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A 7-Step Guide to Executing a Horrible Conference Call

By February 6, 2014 2 Comments

A 7-Step Guide to Executing a Horrible Conference Call

Recently, our team participated in a product demo. We’ve participated in many product demos in the past, both as customers and as consultants. In this particular case, we participated in order to get an understanding of the product so that we could help a client put it to the best use possible. It was important for us and our client to take the time for the demo. It would only make our partnership stronger.

Our client introduced us to the product representative that would be responsible for giving us a brief demo. The meeting was scheduled through a web conference software.

If you read the title of this post, it should come as no surprise that our experience was less than stellar. And we want to help as many salespeople avoid these pitfalls as we possibly can (mostly because we cringe when we think about wasted time).

How to Execute a Horrible Conference Call in 7 Steps:

How to Execute a Horrible Conference Call in 7 Steps

1. Avoid sending your presentation deck in advance (even if you’re using a web conference software during a live call).

Step one. Join the web conference.

Yes, there were problems with Step One. There were technology issues at the outset and one of the attendees was unable to join. At 8 minutes past the meeting start time, the conversation stalled while the product representative sent the presentation deck by email.

The simple fix? Send the deck to each and every participant at least 5-10 minutes before the call in anticipation of any technology issues (because as much as we’d like to depend on it, technology can fail). Even if you’d rather the attendees not view the deck before you have the chance to discuss it with them, it’s best to anticipate technology issues so that the meeting can start immediately, as opposed to 10 minutes late.

2. Avoid doing 3-4 minutes of research to gain an understanding of each participant’s role.

As the product rep sent the presentation deck by email, she asked us to introduce ourselves. We provided background of our relationship with the mutual client and it was immediately clear that the product rep had absolutely no understanding of our company or our relationship with the client prior to joining the call.

This is a key point: she had no idea how to position the product. Was she making a sale or was she just explaining how to use the product? She struggled to explain the product because she was clearly in ‘sales mode’ (we were not potential customers, but mutual partners with the same client). Even after introducing ourselves and explaining our relationship with the client, she admitted that she had been confused about the relationship prior to the call. (RED FLAG!)

The simple fix? Make a 5-minute phone call call to the mutual client and ask a few questions about the demo attendees. Then (and only then!) can you understand how to prepare. In this case, she would have been able to prepare to position the demo to a partner, rather than a direct customer. Taking the time to prepare for this call would have resulted in a very different demo call. She didn’t need to convince us that the product was amazing; she merely needed to walk us through how a typical user would engage with it.

3. Fail to provide a purpose or benefit at the beginning of the call.

After the (messy) conversation about the client relationship, the product rep immediately launched into the presentation deck. This point directly applies to #2. Her purpose was to ‘sell’ us on the product. Our purpose was to gain an understanding of how the product works, so that our client could deploy it efficiently. She cared about the sale, while we cared about the implementation.

The simple fix? The most effective way to begin a meeting is to provide a PBC, a purpose-benefit-check. State the purpose, explain the mutual benefit for each attendee, and check to make sure that both the purpose and benefit are correct and clear. Even if she hadn’t prepared for the call, she then would have been able to change course. Be clear about your intentions and avoid wasting others’ time.

4. Make no room for silence in the conversation.

There’s no room for real conversation when you don’t make room for silence. The product rep had clearly walked many people through the same presentation. She could have done it in her sleep. She was so comfortable with the presentation that she had it memorized. I would venture to guess that she never deviates from this ‘script’.

A good way to frustrate attendees is to talk for 5 (or more) minutes without checking in, pausing, or asking a question. By doing so, you force participants to wedge their questions into the conversation (and potentially make them feel rude for interrupting you).

The simple fix? Take a breather! It’s tough to talk and talk and talk. (HINT: if you find that your mouth is dry and you’re suddenly thirsty, you have been talking way too much.) You don’t need to fill every second of the meeting with your voice. Let the attendees use their own so that conversation can take place. Learn to be comfortable with silence. You’ll be shocked to find what kind of information you can obtain when you zip your lips and listen.

5. Waste 20-30 min of all participants’ time before you actually begin the demo portion of the presentation.

On this particular call, the actual demo began 26 minutes after the meeting began (including the technology fail at the outset). That means that 26 minutes was dedicated to company background, studies behind their product iterations, and the product rep’s own experience using the product. One could argue that this is superfluous information (especially when you’re not the customer).

The simple fix? Give a 2-3 minute ‘history lesson’ to answer the question, “how did we get here?” and MOVE ON! If the calendar invite is titled, “Product Demo with _____”, you better make sure that the actual demo begins within 5 minutes of the meeting’s start time. If I wanted to learn more about the company, I could do the research myself or ask these specific questions during our call together.

6. Go through each and every slide just because you’re “supposed to”.

Toward the end of our one-hour call with the product rep, we found ourselves attempting to wedge our own questions back into the conversation and get the call back on track. Yet even after asking these questions, the rep continued to walk us through her slides. Each and every one. Even though they weren’t relevant to the questions we asked. The conversation was deviating from the slides, yet she continued to devote time and energy to them.

The simple fix? We have two.

1. For each slide, be sure that you can state a clear point in one sentence and answer the question, “so what?”. During a meeting, each attendee is consciously or subconsciously asking some version of this question: “What does this have to do with me? And how is this going to affect my own work?”. If you can’t articulate the answers to these questions, your slides won’t help you.

2. Don’t be afraid to step away from your presentation deck. If it isn’t serving the conversation that’s taking shape, ditch it. Stopping short of the end of your deck isn’t a sign that you’ve failed. It’s a sign that real conversation is happening.

7. Say these words: “People don’t really need to be trained to use this. It just happens intuitively.”

The product rep said these words and we immediately wrote them down. Deep down, we all know this isn’t true. No matter how awesome or cool or ‘efficient’ your product is, the user still has a learning curve. Even if you’ve designed a fancy tour to walk the user through the product initially, there’s still an exploratory period. If we can use a running analogy, this would be like me saying to you, “You don’t really need to train to run a marathon. It will just happen because you want it to.” False.

The simple fix? Just don’t say these words. Admit that there is an introductory period where the users will need to familiarize themselves with the product. And do all that you can to allow this period to be short.

Conference calls are a reality in today’s business world. The experience can be incredibly disorienting and frustrating. (So much so that it’s actually hilarious.)

But, technology is a great tool if you use it to your advantage. If you want to execute horrible conference calls, just follow these steps. It’s really that simple!

Find these tips helpful or want to share them with a peer or colleague? Save or send our Slideshare!

Additional Resource:

If you want a quick read on how to become an engaging conversationalist, download our ebook How to Communicate with Influence: For Sales Leaders and Pros. )

And be sure to let us know what you think by tweeting us @SalesEngine or @CraigWortmann!)

Written by Jenny Poore. You can find her on Twitter and .

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