I recently sat through a meeting with a vendor who represented a Fortune 500 company. During this meeting I witnessed behavior which spurred me to compose this article. The vendor I met with had a bad habit of deflecting questions, providing vague details, and speaking with a general lack of confidence. The vendor greatly underrepresented his organization.
Prior to meeting with the vendor I was aware that his company was having great year considering the current economic climate. This year the company has completed a few corporate acquisitions, beat earnings forecasts and is maintaining an overall positive outlook. After the vendor concluded his presentation I wondered, “How can this company be doing so well when they are represented in such a manner?” Furthermore, “Should I be doing business with a company that represents itself in such a way?”
Underrepresentation means that you are suggesting that lower quality exists than actually does. This is often displayed incidentally by the way we act, communicate, and serve as agents of our respective organizations. I can say with certainty that each set of eyes viewing this article has also viewed a sales person underrepresenting the true value of their product. I can also say with certainty that we all have walked out of a meeting with the feeling we were unable to accurately represent the full value of our product, organization, or proposal.
I have drawn up a few points for you to consider prior to your next meeting or sales pitch. Keep these points in mind to help you better understand what you represent on an ongoing basis. I hope that this information will help you prepare appropriately and avoid underrepresentation.
Who/What do you represent?
If you do not firmly grasp of what you are representing it is less than likely that your audience will read between the lines and figure this out. Even if they were able to determine what you are representing, you are undoubtedly underrepresenting it. Be sure of what exactly it is you represent, and then do your best job representing it.
Who/What are you perceived to represent?
The thing that you represent maybe something quite different than what your audience is expecting you to represent. You maybe the foremost expert when it comes to “Widgets International’s Product X”, but your audience is much more interested in simply doing business with “Widgets International”. So when you go into great detail about the specifications and benefits of “Product X” but forego presenting details about the benefits of having access to “Widget International’s” vast catalogue of products that are delivered through a highly reliable supply chain under the guidance experienced corporate leadership that champion aggressive standards of quality, you will be sure to underrepresent that which you are perceived to represent.
Understand your scope of representation.
You are here. You are the foremost expert when it comes to “Widgets International’s Product X”. You have researched your audience and discovered that you are perceived to represent “Widgets International”. Visualize a large circle, symbolic of “Widget International”. Within that that large circle, there is a small circle symbolic of what you actually represent. Also inside of that large circle there are bubbles, symbolic of subject matter likely to be important to your audience. This is your scope of representation. Channel the expertise of your colleagues, external documentation and your own knowledge to avoid underrepresentation.
Quality in Delivery
You can’t know it all, but know all you can. Thoroughly research that which you represent beforehand. Your delivery should be full featured, with dates and times, appropriate jargon, use cases or examples and history. Be prepared to answer questions with confidence or promptly direct them to a colleague who can. Always keep in mind the scope of your representation.
This is where a brand toolkit comes in handy. Often employees – even salespeople – have trouble explaining what their company does in concise terms. This is especially true in the world of IT. Nobody should represent their organization unless they can give you the 2-second, 2-minute, and 30-minute version of the high points.
Huge problem at companies big and small. Too often, I know more about an organization then the people who are sent to me, just by following them on twitter and having their name in Google Alerts.
On the same token however, we must make sure we represent our organization well — the internal research so we can show to our vendors what we need and avoid under-representation. A brand toolkit (suggested by Dannielle) is a great idea!
I’ve experienced companies that encourage employees to understand and recite the organizations “elevator pitch”, but nothing as comprehensive as the brand toolkit mentioned by Dannielle. Would love hear some tips on how employees and colleagues can be shown the value of a brand toolkit and trained to understand it.
Do your homework, practice, and put your best food forward.