Ditch the Pitch and Start a Conversation

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Whether you are in sales, an information security consultant, or a full-time cybersecurity employee, sometimes the hardest part about advancing your goals is to get in a room and have a real discussion. There are big differences between a pitch or presentation and a conversation, and they go far beyond structure.
Presentations are naturally one-sided, no matter how practiced or comprehensive they become. They automatically trigger that same defensive barrier that erects itself during television commercials or other unwelcome advertisements. The last thing you want in a vendor presentation is for the potential customer to wish they could fast-forward through your pitch to get back to what they really care about.
Instead, take advantage of the time you have been allotted to get a better understanding of your audience’s pain points, concerns, and requirements. If they want to talk, let them talk. If they don’t want to talk, ask open-ended questions and make them talk. What could their day do without? What is keeping them from being more productive or successful? What are they losing sleep about? If you don’t ask the questions, you’ll never be able to provide a meaningful answer.
What happens if they don’t immediately point out their technical requirements or problems?

  • Depending on who your audience is, their concerns might be centered on business risks or fear of the unexpected. Instead of using all your time to rehearse and talk about your idea or solution, maybe you should be focused on translating cybersecurity risk to business risk (hint: one equals the other). This is a concept that was embarrassingly simplified in a recent episode of Startup SecurityWeekly. When unexpected impacts to the business are mentioned, the topic can be easily shifted to monitoring/detection tools and methodologies or incident response.

Side note: If you are in the information security field and you are not listening to or watching the Security Weekly shows (http://securityweekly.com), you’re doing it wrong.

  • If their pain point is having too many pointless meetings or vendor presentations, that means their requirements aren’t being met in some way. Let them explain their heartaches, sympathize with them, and then help them think of some potential solutions. All you have to do at this stage is make sure your ideal solution is a better fit than all the others. For neat tips on creating traps and barriers for competitors, I suggest reading the Maverick Selling Method, by Brian Burns.

Finally, use your pitch deck as a set of backup slides. When you talk to your slides instead of your audience, the conversation is one-sided and you are being inadvertently presumptuous (as evidenced by your pre-crafted presentation). The quickest way to shut someone down is to tell them what they are thinking. You can still use your deck with its graphics, statistics, and tag lines, but you don’t have to use it to drive the conversation. Instead, you can actually use your slides as authoritative references for the dialog and flip through them deliberately. If interesting graphics catch the eye and create more questions or speaking opportunities, even better.

Thanks for taking the time to read this attempt to get people to stop pitching and start talking. If any of this resonated with you, please share it with your friends and colleagues. I also encourage you to take full advantage of the comments section and other contact methods highlighted below. I love reading about tips and tricks for success that others have found.
Steve Higdon has been working in the information security field for over ten years, providing support and consultancy to both public and private sector organizations. Steve can be reached via email at infosec@stephenhigdon.com and on Twitter at @SteveHigdon.