Reporting from Sales Deck Swamp

I’ve been trying to become better informed about the state of the business analytics industry. This has meant wading into the dreary swamp of sales deck webcasts. Here’s are a few thoughts on how to drain Sales Deck Swamp:

Respect your audience

Too many presentations ask that you attend a LIVE webcast at a specific time on a specific day. What’s more, they require pre-registration. Not all of us are willing to stick our heads that close to the maw of the sales-lion.

You can respect your audience by letting people watch on their own time on their own machine. The archive of the presentation IS the presentation. Make the archives of your webcasts prominently available, searchable, and historically accessible. Give people an e-mail address, or better yet, a open forum or comment system where they can ask questions.

Many webcasts are glorified sales presentations. If you accept that a webcast is a cheaper way of doing an initial sales meeting then the wisdom of "respect your audience" is clear. You wouldn’t tell a prospective client that if they want to see your sales presentation, they need to clear time on Monday at 1:00 pm. No, you’d let them find a time that worked for them. And you wouldn’t require that everyone who attended the meeting "register" and give you their name, address, phone number, and role at their company. You’d be happy if a few extra people dropped by. If the SVP of Marketing happens to drop in, so much the better.

Show a tool, not a sales presentation

If you can, show the product in use solving a real problem, rather than a canned series of screenshots. Jon Udell’s Screening Room is a great example of how to this can work.

Showing your product being used by a skilled user in a real situation helps me imagine how it could solve my problems. It also allows you to convey tacit knowledge—ways of working with your product that advanced users know but they can’t really transmit in words.

Show your face

Google has made available a series of in-house lectures on various technologies at Google University. These lectures aren’t presented in a sophisticated way, but to an analytics geek they’re pure gold. Do I want to hear Guido Van Rossum talk about the next generation of Python or Richard Hipp break down why he built SQLite? I do.

The videos are simple, presenter at a lectern, slides on the wall behind them. Yet they’ve been viewed thousands of times.

Would I like to hear a down to earth discussion about Cognos’ report builder or Business Objects infrastructure plans or Crystal XCelsius talking about integration with Excel 2007? It would be a pleasure next to some of the webinars I’ve seen.