How To Think About The Future Of Sales And Marketing Content


Sunday, 9.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place – George Bernard Shaw

What kind of notebook do you use?

If you are at all interested in stationery that question could start a conversation that lasts several hours. Or you could spend several hours reading what people have written about it on the Internet. I confess, I have.

We’re still in the early days of understanding how to use content for good. Or for selling. Most of us, I suspect, find it harder work than we’d like.

Part of the blame for this, perhaps, lies with technology. Once upon a time, if you wanted to write, you picked up a pen and some paper and had a go.

Cutting and pasting was something you literally did with scissors and paste. Darwin and the Bronte sisters probably wrote that way.

In business we now create huge quantities of material. Most of this is in software like Microsoft Word, locked into place – not technically – just with the tedium and hassle of learning how to do things differently. We write stuff in word, pdf it and then send it out into the world.

That’s just normal, really.

But is it efficient? And is the Internet changing things?

I suspect not, because the level of technical literacy is probably not changing fundamentally beyond the what you see is what you get (WYSISYG) method in Word. If you have a blog, you probably use WordPress. That has a built in editor where you can compose and add material and publish.

It’s the same on LinkedIn or Medium or all the other places you put content. As workflows go, it’s not too different from doing things in Word. And those platforms have an interest in getting you using their platform – the easier they make it the more likely you’ll stay. The more you have on there, the more likely it is that you’ll stay.

So what, you might think, what’s the point you’re making here?

The point is that there is more and more content coming online all the time. Forget the ridiculous amounts of multimedia – just focus on old fashioned written content, the kind that you need to get leads and make sales. You know there’s more of it around. So how do you stand out?

Make it personal

The easiest way is to make it personal. The more specific your content, the more likely it will help you make a sale.

Designing your content for personalisation means thinking about how you can merge standard content and specific content from the start.

For example, let’s say you’re sending out an email message – it would make sense to include a line that talks about what you’re doing in the city your recipient lives in. If they’re in London, they probably don’t care what happens in Aberdeen. If you’re in Aberdeen, however, what’s happening near you will probably get your interest far more quickly than any London issue.

One way some people achieve personalisation is by simply sprinkling the name of the prospect company all the way through the copy. I’m not sure that’s a great idea – you increase your chances of leaving in a stray name the next time you reuse the content and it’s not really personalisation. Personalisation is when you can show that you’ve taken the trouble to understand the business of the person reading it.

Make it readable

This should be obvious, but it’s often not. How many times have you worked on a document without knowing who it was for and what they were expecting?

How many documents have you read that are so abstruse and unreadable that you just don’t get what their point is?

Take the recent IPCC report on climate change. The news reports said that the report was a stark warning that we weren’t going to keep global temperatures in check. We’re going to destroy the planet. That was hard to get out of the report itself – the language was technical and hard to understand – and this is an important issue after all.

Many business leaders get this – that’s why you get a one page executive summary – mostly with bullets. You’ve got to make your stuff readable. And that’s harder than it looks.

As the saying goes – easy writing, hard reading. Hard writing, easy reading.

Make it findable

This really has to do with the ability of search engines to find your stuff. Big ones – on the internet, or small ones, inside your company. Or even the human search engines that are your colleagues that have to hunt through folders for what you’ve written.

I don’t really know how hard it is to do SEO. At one point perhaps you could fool the tech into giving you a higher ranking. It’s cleverer now. Perhaps the best strategy there is first – put it out there so it can be found – and second – write good stuff.

Make it work on different channels

The problem with locking something into a pdf is that it can only be viewed with a pdf viewer. If it’s formatted in A4 it’s harder to read on a phone. And so on.

It’s worth thinking about a workflow that takes the elements of your content – headlines, subheads, copy, images, captions, references – and converts them to a whole bunch of formats – html for the web, pdfs for printing and so on.

The easier it is to put your content places, the more likely it is that people will engage with it.

With sales, you’re going to spend time creating material in the format asked for by the prospect anyway. But you can see that as just one channel for the content. The same stuff should be capable of going through any channel that could turn out to be profitable for you.

Make it reusable

Creating content takes time. It costs you – and should be treated as an asset. As an asset, you want to get the most out of it, and that means using it wherever you can – sweating it.

If you’re working in a business, you’re going to spend a huge amount of time creating stuff. Very few places, however, have any real controls over how things are created, modified, updated and maintained. It’s something quite common in the software world – the idea of version control and releases – but content management in general could do with that kind of disciplined approach.

The good news is that there is still time. Most businesses still live in a world of brochures and presentations and salespeople.

If you start to think a little more like a software developer or publisher and try to create personal, reusable content that can be found in different places you’ll start to stand out from everyone else – as long as what you create is readable.


Karthik Suresh

How A Little Design Knowledge Can Help Your Presentations Stand Out


Friday, 9.03pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Making every page or screen self-evident is like having good lighting in a store: it just makes everything seem better. – Steve Krug

How often have you sat through a presentation and wished to god you were somewhere else? One filled with relentless bullet points and long words – made worse by the presenter reading them to you?

I used to think all that mattered was the work. As an engineer, if I got the figures right or the model working, it didn’t really matter what the end result looked like.

The typical workflow started by spending time on a model, getting the numbers working right, making it easier to get information into the model and update it and getting rid of all the bugs.

Finally, it was time to either pdf the document or copy and paste the results into a powerpoint and the job was done. It was time to go and see the client.

I’m not sure if they looked perplexed when being taken through the presentation. They probably did – they were probably too polite to stop and say they didn’t get it.

Then I went back to business school and realized that getting the numbers and analysis right is only one part of what needs to be done.

The bigger part is getting people to do what you want. It doesn’t matter how good your analysis is if you can’t persuade the people listening to you to take the next step, whatever it is.

This is a mistake many of us have made. And a big part of it is because we’ve never been taught how to design presentations that work.

There’s two parts to a presentation that works – the story you tell and the way it looks.

In a previous post I wrote about how to create a story for your presentation. Now it’s time to think about how to design your presentation.

A great book to get started is Robin Williams The Non-Designer’s Design Book. She writes that most people can look at a page and know they don’t like it. What they don’t know is how to fix it.

The secret is to learn four key design concepts and, if you get them, you can make every presentation looks much more professional and impressive.

First – understand how to use contrast

You are probably fairly comfortable with the default presentation templates in software like Powerpoint. You have a headline and body text. You might have images. You may put in some smart art or text boxes or diagrams.

In other words, you have lots of elements on your page. What should you do with them?

Imagine having a document set entirely in capital letters in the same font and text size. That’s going to be painful to read.

What you should do is make each element on the page distinctive. Headlines should be bigger than subheads, which in turn are bigger than body text.

Images should be clear and stand out from the page background. Having a busy background will make it harder to see an image or annotation.

If you make things that are different look different, you can draw attention to what you want. For example, you might have a table with lots of numbers, but you can make the result you want to draw attention to stand out by increasing its size or colour.

Next – use repetition to set expectations

Your audience or readers will look for clues to tell them what things mean. If you have a headline in orange in one page and then use the same colour and size for body copy or an image caption, you’re going to confuse and anger them.

Keep things consistent. Use the same fonts and sizes for similar pieces of content across different pages. If you use a quote or highlight something in a box, make sure the same kind of box is shown on other pages – because you’ve trained your audience to expect something specific the first few times the box came up.

The beauty of using elements that repeat is that as people get used to your material, they’ll fill in the blanks for you. If they know that you make a statement followed by an example, they’ll start to wait for your example before they make a decision on your statement.

Alignment just makes everything look better

The simplest secret of graphic designers that we all miss is that they make things look good just by lining everything up nicely.

It’s like going into a supermarket. If you look at a shelf and everything is neat and tidy it looks good. If you’re at the sale section and everything that’s going off has simply been dumped on the shelves it looks like it is – cheap and out of date.

You can get this effect simply by aligning your text and images so that the line up. You know this is happening when it looks like there is a box around your content. Take the example in the picture above – just by aligning the image on the left and the text on the right with the width of the headline, it looks neater and more consistent.

Finally use proximity to keep related things together

This simply means that if you have items that are similar, keep them together and separate from other elements. For example, if you have input parameters, analysis and results in a spreadsheet, chunk them up and show them separately. That way your audience can take each one in turn rather than having to figure out what is what.

A good example of this is how you set out features, proof and a call to action on a page. You might have a bulleted list of features, a case study with a photo of someone who has used your services and information on how to get in touch with you.

You’ll get a much better response if you make it clear which is which.

Design doesn’t replace content – but it can help get your message across

Something that is pretty but empty isn’t going to help you sell. The chances are, however, that you know your stuff inside out. You can make a pretty good case for why your prospect should buy from you.

If your presentation looks sloppy, however, that’s going to work against you. Using these simple design rules, which can be remembered pretty easily if you create an acronym using their first letters, everything you create will look better.

And you’ll probably find that you have more prospects nodding in agreement with what you’re saying.


Karthik Suresh

How To Think About Making The First Approach


You read a book from beginning to end. You run a business the opposite way. You start with the end, and then you do everything you must to reach it. – Harold Geneen

Thursday, 9.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s been a day of writing. Perhaps too much writing. Still, there’s not much point in setting out to write every day if you don’t give it a shot.

That’s where a monkey’s paw comes into play.

It turns out that you can’t just drive a ship upto a dock and park it. Ships don’t work like cars. They need an approach that’s altogether more nuanced.

A ship is tied up with a big heavy rope. You can’t just throw it to someone on shore – it’s far too heavy for that.

So what you do instead is take a tennis ball and thread a string through it. You then throw the tennis ball to the person on shore who catches it. They pull in the string, which is attached to your big heavy rope. They then pull the big heavy rope in and help your ship get in place and tie it up.

I know there’s a proper way to say all this with the right nautical terms… but you get the point.

First the tennis ball, then the small rope, then the big rope and then the ship.

The tennis ball is your monkey’s paw – the first small thing that lets you get to all the big stuff that sits behind it.

And that’s a useful model to keep in mind always – it helps in all kinds of situations – not just when you need to get a ship parked. Or moored. Whatever.

Take sales, for example. If you don’t know someone and you come in hard and fast with your sales pitch, you’re going to get told to leave. Perhaps politely, perhaps aggressively. These days, you probably don’t even bother to listen to a cold caller. The minute they speak you know what they are and cut them off.

What you need is a way to get started, a way to open with something small that builds up to more later.

Take the first email you send, for example. You could send a long one, describing everything you do. Or you could send a short one, asking if the person you are getting in touch with is the right one to speak with.

In the first instance, you’re inviting rejection because you’ve pitched before being asked to do so.

In the second, one of three things will happen.

  • You’ll be ignored.
  • You’ll get a positive response saying that they are the right person.
  • You’ll get a negative response saying they’re not.

All three responses allow you to follow up – to ask if they got your email, ask permission to tell them more about you, or ask who the right person might be.

In a sales presentation, you can lead with your entire presentation. Or you can stop after you set out the agenda and ask if that works for the audience and if they have any specific issues they’d like to add.

If they come up with a problem that clearly matters to them, that is clearly an expensive issue that they want fixed, then you might want to abandon your entire presentation and focus just on exploring that problem.

After all, the purpose of your meeting is not so you can do a presentation. It’s so you can find something that you can work on for the prospect.

Then there is the process of getting someone to buy.

There’s a mathematical way to work out the best price for your product. Work out the price at which everyone you could possibly sell to will buy. And then work out the price at which every single on of them will walk away. For many products, that’s going to give you a range between ten dollars and a few hundred thousand dollars.

You pricing point should be where changing it up or down results in a worse outcome. If you drop the price, you get more customers, but what they give you is less than before. If you increase the price, you get more for each sale – but the number of customers you lose means you get less than before.

That’s the optimal pricing point – and when you work it you’ll probably get a number that looks like $30,000.

So, if you want to build a sustainable business, one based on knowledge work and consultative selling, your ideal average sale need to be around the $30k mark.

Are you going to sell one of those at your first meeting?

Or are you more likely to sell a free account review? A ten dollar report? A hundred dollar standard piece of work? A $2,000 piece of consulting before you end up landing the $30k annual contract?

Of course, it depends on your business, but having a strategy that starts small and leads up to bigger things just makes sense. It maximises the lifetime value of your customer. You should be willing to spend all your profit on the first sale to get that sale. Everything that is a bonus, and it’s the bonus that’s going to make you rich.

The monkey’s paw approach is powerful – if you can see how to use it.

Take writing, for example. It’s well known that the first few paragraphs of what you write will be rubbish. You’re just warming up during those paragraphs, getting your hands moving and jolting your brain into action.

So why keep those paragraphs? Use them as a monkey’s paw. I write three paragraphs – just freewriting anything – to get the words on screen. After that I start with the real work. And when that’s still hard, like today, a monkey’s paw still comes in handy. The first sentence of this post adds little of value – it’s a throw-away sentence that could just be removed.

It did, however, get enough down on the screen to allow the rest of the post to get pulled out behind it.

Try it sometime. Pick a task – a big one. Then ignore it and start on a very small part of it. Something easy. Perhaps even something completely unrelated.

Once you get started, you might find it easier to work around to that big thing you need to do.

And just maybe, you’ll even get it done.


Karthik Suresh

How Should We Think About The Way In Which We Work?


Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. – E.F Schumacher

Wednesday, 9.05pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Do you ever wonder if you have a responsibility – a fiduciary duty of care – to the world around you?

Most people probably do. They’re concerned about their environment, feel sorry for those in more unfortunate situations and try and be good people.

But is that enough?

Take the minimialism movement, for example. Some there would argue that you have a responsibility to live in the smallest house possible.

The smallest one that lets you do what you need.

But we’re not driven by needs. Well, we are to a point. But that point is fairly low – we know that millionaires are not ten times happier than those with a hundred thousand in the bank, who in turn are not twice as happy as those with fifty thousand.

They’re all about the same. Some of us, it could be argued, feel that the more we have the less content we are.

It’s like that saying – first you own stuff, then your stuff owns you.

So, is the right approach to have less stuff? Or less but better stuff?

For example, let’s think of a simple activity like taking notes during a sales meeting.

You need paper. Should you spend a little bit more and get a pad made from recycled paper or spend as little as possible and go for a cheap notebook with low grade paper?

Should you buy a cheap biro, an expensive fountain pen or a silky smooth Japanese 2B pencil?

Which approach do you think will get you the business? What will your prospect think?

It’s hard to tell. I’m told that some people always look at your shoes to tell what kind of person you are. I’d fail on that test.

But then you have a book like The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Practicing Law – which has possibly one of the best chapters I’ve read – Chapter 8 on page 93, to be precise.

It’s titled Dress For Success and all it says is:

I don’t give a damn what you wear. Just make sure the brief is good.

Perhaps you don’t need to worry about this at all. You can try and be something you’re not and sell successfully to people you don’t respect or you can be who you are and work with people you like, admire and trust.

Which brings us to E.F Schumacher and his book Small Is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered.

You don’t really need to read the book. The title alone tells you all you need to know.

Think about what you’re trying to do in a consultative sales process? Are you trying to make a sale? Or are you trying to help someone decide whether what you do is something they need?

Take the words you use to say what you do… Churchill once wrote Short words are best, and old words, when short, are best of all.

Why would you use a long word when you have a short one that does the same job?

Take the design of a web page or a brochure. We think sometimes that our prospects make decisions based on how your stuff looks. For any real purchase of any significant value, however, you can bet they read your stuff before making a decision.

A simple design that helps them get the main points should work just as well as a pretty one.

What about systems? How many steps should your sales process have?

One, if possible. Two, if you can’t have one. Three, if two isn’t possible.

Really, you should have as few things to do as possible.

What about customers? How many should you go after? How wide should your market be?

If you try and sell to everyone, you’ll end up with no one buying from you. If you want to succeed, you need a niche. Successful large businesses are often a collection of niche businesses.

However big your company, these days you’ll probably find that if you want to get something done, it’s down to you. Perhaps with a few colleagues you trust. A small team.

The real point here is that scale and size is an illusion. If you own a very big company employing lots of people, you probably spend most of your time with three or four people. If you’re an entry level employee at the same company, you probably spend most of your time with three or four people.

If you want to get your point across, speak as you would to one person. Keep everything small.


Karthik Suresh

How To Figure Out And Write Content To Meet User Needs


Tuesday, 9.50pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People react positively when things are clear and understandable. – Dieter Rams

If you’re looking for guidance on how to write content better (or write better content) looking to the government may not seem an obvious first step.

In the UK, however, it might be a good one to take.

That’s because some smart people in there have spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it easier for people to get the things they need to do done, from applying for a new car license to filling in their tax returns.

They see their citizens as users – demanding ones that have a vote and complain if they can’t get things done. Or not – they also know there are lots of people who struggle with computers or have disabilities and also need to be able to use their services.

Which means that they are making some interesting design choices. And one of the first things they’re ignoring is a fundamental principle of marketing.

Think of any article or blog post that you read these days. It will have a pretty definite structure.

  • First there will be a headline designed to get your attention.
  • Then there will be a picture, perhaps with a caption, often not.
  • Then you’ll have the body copy, broken up with subheads and lists – numbered or bulleted.
  • There may be a sprinkling of icons and links and forms.

The idea behind this structure is that it follows the AIDA principle. The headline gets your attention. The picture and caption get your interest. The copy builds desire and finally the links or forms get you to take action.

The whole point of the page is to get you to take action – and it’s usually the action the page designer wants you to take, like signing up to their newsletter.

That approach leads to pages that are, to put it mildly, annoying. The images and other gunk increase loading times, pop-ups and nagging gizmos get in the way and the content can seem contrived and artificial.

And that’s because these pages are designed to try and do “marketing” – not meet a user need.

Take pictures, for example. If you’re visually impaired they add nothing. You can get the information you need if the page has text, but a picture is no use.

So, many government pages just don’t have any.

Instead, their guidance says this “Every part of the GOV.UK website design and architecture, and every piece of published content, should meet a valid user need.”

So what does that mean, and how can we use it to improve the way we create content for our own businesses and sales processes?

We need to start by understanding user needs – getting clear on exactly what one is and how we can meet it – and there is a model that can help.

First, get clear on who is your user

Start with the words As a … what?

For example, as a

  • Carer
  • Small business owner
  • Financial adviser
  • Homeowner
  • Buyer
  • Finance Director
  • Young person

… and so on.

What word can you use to capture who your user is? What words would they use to describe themselves?

Whatever your organisation, whatever section of society you serve, you will find words that describe your users. Collect these words – that’s where you’ll need to start your content creation journey.

Next, work out exactly what they need to do

David Allen, the creator of the Getting Things Done method, calls this the next action. What, precisely, does your user need to do next?

Doing something is not the same as understanding or knowing – things that happen inside one’s head. Doing is more tangible – applying, sending, challenging.

Think of it like looking at a ladder leaning against a wall. Doing involves you climbing the ladder. Anything that doesn’t involve the action of climbing – anything that happens inside your head – does not qualify as a need.

Let’s say you own a graphic design business. Your customer, a small business owner, needs a one page flyer to promote his services. That’s a very clear need.

If you own a health and safety consultancy your client, a large manufacturer, needs a qualified person (you) to audit and sign off their systems as complying with relevant law.

If you know what they need, you can write content that directly helps them with those needs.

Your content needs to help them achieve a result

When they’ve finished their action, climbed their ladder, they’re going to get to the top. That’s their result.

For example, if you’ve helped someone with a legal claim, they’ve now got a settlement.

Your content needs to help them get to that result, step by step. If they can follow it and do what they need to do, then your content is meeting its stated purpose.

How do you know that you’ve got the result that’s needed?

You need a checklist. A list of things that helps you check if the need has been met.

The government guidance calls this acceptance criteria.

Now you can use words like understand to check if your user gets it. Do the understand how to do an application, fill in a form, submit a request for information?

Pulling it all together

If you’ve got this right, you should be able to write a sentence that sums up your user need in this form:

As a [……..] I need to [………] so that [……..] which means that [………..].

For example, lets say you want to create a page on your website listing your carpet cleaning service, you might write something like this:

As a landlord I need to get my carpets cleaned after the current tenants move out so that the property is ready for the new tenants which means that the estate agent can come in and take pictures of the property’s condition before handing over the keys.

If you do this before writing a word of copy then you’ll have a much clearer idea of what your user actually needs.

Then, what you write is much more likely to be clear, understandable and useful.


Karthik Suresh

How To Figure Out If Your Prospect Is Going To Buy From You


Monday, 9.01pm

Sheffield, U.K

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman

Building a pipeline of prospects can sometimes seem like an impossible task, especially when you’re a small business or starting up.

You probably don’t have a clear idea of exactly what you have to offer, or what customers will buy or which market you should enter to be profitable.

That’s because often existing businesses offer something similar to what you’re doing to customers that you might want to work with. That can be intimidating – what makes you different?

How do you know that you have something that can work. After all, it’s rare that you’ll come up with the perfect product at exactly the right time when a gap opens up in the market with customers desperate for what you’re offering.

It’s rather like driving down a road when dark with your headlights on and without a satnav. You can’t see the whole road, just the bit in front of you lit up by the lights. You’ve got to make your decisions based on what you see and hope that everything works out.

Being alert can help. Watching out for signs, looking for confirmation that you’re on the right road and stopping sometimes to ask directions can all help you get to where you want to go.

How can that approach help you when it comes to selling – especially consultative selling?

Perhaps one way to get started is to throw away the rulebook – if you have one. What kind of things don’t help us here?

The first thing that doesn’t help is thinking of anything we do as selling. If we think about a prospect’s situation in binary terms – they either need what we’re offering or they don’t. Then, they either know about us, or don’t.

If they don’t need what we’re offering – it doesn’t matter if they know us or not – unless they know someone else that does need it.

It’s only when they do need it that we have a chance at having a conversation.

Everyone now knows that when you know you need something you’re going to start by doing some research – by going to the Internet and looking up what’s available. Pretty soon you’re going to be as well informed as any salesperson that calls on you on the options you have.

So, it’s safest to assume that every prospect is an informed prospect. Anything you say will add to what they know. That’s only rational.

Except, when it comes to a consultative sale, being rational has nothing to do with it.

Picture this. You call on a prospect and sit there, in your expensive suit with an expensive pad and pen taking notes. You take them through your product options, explain how they all work and then get them to choose what they want from what you have to offer.

A job well done.

It never really seems to happen that way in reality. Do you trust people in shiny suits?

There are other professions that seem to offer a different approach worth considering.

Take journalists and detectives. These two spend their time hunting for the truth – and the truth is often found where emotions run high.

It’s emotions that create motive. And, when you couple motive with means and opportunity, you have a crime scene.

Except we want to make a sale, not a mess. We just want to find out what our prospect feels about most strongly, because that will help us figure out whether we have something to offer, or can create something to offer them.

You can figure out where people are in a funnel if you know how they feel about a particular situation. At the broadest end, they may have a problem. One segment down, they may be aware they have a problem. Then, perhaps they’ve started looking for a solution.

Further down, they’ve put in some work. They’ve tried to build something themselves. This is a good sign – it means they haven’t found anything that works for them.

That also means that they will probably buy a solution if it’s the right one.

Steve Blank calls people at the narrow end of the funnel Earlyvangelists. They’re the ones that will reach for what you have even if it’s not fully there yet because they need it. They can also help you refine and design and figure out how to make something that really works.

So, how do you figure out how people feel about their situation? That’s when your reporter’s pad comes out and you start asking questions.

How many reporters do you think go out and talk about what they think about a situation?

What they’re looking for is the story – where is tension being created, where are things going wrong, where are the things we should feel strongly about?

Some create this tension artificially – by simply taking two people with opposing positions and letting them fight it out with prepared statements. That’s not what you’re trying to do.

What you’re trying to do is get the real story. Find the quote that sums things up. The one where the prospect, in her own words, tells you how much of a pain this particular problem is, what she’s tried to do to solve it before and why it really needs sorting out.

At that point, you have a prospect who is ready to buy.

The only question left is whether you have a thing that she can buy.

If not, can you build it?


Karthik Suresh

The Art Of Selling With Words


Friday, 9.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s time for a little Zen digression.

You’re going to have to write to sell. Especially these days.

We may spend more time than ever watching stuff but we’re also reading more than ever before. And if you’re involved in any kind of complex consultative sale, a presentation alone won’t be enough to close a deal. You’ll also need to put something in writing.

The best situation is one where what you say doesn’t matter. Your prospect knows what they want and they know you can do it. In that case, what you put down on paper is simply a way to get an agreement in place. You both know that you’ll do what needs to be done, not what’s written down.

Other situations can be more complex.

Take a classic tendering exercise, for example. Such processes are driven by a fear of losing, a fear of being vulnerable.

In large organisations no one can afford to take a risk and so they use methods that mean that they can’t be blamed if things go wrong. Not all organisations think that way, of course, but you’d be hard pressed to come up with examples of such beasts.

These situations echo the words of Tennessee Williams – we have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal.

If you don’t know you’re going to win a tender before it goes out, you’ve probably already lost.

So, at one extreme you’re going to get the business no matter what. At the other, you’re probably going to fail. So, what kind of attitude should you take when you’re writing to win that kind of business?

The standard advice is simple. Look at what they ask for, make sure you address each point and say how you’ll do it and give an example. Then move to the next point.

That way you’ll turn in a solid piece of writing that hits all the main points. It might even get you shortlisted and into the final five.

Then there are the other ways people find you. On your website. By the articles you write. The words that aren’t written in response to a request but because you want to put them down and feel that they describe what you do.

There are some very good books on writing, and I might come back to them in later posts, but right now let’s talk about Teaching English As A Foreign Language.

Many years ago, I had a teacher who was doing exactly that. She went through the process of writing – how you should brainstorm, select your best ideas, put them in order, construct the sentences and voila – you’d have a perfect piece of writing.

I tried that once.

The result was… turgid. It was an essay written by numbers, with no soul to it. It felt dead and lifeless and sad.

And the marks it got from teacher reflected how poor it was.

That’s the problem with following a process for doing anything. When someone did something for the first time they just did it. They wrote sentences that sounded good. They created music. Made stuff.

And then someone else came along and tried to understand how it was done. They tried to do it themselves, to get other people to do it. They came up with rules and methods and processes.

But here’s the problem. Were the rules pasted onto the thing that was new and good? Or did something new and good come out of following the rules.

I think we can all agree that following the rules does not result in creating something new and good. Following the rules makes you irritable and tired.

The thing with creating anything, with doing anything is that when you’re doing it, you’re doing it. Not thinking about it or analysing it or breaking it down.

People that do stuff are often terrible teachers, because they just do things rather than figure out how to get someone else to do it.

Which brings us to Eugen Herrigel and Zen in the Art of Archery.

People who do Zen don’t try and explain what Zen is.

They come at it from odd angles. For example, how should you hold a bowstring? Like a baby holding your finger. When you let go, you let go like that baby. The baby doesn’t think – it just lets go.

An archer has a target, but they’re not trying to hit the target. Hitting the target isn’t the point. The goal is a spiritual one. As Herrigel writes “fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself”.

And that’s how I think we should think about what we write.

We write to understand what we do better. We write for ourselves.

In doing so, we may help someone else understand what we do as well.

When they do that, they may even decide to buy from us.


Karthik Suresh

How To Pull Together A Story For A Killer Presentation


Thursday, 9.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

In my previous post I wrote about taking your audience on a journey using a story. How can you use a story to make a more effective presentation?

To start with, what do you think is a good outcome for a presentation that you make?

Is it silence? Is it applause? Is it a barrage of questions?

If it’s silence – perhaps you were completely clear and everyone understood everything. Or perhaps they didn’t but you sounded so confident that they were too intimidated to ask anything in case they looked foolish. Or you were so boring they spent all the time checking their emails under the desk.

If it’s applause – perhaps you came across well. But, what did they remember from your presentation?

If they have lots of questions – is it because they understand what you’re saying well and want to show how clever they are in front of their colleagues? Or is it because you didn’t get the most important points across? Or were you vague and evasive and they’re trying to pin you down?

Going back to Andrew Abela and what he says about – a good outcome for a presentation you do is when your listeners start talking and discussing what you’ve said between themselves – seemingly almost forgetting that you’re in the room.

This is a great point to reach. I’ve seen this. You’ve made your points, and now everyone is nodding and talking and gesticulating. They’re buying into what you’re saying. You’re on your way to making a sale.

How do you do this, what’s the secret?

The problem with most presentations is that they start from the presenter’s point of view and work through the points that the presenter thinks is important.

Usually, this is with an introduction to who they are, some scene setting, then some meandering through whatever seems important, then a discussion about what this means for the audience, then next actions and any other business.

By which time everyone is asleep or bored or zoned out.

Instead, you need to think about your presentation from your audience’s point of view. You need to start by getting their attention.

You’ll do that by saying what they’re going to get or learn or see during your presentation that matters to them. For example, I started this post with the idea that you could use a story format for your presentation. So that’s what you’re expecting to find.

You read articles and ads and flyers because the headline gets your attention. Newspapers have headlines for that reason – so you can find the stuff that interests you quickly. It’s the same with presentations – you need to start by getting their attention.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner and you’re about to sit through a presentation on webinar services. How would you respond to two slide titles below:

  1. Introduction to ABC Webinar Marketing Services
  2. Can a single webinar increase sales by 30% next month?

The first one is the kind you see at the start of presentations all the time. The second is not.

The second gets your attention because that’s something that interests you. So, your first task as a presenter is to set out the situation – the context for what you’re going to do – the promise of what you can deliver to your listener.

You then lead into a story format – which is really quite simple. In most stories, there is a problem and a resolution repeated again and again. You put a man up a tree, throw stones at him and then get him down again.

Watch for this the next time you see a film. The tension in a story is created by putting things in the way of the protagonists. We need them to stumble and fall and then pick themselves up again.

In a consultative sale, the stumbles and stones are objections. They’re the thoughts that come to mind when you are exposed to something. It’s just natural to be sceptical – that’s human nature.

What you need to do is look at your situation and think of the first objection or objections that come to mind.

For example, following the webinar intro slide, perhaps the objection is “We don’t really have these in our industry – the bosses don’t sit at computers and join webinars”.

Rather than waiting for the audience to bring up this problem – address it head on in your next slide title – “Are small business owners too busy to attend webinars?”

Hopefully, you have a good answer to this question. You have a resolution to this problem. Perhaps you have research that says most bosses ask an intern to find out about marketing options, and the interns often jump on webinars for a quick intro.

So, you have a resolution trotted out. But just because you say so doesn’t make it so.

What you need next is an example. Something that shows what you say is real. It can even be an anecdote – it’s surprising how powerful an example can be of even one person that’s experienced what you’re saying can happen.

The example also lets your listener take a breath and process your point. It gives them time to get it. Right – I know the problem, it looks like this person can solve it – and it’s worked somewhere else.

Great. Onto the next problem.

“Aren’t webinars expensive?”

There’s a resolution to that. No – the technology is getting cheaper all the time.

And an example. My last client did six webinars last year and spent less than $5,000.

And on and on. Each objection will naturally lead to another one and another one. You’ll be able to think of them quite organically as you stop focusing on trying to sell what you do and focus instead on the problems people can think up about why it won’t work.

If an objection is particularly hard – if you can’t answer it – you need to stop and work on that until you can. If you can think it up, the audience can.

How many problem-resolution-example sequences do you need? As many as are needed to address all the objections that can come up. Address them yourself, do it before the audience can and you’ll see something wonderful happening in front of your eyes.

You’ll be talking to them, making your first point. You’ll see polite attention, some furrowed eyebrows, some sceptical looks.

Then, you’ll say the objection that they’re thinking out loud and see a flash of recognition in their eyes. They’ll sit forward and start to pay attention as you talk about how you are going to resolve it.

When they hear your example, the cogs in their brains start turning, processing what you’re saying, putting it in their own words.

As you carry on, they’ll get more and more engaged. You’ll be going through all the problems they have and coming up with answers before they can ask questions. They might even smile and say something like “I was just going to ask that…”.

When you’re done, you might get some nods. No questions, probably, if you’ve answered them all. Instead, someone will say something like “We could try this out with the XYZ product line”. And then someone else will join in with a supporting statement.

You’ll lean back, and watch as people start to talk about how they can use what you’ve talked about. All the time you’ve spent addressing objections means that they can now think about how to do things rather than whether they should do things.

That discussion is your goal – your signal that what you said has been processed and internalised and is now part of the way your audience looks at the world. That you’re on your way to making the sale.


Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the thirteenth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

How To Get Started With A Killer Presentation For A Consultative Sale


Tuesday, 8.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes. – Theodore Levitt

Is the consultative selling process about persuasion?

Are you trying to bring someone round to your point of view? To get them to change their mind?

Or is it more complex than that?

Think about the last presentation you did or saw. What was it like?

The chances are that there were a fair number of slides. They went through the history of the company, what they do, how things work. Lots of stuff.

But… how much of it was useful? And did it get you to change your mind?

Well, to find out if something was useful or not, you need to start by asking what it is that you want in the first place.

I’m betting you haven’t really set that out. After all, who sits through a presentation if they already know what they want. You’re there to learn and see and make up your own mind.

Ah… there is a clue. What you want is to be able to make up your own mind. To make an informed decision.

I think that’s the point of a consultative sale. It’s not really about persuasion. It’s about informed decision making.

But what does that mean. How do you make an informed decision?

Well, an informed decision is not necessarily right or wrong. We usually can’t tell whether something will work out or not in advance. What we’re tying to do is arrange the facts we have in a way that makes sense – and tells a story that we’re comfortable with.

There are very few good books on creating good business presentations. Dr Andrew Abela’s is one. He is the author of Advanced Presentations By Design and has a free ebook on his site, where the matrix above comes from.

In any presentation situation, you need to figure out what you’re trying to get from the audience. What’s the result you want? What’s the end game?

Let’s say you’re trying to pitch your consulting service which helps companies design and deliver webinars to help with brand awareness and lead generation.

You know all about why companies should use this approach. For you, it’s a no-brainer and it’s hard to believe it when a prospect just doesn’t get it and why it’s worth the money.

That’s frustrating.

Can you do anything about it? Can you create a pitch that will help people understand why this is such a great thing?

The answer to that is yes – and it starts by working your way through the matrix.

Think of a prospect that you’re trying to sell to right now. Perhaps it’s the owner of an office furniture provider. Someone that supplies desks and drawers and chairs to companies. Let’s assume it’s a “he” and has been in the business thirty odd years.

This person is not going to take to your product naturally. Perhaps he’s never been on a webinar himself. Maybe he knows what one is, but thinks it’s something only new high-tech businesses do. Not something for him.

What he’s thinking right now is that what you’re selling isn’t a priority. He doesn’t need it and can get along quite happily without it.

He’s even made the decision already as he’s listening to you – this isn’t something for him. There is no investment available.

So, what you’re using the matrix to work out is what he is thinking and doing right now. That gives you a clear understanding of where he stands on the issue.

If you just try and close for the order the chances are you’ll get a no. Or be thrown out. Depends how much patience he still has left.

Before you can go for the close, you need to get him to see the opportunity that’s out there. The one that he’s missing out on.

You need to take him from thinking this isn’t a priority to thinking that he can see what’s in it for him.

When he can see what’s in it for him, then he’s going to be more open to the idea that this is worth investing in.

And that might get him to open up his wallet. To ask you what he needs to do to sign up and buy what you have.

The starting point for your presentation, then, is not the last one you did or the bunch of slides you always use.

No, the starting point is for you to work out what you want your prospect to do.

Then, you need to get clear on what he’s thinking and doing right now. You need to know that because that’s where you’re going to start. By stepping into his shoes.

Then, you’re going to take him on a journey. A journey that will end with him thinking differently about what you’re putting in front of him.

So, how are you going to take him on that journey?

You’re going to do it with a story – and that’s the focus of the next post.


Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the twelfth (or thirteenth) post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

What Kind Of Business Are You In?

Monday, 9.09pm

Sheffield, U.K.


Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket. – Eric Hoffer

Zig Ziglar, the motivational speaker, used to tell a story of a friend of his who was struggling to make it as a salesperson.

His friend sold cookware – pots and pans – but was finding it hard to convince his prospects to buy them. He would call on people, take them through the sales pitch but then, when it was time to ask for the order, be unable to close.

So Zig asked him a question.

Continue reading “What Kind Of Business Are You In?”