

If you’re sponsoring or exhibiting at a show, or if you’re just attending, your company is spending money on that activity for a reason: to realize economic return from those expenditures. When you get back to the office, somebody will want to know what was accomplished at an event. While outstanding show invoices are being paid, and expense reports are processed, somebody, somewhere, within the four walls of your company will start to ask questions. What were the business benefits of attending? Not anecdotal feel good relationship-building stories, the tangible and measurable business benefits? You won’t get those business benefits by simply just showing up at your next event. In order to stand out in a crowd of tens of thousands, you, your team, and your alliance partners will have to be at peak performance before, during, and after each event to produce favorable results.

The Fall event season is upon us, and your company has a lot riding on event expenditures. Demand excellence from yourself, those working on your events, and those attending and sponsoring your events. Give your events – and their major expenses – the attention, service and support needed to be successful. You have no time to waste in Q4, and January 1, 2017 isn’t far behind.

Demand excellence now, and you’ll be able to stand tall and demonstrate results from all sales and marketing investments you made in every industry event when you report your results to your senior leadership team.

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

Seven Audiences Itching to KO Marketing

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

It’s time for a marketing ego check.

It’s time for a marketing ego check because audiences can, and will, bring arrogant marketing back down to Earth in an instant.

It’s a great time for marketing to be humbled. And deservedly so.

An Overflowing Industry Cup

So, which marketer hasn’t miraculously solved the problems of maintaining an impeccable customer database? Of implementing an octopus-like marketing automation solution that seamlessly ties all CRM, web, and social media tools together in an easy-to-understand, cost-effective, and low-maintenance fashion? Of creating and disseminating content that cuts through clutter and positions a team as expert storytellers capable of generating countless qualified leads and opportunities? (Even though few actually work with their colleagues on the personal communication skills needed to be effective storytellers…) Of designing and executing truly unique event experiences? Of filling the sales pipeline with more revenue-generating opportunities than any one team can handle?

The list of proclaimed marketing accomplishments is endless. And it matches the bravado audiences endure every single day by far-too-many self-centered marketing departments.

Your Audience Is Keeping Everything In Check

I know you’re doing a great job in marketing. All I have to do is watch and listen to your self-promotion. But I’ve leaned that as soon as you start drinking your own Kool-Aid, becoming too full of yourself, and becoming too big for your britches, the audience universe places a much needed wake-up call.

A nod to the audiences. All of them. Thankfully, they’re keeping overhyped marketing bravado in check.

So I’m writing this to give you a heads up. A warning. Let your marketing ego run wild, and you, too, will soon discover how an audience can snap anybody back to reality in an instant.

Sometimes, it’s when you least expect it. Usually, marketing is the last to know.

The Seven Audiences Itching to KO Marketing

1. Sales

This audience includes all those in inside sales and external business development.

It’s appropriate that we’re nearing March 31, because it’s usually near the end of a quarter when the separation between sales and marketing is most pronounced. Salespeople are fighting for deals. For revenue. For their jobs and livelihood. Marketing is notorious for being oblivious during this time, even absent. Nevertheless, marketing is infamous for claiming numerous accomplishments throughout any given quarter. But while marketing is reporting an abundance of qualified leads, opportunities, and meetings driven from content and social media campaigns that were supposed to be helpful, sales may not see the world the same way. While marketing was playing online, sales wanted partners to interact with prospects in-person. Sales didn’t want an avalanche of 1000 names on a spreadsheet, they wanted a highly-qualified group of targeted accounts. They wanted customized content, case studies, and personal communication skills they can immediately use. They didn’t want to be hung out to dry, directed to an internal portal or an overblown and outdated company website to rummage through years-old material. Sales wants to spend their time closing new business, not wasting it on the dissection of incomprehensible marketing programs.

But they’ll never tell marketing how they feel until it’s too late.

It’s not easy for marketing to keep sales happy.

Experience will teach you that one.

2. Customers and Prospects

Rarely do I inject politics into my posts, but there’s something I want to share in this one. This past week, I watched Dennis Miller on The O’Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel. Dennis compared the anti-establishment voting pattern in the Republican Party’s U.S. presidential primaries to the recent challenges faced by the fast-food chain Chipotle. Each was making their own customers sick. I understood the point, and laughed.

While marketing shouldn’t make their customers or prospects sick, it frequently does the very opposite of maintaining healthy business relationships. Spamming customers, neglecting prospects, and allowing data to spoil have become pandemic. Ever receive a nonsensical and poorly formatted email? With another name at the top? How about a snail mail box filled with postal junk?

Ever unsubscribe to KO a company’s ability to market to you?

You bet you did, and so have I.

3. Executives, Investors, and Board Members

Some in this group just don’t understand marketing, so instead of trying to knock it out, many executives, investors, and board members simply try to keep marketing in a box and at arm’s length. This audience usually just wants the facts: leads, opportunities, marketing-sourced revenue, expenditures, etc. There’s little room for creativity, and it’s generally a waste of time to try to explain it to those who have no interest. For some, marketing will never have a seat in the boardroom. Many in this audience don’t view marketing’s wonderful achievements the same way those in the department do. But two problems immediately arise in this scenario. The first is this executive audience’s pre-disposition that marketing isn’t strategic, while the second is that anything marketing is the first to be put on the chopping block when times are tough.

Both perspectives are grossly short-sighted.

For those executive teams that believe that marketing is purely a robotic, social, and online tactical cost center, they couldn’t be more out of touch. The marketing function has become the most strategic function under the corporate umbrella. Marketing strategy should provide a quantitative and qualitative foundation with business rationale for all corporate initiatives, including product development, business development, human capital, partner communities, global alliances, economic investments, and marketing program execution.

Marketing has, in fact, taken the internal lead at many forward-thinking companies. Unfortunately, for those stuck under the jurisdiction of laggards, marketing will continue to be undervalued and ignored until it’s knocked out in the financial cross-hairs.

4. Analysts and The Media

I’ve enjoyed meeting every analyst I’ve ever encountered. And I’ve developed great relationships with many in the media. But let’s be honest. Analysts have their own personalities, and especially their own opinions. So do many within the media. Contested debates and heated discussions with these audiences are common. Keep in mind that we’re not all wired the same way. Even though you may love your product, and everybody is friends with everybody else, analysts will never automatically see things the way you do. They will (and should) professionally challenge you about your product, customer base, and revenue accomplishments. Same thing for reporters. They’ll ask any one of a number of questions about your company and its products, services, and performance. And each member in this audience will definitely see through any of your spin.

For those dealing with any analyst or member of the media, if you turn up weak, unprepared, or arrogant, do so at your own risk. Your marketing efforts will be knocked down and you’ll be out in the first round.

5. Partners

How many of your partner companies are exclusively your partner? That’s right.
I haven’t run across a company yet that didn’t have multiple partners, if they had any at all. Each partner in that utopian alliance ecosystem of yours is competing for the same things: a greater attention of sales team mindshare, that five-six-or-seven-figure piece of business, and a seat at the table when the multi-pronged solution is built by the contract-winning vendors.

All partners will want in on any new deal. Many want control. Don’t kid yourself. If two or more competing partners are working on the same pursuit, the competition will ramp up. Your friends, er, partners will become your competitors and attempt to knock you out. Your marketing, sales enablement, and positioning within partner communities will come under heavy fire.

And there are few answers to this problem to be found in heads buried in online and social media channels, disconnected from the challenges of marketing into complex channels.

6. Competitors

Sometimes it’s behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s out in the open.

Your competitors are looking for the knockout punch every chance they get. Your approach to the market will be scrutinized by multiple competitors. Some will pick apart your content. Some will discredit your people. Some will steal from you. Some will team up against you.

All competitors are trying to put you out of business. (Or at least they should be.)

Whether it’s behind the scenes or in public, always remember that there are those who are trying to take your customers, your market share, and your revenue.

The competition is out there, waiting, and itching to exploit any opening to KO your marketing.

7. Event Attendees

(This audience is a blend of all of the above, but astute marketers would never allow competitors to attend their owned and operated corporate events.)

Today, every event must be about the attendee experience. And while far too many event producers – and their companies – embrace worn-out formats of past trade shows, conferences, and meetings, a different type of event attendee awaits. This new breed of event attendee demands more. More than classroom-style seating in cavernous convention centers. More than panel discussions with ill-prepared speakers in oversized, energy-sapping lounge chairs. And more than what was once an acceptable investment of time, energy, travel, and resources that’s turned into another event filled with mediocre demos and presentations, thinly veiled sales pitches, and pedestrian content of little practical use.

There’s an ample supply of event marketers who point to the diminished tangibles of their now run-of-the-mill events. Unfortunately for them, event audiences are looking for more. More meaning. Better content. Upgraded learning opportunities. And an event experience unlike anything they’ve ever witnessed.

Arrogant Marketing Should Expect to Be Humbled, or Even KO’d

If you think you know your audiences, check again. If you think you know your buyer persona, check again. If you think you know your buyer’s journey, check that again, too.

Don’t ever assume anything your audiences. Work hard to address all of them, and do so ruthlessly. But don’t ever think or act as if you know it all.

Because when you least expect it, an audience will KO your marketing efforts for any one of a number of reasons.

Unless you professionally hit ‘em so hard first with valued, innovative marketing, that they’ll always think twice about ever throwing that counterpunch.

 

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

Pass/Fail: Two Presentation Stress Tests Sales and Marketing Must Ace

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

You’ve heard a lot about stress tests in the last five or six years, especially around banks and financial institutions. It’s a result of the last recession. In the United States, the federal government and its regulatory agencies have placed numerous institutions under scrutiny, simulating extreme market conditions to see how well a financial organization would hold up under pressure.

On a similar note, I’ve been watching a television show called Bar Rescue starring bar and nightlife consultant Jon Taffer. Each week, Mr. Taffer visits a bar that’s failing and attempts to quickly turn it around. Usually the establishment is a bar that also serves food. Sometimes they have entertainment. But if they’re on the show, the establishment is failing in nearly every aspect of their business. Each episode follows this format: Mr. Taffer observes the bar in question, passionately delivers his assessment to the bar owners and their employees, then goes to work to turn around said bar. Part of the assessment is a stress test. Mr. Taffer packs the bar with thirsty and hungry customers. Bartenders are swamped. Cooks scramble. Orders pile up. Many go unfulfilled. Frustrated customers walk. The stress test continues until Mr. Taffer sees enough and throws in the towel. Once the test is called off, the bar is closed (temporarily) and the real work of introducing new processes and supporting technologies jump starts the forthcoming turnaround. The transformation process is not always pleasant a sight, but Mr. Taffer gets results. I enjoy watching the show.

All of this talk and TV about stress tests got me thinking about the application of the same technique to two critical areas of your sales and marketing efforts. Specifically around presentations. Only two areas to start, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if members of your team could pass either one.

The (All-too-Common) Presentation Comfort Zone

What a nice feeling it is. You’re a product manager supporting a software suite, and you have to deliver a presentation at the upcoming annual customer conference at Big Resort and Casino, USA. Your presentation is earmarked to give the state of the world with your products, share the exciting features and benefits of your new versions, and unveil the one-to-three-to-five year roadmap. You may even add a short demo and a nice case study for additional flavor. You get to travel to the meeting, make rounds at the event, deliver your presentation, and go home. The beauty of it is that you know you’ll only have sedate attendees in your session. Few ask questions, expectations are low, and as long as you go through the motions you can get in and out without anybody wondering whether it was worth it to send you to the show in the first place. Unfortunately, the preparation for this given customer session matches the expectations. Very little. (That’s just one scenario, but it’s the one I’m thinking of while writing this post.)

Introducing the Presentation Stress Test

Now, let’s shake things up with a presentation stress test. (You’ll quickly discern that this stress test can be applied to anybody about to deliver a presentation, not just our friends in product management.)

Start by scheduling a test run for your next corporate presenter weeks ahead of their scheduled presentation. Find a meeting room and book the necessary amount of time. Ask your presenter to be ready to rehearse the presentation. Slides, props, supporting materials…the works. Then book the marketing and sales people that will be in attendance for that same session. Tell them that they will be on hand to mingle with the audience to uncover leads and identify opportunities.

Then tell the presenter, marketers, and sales people nothing else.

Behind the scenes, book enough people to pack the room for the rehearsal. 25, 50, 100, whatever it takes to surprisingly fill it to capacity with unfamiliar faces. Ask this audience to come prepared with questions, comments, and follow-up for sales and marketing. Ask your faux audience to come prepared with the desire to know how to get more information about the company and its software products, where to go for such information, what number to dial if interested in buying, which social media channels to visit, and what to expect in the next steps of the sales and marketing process. Keep in mind that the people you place in the fake audience don’t have to be employees pretending to be customers. You could treat friends and family to a catered lunch, ask partner company employees for a few hours, or even hire actors for a few bucks to play extras in your corporate show.

On the day of…

When the presenter shows up to rehearse, surprise!
When the marketers show up for the (perceived) easy-hour rehearsal, surprise!
When the sales team shows up for the same exercise, surprise!

Now you have an audience. A real, live, engaged audience.

But wait, there’s more to this presentation stress test!

Minutes before the rehearsal, confiscate equipment. Simulate a power outage, or a computer failure. Pretend the light bulb on the overheard burnt out. But whatever you do, force the presenter to lead the session without technical support. Markers, white boards, and flip charts, are okay. See how creative your presenter can be. See how well everybody pulls together as a team.

Tensions will mount. Tempers may flare.
Remember, it’s a presentation stress test.
Make sure cooler heads prevail but go ahead, add you’re own creative ingredients to this concoction.

By now you’ve picked up on where I’m headed with this. The presentation stress test is designed to throw curve balls at your presenters to see how well they’re able to deliver their material without the fall back comfort zones of slides, complacent audiences, and absent marketing managers. They’re also designed to put marketers and sales people to task to see how well they can work a session room to produce tangible outcomes. Are they interacting with attendees? Gathering data and competitive intelligence? Is there a pipeline process that’s supported? And do the customer-facing teams speak with one voice?

Improved Presentation Performance, and Session Outcomes

The presentation stress test is designed to improve sales, marketing, and presentation performance, and its relative outcomes. It’s not designed to embarrass, single out, or humiliate anybody or any team of people. It’s a tool (by design) that puts people to the test in an extreme situation, but it’s also a tool that will bring out the best in your colleagues.

Top performers will love the challenge.
All who participate will benefit from the presentation stress test experience.
Evaluation forms are a must.
But it’s important to have leaders who can guide the experience, and measure and share the results.

Most will want to ride the ride a second or third time.

I can’t wait to let you know what I’m thinking about with other marketing stress tests, especially in the area of conferences, corporate events, and trade shows.

Can you guess what I’m thinking about for those areas?

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

10 Ideas for Immersive Corporate Events and the Next-Generation Audience

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

The other day I saw a picture. You may have also seen it. I’ve seen similar versions of the same picture a thousand times. And so have you.

It’s that picture of a business classroom setting. Rows of classroom style tables and chairs occupied by wide-eyed smiling attendees gazing at an instructor leading a session and standing next to a white board with faint scribbling on it.

Briefcases, purses, notebooks, pens, and all sorts of electronic extras decorate the meeting room. I’ve sat in that meeting room. Chances are so have you. On occasion, I’ve stood in front of that room to deliver a presentation. Maybe you have, too. Maybe you haven’t.

All good, well-meaning, people in that room. Attendees (customers) likely have paid to be there. The instructor is (hopefully) armed with knowledge, information, and an idea about what the audience will learn from the presentation. All are investing their time.

I’m certain you know about the business picture that I’m describing. It takes on different shapes and sizes. It can apply to any event, no matter how large or small. It’s intent is to demonstrate the value of an event which has just concluded, or convey the importance of an event that’s about to take place. After all, you see attendees diligently taking notes during a session embedded in an industry event which promises to unveil game-changing solutions that can be found nowhere else. Something important must be happening! Maybe. But the slog through another traditional three-day event of session, note taking, session, multitasking, session, lunch, session, reception, session, exhibit hall, session, airport has become outdated. There are better, more exciting methods to valued learning, content sharing, information retention, personal performance and event outcomes.

Performance Measures and Event Outcomes

Whenever I’ve produced a corporate event or have participated in one as a marketer from a sponsoring company, the primary objectives were clear: uncover new business opportunities within the current customer base, discover new opportunities outside the install base, help protect the current customer base and its revenue, and do so cost-effectively. That’s why time, money, and resources are invested. Yes, there’s a multitude of additional and very important objectives for any event which includes logistics, customer satisfaction, travel, alliance nurturing, etc. but the main goal of any event is to produce opportunities, generate demand, and secure downstream revenue. But while setting attendees adrift through three-days of a generic corporate event can produced some results, this approach has turned far too many programs into a global comfort zone of tedium. So many are so eager to overemphasize content lectures over learning, retention, and usage that the audience experience suffers. And it’s become a pandemic reoccurrence across industries, and companies.

When I look at that business picture of the hotel meeting room-turned-classroom,
I know. I know from experience that some (a handful) are actually paying attention.
I imagine a subset of that group will attempt to put presented solutions into practice. Conversely, I also know that a large portion of the audience is simply going through the motions. Through the motions of registration, travel, attendance, exhibit hall window shopping, and event expense reporting. Hard to find in that picture will be the attendee who isn’t distracted by some sort of electronic device. Easy to recall is the wear and tear on all attendees who are unreasonably expected to immediately implement newly-acquired subject matter on a moment’s notice upon their return to the office. And what you don’t see in the picture is all-too-common: salespeople on the periphery of every meeting room, trade show booth, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner activity with business cards in hand and account plans in mind.

Been there, done that.

I’ve produced multi-day commercial business conferences. I’ve sponsored and exhibited at large trade shows. I’ve hit the road for half-day, regional, owned and operated corporate events. But times have changed, and it’s time for a new combination of evolved content, instruction, and learning for next-generation events, involved audiences, and advanced outcomes.

Here are 10 next-gen ideas to consider:

1. Design a Radically New Event Experience

Instead of three-days of hotel-classroom-style seating in front of 15 presentations, add to – or change – the event environment. I’ve kicked around the idea of a week-long event that shares content ahead of time, then asks an audience to get on its feet to work with the content throughout the event itself. Instead of meeting rooms, cycle teams through a voice recording studio, video or television studio, or soundstage. Use material throughout a process which builds content that can presented, and retained, by the audience. Don’t lecture content, share it, and guide its usage on-site. Personal communication skills (especially on video) have never been more important. Tap into the trend.

2. Be Selective in Inviting Your Audience

Not discriminatory, but selective. There’s a difference in an attendee who only wants to travel to Vegas, sit in the back of the meeting room, see a show, and then go home, versus an next-generation attendee who wants to actively participate in a multiple day event which will enhance personal communication performance, information retention, storytelling abilities, and solution-developing skills.

3. Include New Instruction (and Instructors)

Frequently, event attendees are treated to an educational platform of product managers, sales leaders, technical engineers, solution marketers, and corporate executives. Some of those experts just love hearing themselves talk; few actually prepare for their sessions because the task of communication readiness is beneath them and they don’t feel as if they need to put in the work. (Wake me up when those sessions are over.) Instead, I suggest bringing in voice coaches, video instructors, and communication talent to lead event ‘sessions’ and activities. Different types of instructors who will know how to work with event attendees and creatively incorporate event content.

4. Rethink Event Sponsorships, and Exhibitor Opportunities

Instead of sponsoring more junk shoved into conference bags bound for the trash can, offer sponsorships for live video streaming broadcasts before, during, and after an event. Streams which create user groups bound for the event that share, build upon, and improve content instead of wasting it on one-off lectures and paper-based recyclables.

If you want an exhibit area or full-blown exhibit hall, you can still have one. But have one with purpose. Instead of attendees zombie-walking from booth to booth, require interaction and instruction in every booth location. The next-gen attendee will be informed, active, participatory, and in possession of high expectations from every event sponsor and exhibitor. No longer can an exhibitor simply show up – and check out – during a next-gen event. If the attendees are working hard during an event, so, too, should the exhibitors.

5. Cut Your Audience Size

Some equate a well-attended event with automatic success. Not me. The cost of hosting an event for attendees who do nothing but simply drain resources is a tough one to report at the end of the quarter. I’d rather host four or five teams of six-to-eight energetic executives for a week than a group of 200 or 300 disconnected passers-by.

6. Expand Desired Event Outcomes

Event producers are in the same boat of wanting new opportunities, customers, and revenue. And there is a point to working with your audience on their communication skills, with your event content, and its usage. Think. The next time your next-gen audience is asked to deliver an informed industry presentation, which material will they use – almost by default? When asked to talk to analysts in support of your submission for the annual technology report, how well will they be able to provide a reference and add the stories that they learned at your event – as opposed to mind numbing experiences provided by your competitors?

7. Expand Event Timeframes

Instead of one-off events, provide ongoing interactions with attendees who form user groups facing the same business and technology challenges. Guide these conversations. Use live, video apps such as Periscope, Meerkat, Blab, and Facebook Live. Anchor regular interactions to your corporate events. Remember, in radio the saying is “frequency sells” because it’s true. Apply ‘frequency’ to your event audience interactions before, during, and after an event.

8. Get Uncomfortable

Sure, it’s easy to keep doing the same thing. To keep hosting and participating in the same type of events, with the same pedestrian expectations. But I’m not talking about adding a trip to local golf course or fashionable restaurant district as part of your upcoming meeting. I’m suggesting that you throw out the playbook and give the audience what they’re craving: an exceptional event experience unlike anything that currently exists. An event experience that sends them home in a professional standing better than the one with which they arrived.

9. Ask Sales

Maybe you should “inform sales” instead of asking. Because any experienced salesperson knows. They know what goes into – and what goes on – at every single business conference, trade show, and corporate event. They know what it takes to produce a successful event, and how poorly planned and outdated events chip away at the effort to uncover opportunities and secure revenue. Ask sales if they want to you to keep doing what you’re doing with events, or if they would entertain the notion of a radically new type of corporate event that hosts targeted groups of passionate executive attendees. (We both know what the answer will be.)

10. It’s Next-Generation All Around

To produce next-generation events, not only will you need next-gen content, but next-gen sales and marketing personnel to execute. To interact and work with your audience. You’ll need the personal skills and communication expertise on staff, and the supporting technologies to complete the work. And you’ll need a next-generation approach.

Keep in mind the picture of that traditional classroom setting at a business conference. And the traditional outcomes those settings produce. Next time, leave most of the tables and chairs in the hotel’s back hallway. Find your targeted audience, create a powerful event process and program, work through content instead of lecturing, and measure the results.

I’ll take the business benefits of working with an elite, agile group of engaged event attendees over a room full of disinterested show-goers any day of the week.

So will sales, and anybody interested in fanatical customers and their revenue contributions.

My Ideal Next-Generation Event

As I wrote, I’ve thought about a radically-new type of a week-long corporate event. One that places small teams of executive attendees on microphones, on camera, and on stage. Using relevant corporate, partner, and industry content to create material that’s used in both short-form and long-form settings. Subject matter experts and communication coaches instruct active and engaged attendees. Sponsors sponsor event elements, while sales and marketing benefit from the deep and meaningful relationships built over the duration before, during, and after this type of event. I’d figure 30 or 40 senior-level attendees could be accommodated. And a great combination of presence, voice, branding, personal strength would be a fraction of the benefits. I haven’t worked out all of the details of such an event, but if for those wanting specifics, there’s a handful.

What are your thoughts on the state of the learning environments offered by traditional business and corporate events, and your ideas for producing next-generation events?

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

Thoughts From a Busy Salesperson on Marketing’s 2016 Predictions

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

I logged on to LinkedIn this morning, and what do I see?
A whole lot of marketing predictions that don’t have a damn thing to do with me!

I thought about the opening lines to The Eagles’ song Get Over It, and added a little twist to the lyrics. Plus I imagined what it would be like if Don Henley sang those two revised lines.

Look, I’m all for the advancements in marketing and the supporting technologies, but my alliance remains first and foremost with the salesperson who has a mandate to hit their revenue numbers, or else. And for all of the talk of how every aspect of marketing life is now tracked, personalized, and driven by data, the salesperson sitting on the overnight flight to the East Coast still needs content, a supportive marketing team, the human communication skills to articulate value, and yes, an expert marketer to intimately work alongside to close new business.

Imagine what a salesperson is thinking when the 99th article about marketing’s ornate 2016 predictions is once more center-screen, and they have an 8:00 am sales meeting with a ball-busting team of executives in Midtown Manhattan. Sometime around 6:00 am, while taxing to the gate at Newark, that salesperson is thinking:

1. March 31 Is Just Around The Corner

There are fewer than 90 days until I have to make my numbers. And I have to make my numbers. That fact seems to be lost on marketing. While I’m out pursuing new business and closing deals, marketing wants to talk about buying more technology and spending more money on programs that don’t help me at all with my next set of executive meetings – let alone my Q1 sales numbers.

2. Pull Your Nose Out

The last time I saw the marketing team in the office, it was a real treat. Nobody was talking to each other, as each one was enamored with his or her mobile device. Excuse me, but my time in the office is rare and I’d appreciate not having to interrupt your digital playground so we could work together on uncovering and closing new opportunities.

3. What Am I Suppose to do With This?

Each time I ask about sales and marketing assets to use in my pursuits, I’m directed to log on to our “system” and retrieve what’s in there. Beyond having to search through a mountain of content, I’m presented with aging and outdated material produced sometime over the last 10 years. Is this what passes for sales enablement?

4. Your Forcing Me To Act Alone

I was hired to sell. To spend my time with prospects and customers. To close new business, and to generate net-new revenue. Not to be a graphic designer. Not to be a long-form writer. And not to be a tour guide, roaming through the forests of local laptops and corporate repositories in search of worthless sales and marketing assets.
I don’t want to create my own content. My boss doesn’t want me to create my own content. The CEO and investors don’t either. But you’re forcing me and others in sales to waste time in doing so.

5. Same Old Story

The calendar says January 2016, and I’m flooded with marketing industry predictions for the next twelve months. But I’ve yet to read one story, from one marketer, about how they’re finally going to hit the road with sales, be aligned and compensated on opportunities and revenue sourced back to marketing programs, and work to deliver the real results that the executives and shareholders expect. Is it really 2016? Feels the same as 2015, 2014, 2013…

6. I Have a Buyer Journey, Too

I’m your internal customer, but you know nothing about me. Nor do you know anything about my sales colleagues, or those of our partner companies. Do you know what issues I face, in my region, in the industries I serve? Where I get my information? Or what forms of content are most useful? Do you know what my target numbers are this quarter?

7. Are You Actually Going To Do Anything?

I recall the 2015 predictions, too. And the year before that. In the end, you’ve ended up cobbling disconnected pieces of aged technology, maintaining now-indecipherable data, with no stomach to fix what truly needs attention. Yet again marketing talks about advance technology that’s going to change the world. Fix what needs attention first, and if you actually do anything new and meaningful over the next 12 months we’ll talk.

8. Where Are You Going?

You’re off to Vegas for the next technology show? To do what? I need marketing here, now, and in the trenches with me to start the New Year, not roaming the halls of the Vegas Convention Center playing with tech gadgets. Plus we have our own events coming up this quarter. Have you even started to maximize our investment in those shows, or are you going to send me out there again with the same stained table drape and stack of frayed brochures?

9. Wish I Had Somebody Who Could Speak To Prospects and Customers

You’re good at sending emails and tweets, but I really need somebody who can stand in front of a conference room of executive prospects and discuss our value prop, product roadmap, and case studies. Or somebody who can creatively provide strategic insight into the future direction of our industry. I tried that once with marketing, and the communication skills of that person were atrocious. Digital marketers have their place, but I need somebody with a greater personal communication skill set who can talk to prospects and customers.

10. I’m Not The Only One

No sales person at this company was hired to create their own content, or reinvent what’s on file. And I’m not the only one with sales needs from marketing. Every sales person has voiced their concern over the lack of marketing support, and how marketing spends its time on things which have little to no impact on immediate sales pursuits. So if its everybody for him or herself, we’ll just do what we have to do. Never mind guidelines on branding, content, logo usage, and the rest. We’ll create our own. The topper is that I’ve seen what some of my sales colleagues have created. They’re the champs at making stuff up, lousy graphics, horrific slides, and incomprehensible written material.

But there goes the bell to unfasten my seatbelt. It’s now showtime for me. My plane has pulled into the gate. I have plenty of other thoughts on Marketing 2016, but now have to focus on getting into Manhattan and getting a signature to close this deal. I’d like to tell you more about it, but you were only in the office for one day on Monday before flying to Vegas for your show. By the time you get back to work on Monday, I’ll have visited five more customers and prospects by then.

And there’ll be plenty of time to air marketing’s Dirty Laundry at the upcoming sales kickoff.

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com