Setting the Stage

A salesperson is to a sales presentation what a director is to a movie or stage production.  Here’s the ideal stage setting for a sales presentation: you and the prospect(s) isolated in an inner sanctum—office; conference room; in a residence, the dining room.  You want comfort, control, and privacy; and each time you present, it’s your responsibility to set the stage to maximize those three factors.

You don’t want (1) an employee in the room not “officially” listening to the presentation, who nevertheless is and might blurt out a negative comment which could kill the sale.  Anyone you’re not getting commitments from is a potential sale killer.

(2) A secretary or other employee constantly popping in and interrupting, grabbing the prospect’s attention away from you and the presentation.

(3) The prospect accepting telephone calls, which also interrupt the flow of the presentation.

(4) Having to present in a public area—for example, a glass countertop in a jewelry store, surrounded by customers and employees who draw the prospect’s attention away from you.

(5) Having to present on the hood of a contractor’s truck, especially when it’s cold or raining.

(6) Having to present on a pile of boxes in a warehouse or garage.

(7) Having to present in a restaurant, with the whole world (or so it felt) staring at you.

(8) A prospect’s friend dropping by for a visit and staying to listen to the presentation.

When I walked into a business and the owner greeted me, I had a standard line: “Is there someplace comfortable where we’d be out of the way of everything?”  Four out of five times I was escorted to an ideal inner sanctum—comfortable and private so I could exercise maximum control of the presentation.  One out of five times I had to tough it out in a less-than-ideal milieu, every now and then in horrendous circumstances: I once gave a presentation to a fence contractor, standing up in the back of his covered truck, in a blinding rain storm blowing in from the back of the truck.  Naturally my closing percentage was significantly higher when the stage was set in my favor.

A salesperson can’t be shy or reticent if he’s going to set the stage to perfection.  I often positioned prospects so I could control the delivery of the presentation.  “Max, may I ask you to move around next to Sam; that way I won’t be at a tennis match.”

“If I can put you over here, Sam and angle my material towards you this way, I’ll be fine.”

“Is there a light we could turn on?  It’s a bit dark in here and I want to make sure you can see okay.”

The prospect decides to position himself halfway across the room: “Max, can I pull you in a little closer where I can show you this properly?”

Referring to a television or radio playing and pointing to my left ear: “I’ve got a tin ear on this side—it’s a present from my Navy days; is it possible to turn that down a bit?”  I never was refused; half the time they offered an apology as they turned it off.

When a prospect’s friend dropped by to chat and he obviously wasn’t leaving any time soon: “Sam, we present our program only to the principals or key employees of the company; would you like me to reschedule?”  I never was challenged; in most cases the friend got the hint and left of his own accord.

There were times I had to present to five (or more) decision makers and had to line them up so all could view the flipchart and I could have eye-contact with them all.  I must say, I never had a problem—everyone was always quite accommodating.  I believe they respected me for having the gumption to ask.  The control I established was a bonus which helped tremendously throughout the presentation and close.

A salesperson can not be fearful of the prospect or feel like an interloper; after all, the salesperson is the prospect’s guest and most people treat guests with a modicum of deference, don’t they?  Also, the salesperson must not think of himself as pushy when setting the stage; he’s simply creating maximum efficiency to properly do his job—another reason he must be on equal footing with his prospect(s).

If you can’t be bothered to set the stage, if you think it’s too minor a thing to concern yourself with, you’re foolishly putting a five-hundred-pound weight across your back.  Be professional and smart—set the stage; do it every time you’re about to give a presentation.

You won’t win an Academy Award for best direction, but you’ll be an Academy-Award-winning salesperson.

And you’ll make more money.