Don't Let Your Message Get Derailed
There's been a train wreck.
No lives were lost, but a presentation was mangled, an ego was bruised, and a prospective relationship is in critical condition. Here's how it happened.
Even though you're the one doing the reading, pretend for a moment that I'm your audience. There's something you want to communicate to me - something that you believe is unique, and that I would benefit greatly from hearing about. You've assembled all your information into a marketing deck, laid out in a logical order, and even hired a designer to make it visually appealing. You've rehearsed the pitch and you're ready for anything.
Except me, your audience.
As soon as you hand out the deck I begin flipping through the pages and find a graph on page 17 that I don't understand. I ask a question that requires a lengthy explanation (including a detour to pages 11, 12 and 24) and by the time it's resolved we're 12 minutes into your 30-minute time slot - and by the way I'm somewhat negatively biased by what we've just discussed (even though it was actually not the central theme of your material).
How well do you think the rest of the presentation is going to go?
Since this nightmare qualifies as a train wreck, let's examine it the same way that investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board would. They seek to find the root cause of the disaster, knowing that in most cases there's actually a number of contributing factors.
No 'black box' is available, but it's very clear that you lost control of the message (the wreckage pattern is familiar). As with most of these situations, the seeds of the disaster were planted long before it actually happened. All it took was one more seemingly innocent action on a particular day and it all came off the tracks. We can look at what was done - and not done - to understand how next time you can get where you want to go without detours, derailment or delays.
The first factor in this wreck was not following the schedule and making the required station stops: specifically, failing to cultivate a relationship with the prospect long before that first meeting to be sure that your reputation precedes you.
By the time you enter the meeting room (or start a conference call or a video call) your prospective investor should already have a very good awareness of your strategy, your background, and how he's likely to benefit from this investment. That initial sharing of information and requirements can happen through e-mail exchanges and through phone calls - but it's essential that it happens. If you try to take shortcuts you'll throw off the schedule - and in the long run you won't save any time.
In this case it's clear that didn't happen since your prospect went looking for some piece of information that you didn't know was very important to him. Had you nurtured thus lead in a more organized way you would have discovered the areas of particular importance and addressed them, or at least set the expectation that they would be addressed in your presentation.
A day or two (even an hour or two) before your meeting you should have sent your prospect a link to a short video that's on your website. A video doesn't replace the need for a live discussion, nor does it take the place of a well-crafted marketing deck. But it can give prospective investors a glimpse into what makes your offering unique, as well as what makes you someone they should want to speak with. Those two things can be the difference between walking into a cold room, and walking into a receptive and engaged audience.
The second factor was speed - in this case too much information piled on too quickly. Of course you didn't drop all that information on your prospect at once (or did you?) Many people still try that approach: email someone a 36-page marketing deck, and assume he's going to (a) read it, (b) immediately recognize it as superior to every other option he's seen and (c) respond with no questions and ready to write a big check. (a) He won't, (b) he won't, and (c) he won't.
The key is to layer on information as you're developing the relationship. Remember that the train runs both ways on these tracks: you're gathering information from your future investor about what he needs, and at the same time you're building the story of your fund for him - with relevant facts as bricks and your brand as the mortar holding them together.
The last factor - the one that triggered the wreck in this case - was letting someone else drive the train.
When handing out the deck you didn't summarize your pitch in a 1- or 2-sentence, 15-second statement that was designed to resonate with your audience (me) because you hadn't taken a few minutes ahead of time to find out exactly what I'm looking for. And no, your fund isn't as unique as you think it is, and the audience isn't as eager to give you money as you want them to be. By just handing someone a deck you're providing an opportunity for him to start guiding the discussion - which is the same as leaving the door to the train's cab open and the engine running.
Most of these accident investigations conclude with a summary that aims to prevent the same tragedy from happening again - so here's what we learned:
1. Follow the schedule and cultivate a relationship with your prospect (remembering that no genuine relationship was ever based solely on one person asking another for money). Be sure your prospect knows about your background, your strategy and your edge before you walk into the room. This is definitely a time when your reputation should precede you.
2. Watch your speed. Layer information on to your prospect; dropping every piece of data about your fund onto your prospect at once won't be good for either of you.
3. Don't let the passengers drive the train. Maintain control of your message so that you get to convey the information you know is relevant and important to your prospect.