When I was rather new to “Corporate America,” I wasted a lot of time by giving senior executives what they said they wanted.
I guarantee from our experience in marketing consulting that I am not the only one who has made the errors I’m about to admit to.
But, first, at great risk to my ego, here’s the story.
How NOT To Get the Attention of Busy Executives
I was an employee of a financial institution that had a technology review committee, or TRC, made up of the heads of several departments.
I had a FANTASTIC idea. (It really was a fantastic idea, but in retrospect I have to admit the way I presented it wasn’t equally fantastic.)
I managed to get on the agenda for the TRC.
The TRC requested all proposals and supporting data on paper. So I spent a ton of unpaid overtime creating one-inch-thick binders for each of the executives on the TRC, including charts, graphs, statistics and other data supporting my reasons for creating an Intranet system for the company. (The fact that they didn’t HAVE an internal web-based system shows you how old this example is.)
My (rather new) degree in Mass Communication and my training as a technical writer had me convinced that most of the world’s problems could be solved if only people would produce enough high-quality documentation.
I stayed up all night preparing my “pitch.” I had fifteen minutes, and I was going to cram as much information into that fifteen minutes as I possibly could.
I showed up with all those binders, armed for bear, as it were. (I actually had to have a colleague help me carry them in.)
I set one in front of each of the executives and could see they were impressed as they flipped through the data.
Thus encouraged, I rattled on for fifteen minutes solid, barely coming up for air.
These wise old men (they really were all men, and all seemed old and wise to me at the time) nodded sagely and stroked their beards thoughtfully. (One or two of them actually had beards, as I recall.)
“This is an excellent presentation, Paula. Why don’t you come back next week and we’ll discuss this further.”
I was thrilled.
Of course they would say yes to my idea. And of course they’d let me lead the project. I had demonstrated initiative, I had shown overwhelming evidence in support of the idea, and I had an answer to every question they had time to ask. (They hadn’t asked many, in my nervousness I had made certain to use up all of the time allotted to discussion to preclude any questions.)
The next week, I showed up to the TRC meeting as scheduled, and the wise old men informed me that they “needed more information” to be sure they were making the best decision. They suggested the usual sources for data – Gartner Group, Harvard Business Review, etc.
I pointed out to them that those sources had been included in the documentation I had prepared for them. (Did I mention I was loaded for bear?)
They backtracked and came up with a few more angles I hadn’t considered as relevant, and recommended that I provide additional information.
“Are They Just Stupid or Something?”
And so it went, for another six weeks. I would carefully prepare MORE documentation and persuasive arguments for each meeting.
Behind the scenes, my team was creating a proof-of-concept Intranet because I was certain the project would be approved. But we were spending a lot of our own time getting the job done.
By the time they finally approved my project, it was already accomplished.
Of course, you have probably already guessed what took me six weeks to learn:
They didn’t need more data.
These were busy people, with more things to do than time to do them in.
They were unwilling to spend the time and effort required to read my voluminous evidence for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
The easiest thing for them to do was to delay, until I either came to my senses and summarized it for them in terms they could understand, or gave up on the idea and quit fighting for my spot on their agenda.
As I mentioned, my team had been working on a proof-of-concept intranet “behind the scenes,” convinced of my inevitable success. I was better at selling my own people than at selling the top brass. So by the sixth week, we simply unveiled what we had built and turned our request for permission into a request for forgiveness.
I got a bonus. And my team got to roll a more extensive project. But only because I showed the TRC, rather than told them. And because I had done a whole lot of overtime for free.
So, this was a happy ending, but I could have saved myself and my team a lot of time, work and uncertainty.
A warning for salespeople and marketers
Most salespeople who need the attention of CEOs and other executives can probably relate.
Executives, of necessity, guard their time and attention behind barbed wire, mahogany doors, email, caller ID, and vigilant assistants. If you’re not already an employee (as I was at the time) you probably won’t even get five minutes on the phone, or in person.
And, also unlike my example, you certainly won’t get six chances to make the same mistake.
So, here’s what I did wrong:
- I didn’t understand my audience. I took no time to get to know their personal priorities and desires and present the Intranet as a solution to an acknowledged problem. (Rather than just incredibly powerful technology that they could surely figure out how to use!)
- I assumed a level of technical knowledge they didn’t have.
- I believed what they said. (When prospects say they “need more data,” or even “it’s too expensive,” it is more likely to mean that what they’ve seen and understood so far is not convincing. You need to find out why.)
- I complied with their format. My proposal was submitted in writing, using their standard forms. While it’s often necessary to comply with a prospects expectations, you should also go BEYOND them and prepare something more. I should have provided a demonstration beyond paper, even (or especially) if it broke ranks with the format of other proposals they were considering. A great video or presentation could have done this.
Unless and until I had their attention and motivation to understand what I was saying, all the data in the world is a waste of trees.
So, now that we know how NOT to get the attention of executives, here’s an idea.
Create a 30-Second Video.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a thirty-second video is worth thirty thousand.
(And seriously, who has time for all those words? Busy executives certainly don’t!)
Simplify and craft your message into the most important benefits from the customer’s point of view, and express it in 30 seconds or less.
This is the elevator speech, made visible, portable, and much more powerful.
That’s the percent of executives who told Forbes that they watch work-related videos on business websites at least once a week. The results breakdown:
- 50% watch business-related videos on YouTube
- 65% visit the marketer’s website after viewing a video
. . .
According to Forbes Insight, that’s the percentage of senior executives who’d rather watch a video than read text. About 65% of those who view a video click through to visit the vendor website, 50% look for more information and 45% report that they contacted a vendor after seeing an online video ad. About 50% of those who viewed an online marketing video went on to make a purchase for their business.
This month’s Aviation Marketing Master Class topic is Video for Marketing.
Want to learn more about the Master Class?
Watch this 30 Second Video: