Best Practices

Best Practices


Best Practices

Know Your Audience

By Sara Lefcourt

Are you in Sales? Many readers will answer no to this simple question. However, the reality is that some portion of your time both at work and at home is devoted to selling ideas to others. Within your own company you may at times be in the position of selling ideas or projects to your boss, your colleagues or the people reporting to you. You may at times be selling products, projects, solutions or services to external clients or customers.

I suggest that the most important thing in all of these situations is to know your audience, and then to craft your proposal and/or presentation materials with this audience in mind. It is also critical to anticipate the key questions that your decision-makers will have, based on your best understanding of their personalities and motivations.

How can you know your audience well enough to do this effectively? There are a number of ways.

Reflect on the past behavior of the person before you make your pitch. Is he a risk-taker or innovator? A people person? Is she conservative and careful? Analytical and numbers-oriented? Is he strong-willed and dominant? (I will give some tips below for dealing with these oft-encountered personality types in the workplace.)

Tap into any tests of personality types that your company may have sponsored. Companies often offer such testing in an effort to promote self-awareness and teamwork. Perhaps you can exchange personality-type testing information with others in your team for enhanced insights. Perhaps you can get your company to invest in such testing; it is often relatively low cost and easy to do. Ive had good experience with the DISC personality-type information, which weighs the dominant, inspiring, supportive and cautious traits in each individual.

Ask around the organization, especially those who have worked for or with these individuals in the past.

Once you have reflected on your audiences behavioral types, you can anticipate the information and selling points that will work best with them, and anticipate the kinds of questions they will be asking. For example:

The risk taker and innovative types will be looking for what is new or different in your proposal. Think about what the hook should be for these folks. They may ask questions such as, Is this proposal bold enough? Can we take it further? Why stop here?

The people persons will be looking for how the proposal is staffed, what impact it will have on personnel and how people will feel about it. How will this affect morale? theyll ask, and, How can we help people deal with it? How will we motivate and reward people?

The conservative types are likely to be concerned about risks. Be prepared with a risk assessment and the ways in which to mitigate the risks. These folks may be asking: Are the benefits worth the risks? Can we break the project down into smaller steps? What safety nets can we put in place along the way?

The analytical types are of course going to be focused on the numbers. Is your financial analysis robust? Have you done some sensitivity analyses to test the financials in different scenarios? You may want to have some finance experts review your analysis to ensure it will pass muster. Be prepared for questions such as, In what scenario will this proposal turn financially unattractive? Could we do this project with less resources? What is the return? What is the cash flow?

The dominant types may be thinking about how your proposal will affect them or their organizations. Will your project conflict with their own priorities? On the other hand, if they see merit in your proposal they may ask, Can we do this faster? They may also focus on how the project is going to be led and where in the organization it is going to fit. They may want to put some of their personal stamp on it, too.

With the audience in mind, you can now go to work crafting your proposal. I suggest starting with a crisp statement of your key messages. These key messages – stick to five or fewer – can start and end the presentation, and in the middle go the details which support them.

I like to use the title of each page to convey its main message. For example, Financial Return is Robust Even in Downturn Scenario is a better title than Economic Analysis. This also makes the flow of the presentation very easy to follow and easy to write. You may want to include at least one page on each of the key areas that your audience will focus on, based on their personality characteristics.

It is usually a good idea to include a timeline and a resourcing plan for any project, although these need not be too specific or finalized when you make the initial proposal.

You can also use the thinking you have done about your audiences personality traits to steer the way you present the information to them. For example, you may want to run the proposal by the analytical person in advance, and give her a chance to review the details or have an analyst do so. If she finds some holes in your numbers, then youll have a chance to update them or address some additional sensitivities. You may also want to do a preview of the proposal with the cautious types who are unlikely to make quick decisions. This will give them time to reflect on your proposal – and they can help identify risks you may have missed.

Hopefully, knowing your audience will help you improve your success rate in getting your ideas accepted and embraced by others.

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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