Startup Selling Lessons Learned: Confirm the “Why” of a sales presentation

The Situation:
Big meeting with a C-level executive at the top, top, top of the org chart. We’d been working with several operations managers to implement our software over the past nine months, and this meeting was set up to discuss how we might expand our work other business units.

preparationLesson Learned:
Confirm the meeting intentions and agenda. Always. No matter what the situation, no matter who the executive, no matter how much you think you know about the meeting from the most credible people around you.

We should have worked through the executive assistant ahead of the meeting – confirming the meeting and the agenda. I’m sure that the she would relayed a concise message and proposed agenda to the executive had we asked, and this could have saved us the awkward moments at the start of the meeting.

For the weeks leading up to the meeting, we relied on our own experience on how meetings like this should go and spent all of those hours interviewing operations executives. Yet we never took the time to simply connect with the executive or his assistant to confirm the meeting agenda and expected outcomes. Major fail…

What did we do right?

1. We spent several hours interviewing operations executives and managers throughout the company to learn and develop a clear value proposition at the meeting. We even spoke with an employee that recently left the company to learn what we could from an insider/outsiders perspective.

2. We were super prepared for the presentation, enabling us to quickly dive sideways in the presentation when the executive took us off of planned track. We had planned ahead to discuss all of software applications that were used by the company, not just the application that was the intended focus of the meeting. This proved to pay huge dividends for us.

Here’s how it went down…

When the executive we were meeting arrived to the conference room and sat down, and we began our introductions, he stopped us, looked around, looked at his phone and asked in the most honest way – “Who are you, and why are we here?” It wasn’t asked in a challenging way as happens with some executives that want you to get right to the point. He honestly did not know why he was in this meeting other than the fact that his assistant told him he was supposed to be here right now.

Even though, as we understood it, he was the person that had asked for the meeting several weeks ago. In fact, we were scheduled to meet the week prior and he pushed it back a week.

We had spent most of the past week developing our presentation – thinking through the economy of slides – what to show that matters most to him, interviewing professionals across the company about they thought he would want to see and what he cared most about. Our design teams worked extra hours to provide us with beautiful screen shot mock-ups to impress him. My colleague leading the project spent Super Bowl Sunday in the office by himself on final presentation preparations.

And now, all of that now completely obliterated.

Disaster-Recovery-PlanThe recovery,,,

First, I laughed a little (to myself).

Then I started over, as if he had been teleported to this room from another planet, and I had to explain my reason for existence – who our company was and why our our understanding for the purpose of the meeting. Together, we discussed our “Situation Slide” (which I highly recommend preparing – thank you to Peter Cohan at SecondDerivative for this powerful tip…)

When I did that, the executive seemed uncomfortable with what I was saying, so I asked – “Could I ask what’s frustrating you?”

He explained that he didn’t necessarily agree with a few of the assumptions I was making about the company’s intentions and objectives.

So I asked him to explain which parts exactly. Voila! Conversation started. Even though the conversation and presentation immediately drove off the rails from what we intended, the “Situation Slide” created the opportunity for conversation and discussion.

From there he shared his views about the particular situation we planned to address, and most importantly, he told us what he most cared about, and it turns out his major focus was not for the business area that we had prepared to discuss.

Eventually, we got into the presentation – skipping around from our plan, showing what was most relevant from his perspective, and even moving off-script to walk through a completely different software application than what we prepared to show. The meeting was scheduled to run an hour, and we went 20 minutes past that. We ended the conversation with the executive suggesting that we should be in consideration for a significant open RFP for one of the business divisions.

You might ask – “Hmmm…. Good save, but why didn’t you confirm the agenda and outcome with this executive ahead of the meeting? Why didn’t you do a pre-call?”

Valid questions. My reasons, though not good ones, and why this is a lesson…:

Firstly, the meeting was originally set up for us through another C-executive at the client, and we were told directly by the first executive how important this meeting was for this executive.

Secondly, this executive is at the top of the org chart – you literally can’t go any higher than this person. I allowed us to feel intimidated by this, and instead discussed the presentation all around the executive assuming this would prepare us accordingly.

Lesson learned…

My two cents: “10 things LinkedIn won’t tell you”

A friend forwarded an article to me last night – “10 things LinkedIn won’t tell you” – and having spent considerable time over the past year both using LinkedIn and leading workshops on how to use LinkedIn, I have a few thoughts… (Hint: I disagree with most of the article…)

diasgree1. LinkedIn is a “jobs site” – Disagree. While it is a jobs site for many people, it isn’t for all of us. Anyone that blindly searches and applies to a job posting on LinkedIn is missing the whole point of LinkedIn, which is to develop connections so that you never have to send a resume blindly to a job posting.

LinkedIn has three main business lines – LinkedIn Talent Solutions (recruiting & jobs), LinkedIn Sales Solutions (tools to help people like me…), and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions (advertisements). Talent Solutions were ~50% of their Q4-2014 revenue. That means there’s a heck of a lot people on LinkedIn for more than jobs.

2. People don’t hang out on LinkedIn: Well, sort of… I’m on LinkedIn all the time every day, but I’m not “hanging out” because I’m working. I’m researching people and learning their backgrounds, connecting with people I’ve recently met, and sending emails to connections/InMails to people I want to me. I occasionally read posts and articles. Maybe this doesn’t qualify as “hanging out,” but I’m sure spending hours and hours on LinkedIn every day.

3. Thanks for the free content – Disagree. When I publish, it’s to show some expertise or share my observations to my immediate network. I don’t care if 1000 or 10,000 people read it. If even 50 or 100 read it and I get a couple of “thumbs up” and comments, I’m plenty good. The content I post is more for solidifying who I am and what I do – it’s not to reach a million people. It’s also validation for people that come across my profile who don’t know me. If their first interaction with me is my LinkedIn profile, postings add soul and personality to the factual information about my work history, projects, and background.

4. Endorsements are only for ego – Agree. I wish LinkedIn would improve this. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that that the tags help your profile search results. i.e. If I have 100 endorsements for “enterprise sales,” that tells LinkedIn to bump me up a little in their search results. Here’s a post that did some number crunching on this. I find it annoying when I go to a profile and LinkedIn bumps the profile information below the fold because it’s compelling me to endorse someone. Maybe it should be more like recommendations – where you have to put in some effort to request or make an endorsement.

5. The site confusing – Agree. In fact, I wrote a post about this last Spring.

6. Privacy – blah blah blah

7. Needy members will creep you out – Disagree. If someone is contacting me from my network because they need something, um, yeah… that’s the whole point… That’s why I connected with them in the first place. Now… I don’t like to be sold to from my network and I don’t like unsolicited sales pitches – “Hi Scott – Do you have 10 minutes to talk about your lead development strategy because we can help….”, but if people need help with introductions or questions, I’m happy to try.

I occasionally get invite requests from people I’ve never met, and even then in most cases, they are people who at least are either in my industry, the sales profession, software or doing startups. And even in those cases, I usually reply back and say – “Thanks for the connection request. I don’t think we’ve met. Want to do a quick call to introduce ourselves? If the person is serious, they’ll take the time. If they don’t respond, I know I can ignore their connection request.”

8. Fake profiles - Disagree. First I’ve heard this is a problem.

baby-cell-phone9. Younger users – Disagree. Facebook had this problem too. Every site will go through this because of generational preferences and stigmas. There are plenty of smart people at LinkedIn. They’ll figure this out. Facebook is figuring it out with their mobile strategy. Remember that WhatsApp acquisition last year?  Check out Facebook’s Q4 results – it’s all about mobile.

I think the bigger problem is that universities haven’t caught up on the importance of LinkedIn, and now LinkedIn specifically helps this with their “Higher Education” section. I do see this issue when I give workshops and talks at universities and colleges. Too many students think of themselves as “just a student” and instead they should be leveraging that status to be curious and grow their connections. Check out Zachary Lukasiewicz’s LinkedIn profile. The guy did incredible things as an undergrad, using LinkedIn as a tool in his arsenal. Here are a couple of his stories on Quora. More undergrads need to learn to do what he’s done.

10. Share price – LinkedIn has a $33bln market cap. Jeez…. Give it a break. Yes, they have to figure out how to keep growing, and this is a pretty but yes, this is pretty common as a fast-growing company matures as a publicly-traded company. Check out Amazon’s stock price growth rate from 2000-2007. I’d say their doing pretty well right now… If the revenues are there, the stock growth will be there.

Startup Selling Lessons Learned: The Projector

The Situation: Big meeting with a C-level executive at the top of the org chart. We’d been working with several operations managers to implement our software, and this meeting was set up to discuss how we might integrate other business units into our software.


Lesson Learned:

  1. We should have previewed the room. No excuses here. We were onsite the day prior, and it would have been very easy to find the time to check out the room to see the physical set up and what presentation options we’d have – flat screen vs projector, etc.
  2. For situations when we won’t be onsite, call ahead to the executive assistant (or the meeting organizer) about the room details – explaining exactly what we’d like to do (i.e. demo software, show PowerPoint, etc.) and ask about room details – extension cords, adapters, room set up, etc.
  3. In the “call ahead,” it’s important to explain that you want to be prepared, and that you’re calling out of respect for the executive’s time. The assistant will absolutely appreciate that, and might even put in a good word for you – “Hey these guys are really great – they called me to make sure the meeting logistics were all set…”

The Details:

We thought we were 100% prepared for the big presentation. We brought a projector with us and double-checked that all of the adapters, cords, and required electronic gizmos where included in the projection kit.

When we arrived to the cavernous conference room, we were even more excited to see a gigantic flat screen TV on the wall, so instead of using the projector, we were excited to plug into the flat screen and use it like a giant monitor.


Well, the adaptor for our projector didn’t match the connection cord for the flat screen, rendering the flat screen completely useless. We asked the executive assistant to call IT, and when he arrived, he confirmed by suspicions that they didn’t support Macs or have any Mac-related equipment.

So back to using the projector. Oh well, we said – “Well – that’s why we brought our own projector!”


Despite the expansive size of the conference room, there were very, very, very few power outlets! There was one next to the flat screen, and another just about a small counter top that was probably placed there to serve as a plugin for a food warmer. Seriously? Not a single power outlet in the floor. This was a brand new building that just opened three weeks ago, yet the conference room had no power outlets. Worse, the IT guy didn’t have any extension cords, and because the projector cord reached all of four feet, we couldn’t even use our own projector.

Fortunately, I was able to call a colleague who had borrowed my Mac adapter earlier in the day (I should have retrieved it from him earlier when I had the chance, but didn’t because I knew that we had checked our projector kit, and checked it twice, I figured I didn’t need it.) My colleague sped over from another building nearby and dropped off my adapter with two minutes to spare. Whew! Now we were ready, and pretty darn lucky.

Lesson learned…

And If you’re wondering how we did in the meeting, more on that in another post forthcoming… It gets even better, meaning that we learned more lessons. :-p