One of the best ways that IT vendors can understand the needs of their clients and identify leads is by face-to-face vents, seminars and roundtable discussions. Despite all the wonderful technology now at our disposal, I really doubt there will ever be a complete digital replacement for eyeballing a fellow human being across the table, although video-conferencing proponents, such as Cisco, HP, Polycom and Tandberg do have some very impressive offerings.
As Fairfax Business Media (FBM) has a strong events division, I normally attend, speak at, moderate or facilitate about two events a monthsometimes more. I enjoy these opportunities to hear what enterprise IT end-users and vendors think about the current state of their industry.
Of course, vendors rightly appreciate these events as good opportunities to gain visibility for their business. But, all too often, sales people just cant help themselves. They fall into the temptation of making their presentations blatant sales pitches. They cant resist the opportunity to do a traditional sales presentation to a captive audience of senior IT executives. But this is a big mistake.
Here at FBM we always ask our event delegates to complete an appraisal form after each occasion. One of the consistent points of feedback we receive is that delegates dont like sales pitches. In fact such presentations can actually generate a strong negative response to the vendor, just the very opposite to what they are hoping to achieve.
There are many ways for a marketing person for a vendor organisation to give a meaningful, interesting and valuable presentation, without having to extol the virtues of their core products and services. They need to walk in the shoes of their potential customers and clients, rather than attempting to force-feed them with sales jargon.
Being a thought leader
The key to being received as a thought leader, and a vendor worth listening to, is to offer valuable content relating to industry trends, research, case studies and unbiased practical advice. Leave the sales pitches and product demonstrations for the showcase areas of events. We always tell vendor organisations this before each event, but we still get too many sales presentations that get under the skin of attendees.
I heard one great idea from an industry colleague, whose opinions I respect, about a strategy his firm has used to deter vendors from giving unproductive sales pitches. He told me that for one event, his firm distributed clickers to the delegates, with instructions for them to use them to click loudly if they perceived that a presenter was giving them a sales pitch. This way, presenters would very soon know if their presentation was being badly received.
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