“A Critical Audience: How To Turn Things Around With A Risky Manoeuvre”

“No, no, it’s all about the price. Never mind about relationships with customers when they’ll go on the ‘net and find a better price elsewhere.”

My friend, Cathy Rhodes of Culminas, and I were presenting to a group of auto parts suppliers last June at their regular quarterly meeting.  Cathy, a very experienced marketer who’s led campaigns for big multi-national brands such as Coca-Cola, had just outlined her pitch:

  • Identify your ideal customer
  • Attract them
  • Encourage them to be your advocates

My pitch was how to attract and convert customers based on an understanding of their personality and outlook.

This was when someone protested that they could only compete on price. The rest nodded and murmured agreement. It was clear we had an uphill task.

What on earth was I doing? This was definitely not my “Ideal Customer”. These men (yes, all men) weren’t university doctoral students or scientific/engineering senior women. Well, it was the toughest audience I was likely to face – sceptical, challenging and critical. We had committed the cardinal mistake. We’d been asked at the very last minute and hadn’t researched our audience!

How did we turn it around? By asking them. We asked about their experience. We turned it around by making our presentation very interactive. We made it clear we didn’t know and were keen to find out. They loved it. Suddenly the room came alive. They competed with each other to share thoughts, concerns, worries. It was plain the economic climate made their lives difficult and they were glad to speak about the pressure they were under.

You can still turn things around, even after you’ve started your presentation. It’s a risky manoeuvre. You have to evaluate the level of risk. It’s important your audience knows your worth – Cathy has a credibility without question thanks to her track record. And we knew this audience were willing to give us a chance. When you ask them to contribute, you have to be sure they will –  not just sit there in silence. You have to be confident about handling the consequence. And one more thing, you really, really need to show you care. You must want to listen. So shut up, sum up what you’ve heard and check out whether you’ve got it correct. Respect your audience. Show them they matter. Then they’ll respond positively. They’ll care about you.

How do I know we turned it around? Well, Cathy and I have been invited back. We’ll be speaking again to the group next Thursday. And this time, it’s going to be interactive, right from the start!


About anrah

Anrah is a business development consultancy specialising in helping senior women in engineering and science, their teams and doctoral students increase 'presence', improve communication and generate impact to win stakeholder buy-in at the highest level.
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