Here’s a great quote from Maya Angelou that all founders should pay attention to when pitching or serving any potential stakeholder in their business, including customers, investors, partners, and staff:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Whether it’s the design of your product or your pitch deck, it’s all about the outcome: the customer or audience experience.
So what is the customer experience? Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly:
The Good: Interest, Excitement, Imagining, Engagement
The Bad: Boredom, Overload, Distraction
The Ugly: Offended, Angry
Let’s start at the bottom with the worst case, the Ugly. I’ve yet to see a pitch or customer experience that made anyone angry, but I’ve seen occasions where the audience gets offended. Today that is most likely due to an insensitivity to issues of diversity. Just one example from my experience. In the course of trying to come up with a name for our startup (which we decided not to pursue) my friend Peter and I played the name game. And for five minutes we thought we had a great name for our startup which would provide mentoring and coaching to startups: Graybeard, connoting that we were old, but wise. But all it took was one email to a (female) friend who suggested that we really should change the name as it meant wise old men. We were not only leaving out half the population, we would no doubt be offending even a higher percentage. So much for that name. But the incident did cause us to think more about diversity, not just in our company name, but in the service we planned to provide.
Unfortunately I’ve seen many pitch decks and planned sales pitches that fit all too well in this category. They may have even hit more than one check box – even all three! Try running your investor or sales pitch by people who have no familiarity with what you do, and preferably only a weak social connection. While you give the pitch have a partner observe the audience – which can be more than one person, preferably at least two or three. Do their eyes wander? Do they yawn? Do they lean forward in their chairs? Do they lean backwards? Do they consult their phone? This can easily happen when your pitch is dense with business or tech jargon; when you basically read your slides; or when your explanation of your product is abstruse. Unlike people who are angry or offended and may spread bad word of mouth about you, the Bad will just result in people failing to engage and usually doing nothing. If so, you have wasted your time and their’s. That’s why it is so important to go through the “out of town tryout” process before taking your pitch to “Broadway.”
If your audience, be they investors, customers, employees or partners, have a great experience you will get what you need out the meeting: engagement. That means you have not only captured their interest but perhaps the imagination also. The best way to discern this if by the number and quality of questions you audience asks of you. Because if your audience is not engaged they will not act. And it’s action you want: getting the next meeting, getting a term sheet, agreeing to join your company, entering into a partnership agreement, etc. Those who have had a great experience will not only act, they will also spread the word about the great experience they had with you.
So here’s the progression: Attention => Interest => Imagination => Engagement => Action.
You may wonder what imagination is doing here. What I’ve found is that the most successful product pitches I’ve given have engaged the audience to the extent that they start imagining how they would use my product themselves or even coming up with new features they imagine would be useful to them.
And the customer experience applies equally to using your product: Is it attractive? Is it easy to learn? Is it simple? Is it responsive? Is it forgiving? Is it robust? and most of all, Is it useful?
So whether you are building a presentation or a demo keep in mind that all those slides or all those features are simply a means to an end: a great customer experience!