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March 2009

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MBC Director’s Memo – 3.09

My doctoral dissertation research concentrated on how entrepreneurial firms market themselves to potential early-stage “Angel” investors, in particular the formal presentations they make about their businesses. A critical element of evaluation for the investor was the content of the PowerPoint®. Much of post-presentation, closed door discussion about the entrepreneurs involved the substance of content in the slides.
Having spent many years creating and observing “sales pitch” presentations, listening to these well seasoned private equity investors was not much different than observing a debrief among IT directors over a new software pitch, or senior management considering a process improvement or marketing consulting firm dog and pony show. Ultimately, the presentation must provide credibility for the presenting firm and its offering. That means appropriately communicating the core benefits of both to the audience – whether that comes in terms of a business value for a corporation, or a logical path to a profitable exit strategy for a venture investor.
I remember a specific instance when a promotional presentation missed that mark. While there were plenty of clear and concise bullet points flashed on the screen, the messages were so generic in scope the presentation could have been about any consulting firm in that market segment. No specifics were given as to the actual work done for firm clients, past or present, just allusions to the experience of the firm’s leaders. The audience was left in the dark about the specifics of those leaders’ experience, upon which the successful persuasion of any audience member might depend. Finally, there were inconsistencies in the presentation of the firm’s logo and type-treatments of the company name, and no listing of the firm’s Web address on the slides or one-page handout. These last issues represented a significant problem in that case, as the firm’s leaders positioned themselves as brand strategy consulting experts.
The most unfortunate thing about this example centers on the possibility that the firm really might have been able to deliver a valuable service. However, there was not enough credibility built into the presentation for me and others in the room to make that judgment. That represents a failure to communicate, which translates directly into a failure to close the sale.
A formal promotional presentation sets the tone for serious discussion and negotiation between vendor and potential client. There is no more important time to know your audience and tailor the messages to generate an environment conducive to reaching the short term goal –whether to make a sale, gain investment, or persuade someone in any other way.