A sales engineer for a software company gave the final presentation of a breakfast I recently attended. 

This is the point when I normally would run screaming from the event, fleeing from the 45 minutes of marchitecture slides, inflated list of client logos, dull company history and “very exciting” product roadmap that inevitably follows.

So imagine my surprise when the sales engineer gave a crisp, 20 minute presentation that, far from driving folks away, had them on the edge of their seats. 

And although the content of the presentation was great, it was the structure of the presentation that ultimately made it so effective. 

Capture Your Audience

Rather than starting out with slides about his company and what it did, he began with a clear, well thought out articulation of a problem that his audience had. 

Full stop. 

He didn't refer to how he could solve it or what his company did. He just stated the problem. And with that, he pulled everyone in immediately, because they were hearing about something that mattered to them, about a problem they faced and were interested in learning how to solve.

From there, he laid out the consequences people who have this problem face. And these weren’t all related to his software, he included broader consequences that showed an understanding of their jobs and the larger business context. 

Then, he presented possible solutions to the problem — again, none of them relating to his product. They were broader solutions that went beyond simply technology to encompass process, culture, etc. 

He wrapped up this section with the benefits of solving the problem, none of which had to do with all the great features and capabilities of his product, but rather were presented in the context of what the audience cared about.

All of this took 10 minutes, and as I said, people were riveted. 

Gain Their Trust

At this point, having proved that he understood a problem the folks in the room had, its negative effects and some potential solutions, as well as the benefits they would bring, he addressed how his company and its product could help. 

He didn’t launch into a demo or screen shots of all the wonderful things his product did. Instead he framed it in terms of the problem he began with, giving the specific reasons why his product addressed the problem better than the competition.

He earned the right to have this conversation because he first showed that he understood his audience and what they faced. His understanding of the room's problems gained their trust: after all, anyone who understands the problem this well, probably has a solution worth at least hearing about. 

And although he only spent 10 minutes on his actual pitch, I can guarantee that he ended that presentation with a much higher likelihood of having audience members contact him for further conversations than if he had done the traditional software dog and pony show.

It's Not Just Sales Pitches 

Although this post points the finger at enterprise software reps, we could all learn from this sales engineer’s approach. 

How many times have we given a presentation where we focused exclusively on what mattered to us rather than what mattered to the audience? 

Yes, the project you just finished is important, and yes, all the tasks and deliverables mean something to you and your team. But the stakeholders in the room don’t care about that — they’re taking time out of their triple-booked days to hear how your project will impact them. 

So figure out why they’re stakeholders — what “stake” do they hold in the outcome — and start there. Once you discuss something they care about, you will have a captive audience. 

By adopting this approach, you’ll find your efforts get buy-in much easier than with the “me, me, me” approach so common among vendors, which is truly a win, win, win.