The worst pitch ever.
First a little bit of background on the meeting:
The director of a program invited me to talk about Tag The Love because she was unhappy with the online communications and thought that it could be very beneficial for their organisation. I'm actually sponsoring our technology for a non profit project she is working on. She was gonna be there herself and she invited three key people she really wanted involved.
To prepare for the meeting I checked the accelerators online presence and my team did some research on their online and social media activities. We put our findings into the presentation.
I biked half an hour to their offices and arrived exactly on time. Everybody was still in a meeting, so I waited a few minutes for them to get ready.
One person didn't show up. Nobody told me. (alarm bell number 1)
One of the others said right before we started that she had to leave before the end of the presentation. (alarm bell number 2)
I started talking about what Tag The Love does for our clients and that there is a fine balance between understanding people online, the necessity of developing a strategy for reaching those people, technology which enables you to reach them, how to design and use those tools and the daily execution of that strategy.
The word strategy triggered the director (remember: she invited me) to interupt me and state that I was invited NOT to talk about strategy, but about the technology. She also stated that because there was limited time. (alarm bell number 3)
I replied that I put the information there to create context.
But I then fast forwarded. I skipped through the assesment part of their current online activities and moved to the technology topic.
Now it became ugly. The two new people in the room were responsible for the current affairs and they felt attacked by what we found online.
I had five slides. The first slide was about their platform, the second about their social accounts. Then one on our team’s learnings and one on what we think could be added to the content mix. The final slide talked about the next steps they could take (with or without us).
From the point I started talking about their platform they started not agreeing with anything I said. They missed a topic which was on the website, they didn't understand what I meant with a certain word. I was simply presenting plain findings and practically every sentence I started I could not finished. I looked at three people with their arms folded, leaning back in their chairs.
When presenting the first part of the technology, explaining how you can connect your offline calendar to your online calendar and schedule posts on your website and social channels the girl responsible for social media interrupted with: "But there are other tools which do similar things."
Similar maybe, but the proof is in the pudding, and there is no other tool which does what Tag The Love does. ‘Please let me finish!’
I wanted to show them ten things our technology does better than any other tool out there.
Remember. I was there to help. I was there because their director thought Tag The Love could be of real assistance.
I didn't understand what I was doing there.
‘Why did she invite me?’
Slowly it dawned on me.
The three people who were invited were 'summoned' by the director. (Or acted like that)
The results of the online communications were disappointing. (I knew this already because she told me this before we even set the meeting. They had spent over 150.000 euros on their online presence, content and communication and in total they have reached only a small crowd.)
I was done with this presentation. I had spent time and resources creating it, biking there and saw that as a starting point for a conversation about the road they could take. They didn't want to talk about the road.
They didn't want to be there... They saw me as a threat. A threat for the big budget they are spending on zero impact. Spent without too much questions asked.
I spoke out and said I didn't understand why I was invited and as a result they acted as if I was setting fire to the place. They NEVER experienced anything like this! (me speaking out)
The social media girl had to leave. We said goodbye. The rest of us talked about what happened some more, the conversation sort of calmed down and there was some fairly normal discussion.
I was of course still pretty agitated when I left and the director gave me some insights into the reelings and dealings of the company on my way out.
She also told me she thought I was too direct about the state of the work by her colleagues. I told her that the conversation, their disrespect for my time, their attitudes and time issue sort of triggered me to fast forward through my presentation and that all the interruptions didn't help. Without those there would have been a better understanding of where we came from and where we could have been heading together.
On my bike ride back I decided to write this blog and see what I (and maybe you) can take away from this experience.
First the alarm bells and the stuff you can do to maybe prevent this sort of meetings.
Alarm bell number 1. Multiple people meetings.
When you have a meeting with more than one person usually that means their enthusiasm levels are different. Their available time is different. Their priorities are different. Their expertise is different. Their motives could be different. Their level of understanding is different. And most of all their roles are different.
What can you do to be in control?
If you have a meeting with more than one person. Specifically ask the person who sets the meeting what the roles are of all invitees and why he/she wants all those people in the room. This will give you insights in the goal of the meeting, but also can help you identify potential pain points in the organization.
If along the way it becomes clear that certain people can not be there ask to be informed about this. Because then you can either change your presentation or decide to postpone until that person is present. (If the person who has set the meeting wanted the absentee there in the first place, maybe because of the decision making process, it is not efficient to have the meeting)
If people have limited time you also want to be notified upfront. This also have it's influence on the presentation. It also learns you something about the intentions. Next time you hear this so late into the meeting ask why they have to leave earlier and why they didn't notify you. I didn't ask. Next time I will.
"Hey thanks for the invitation and I'm really looking forward to our meeting. For my preparation, could you please send me the names and roles of everybody you've invited, that will save time some time in the introductions round. If someone specifically wants me to elaborate on something, also please let me know. That way I can tailor my talk especially for you guys.
Oh and if someone cannot attend for whatever reason, shall we reschedule? That might be more efficient in the process? Or will you at least let me know?"
Alarm bell number 2. Stick to the plan.
I should have stuck to my presentation. The build up in there was fine. We could have avoided the awkward part.
What can you do to be in control?
Never rush. Storytelling is important. I cut out essentials and skipped to the not so convenient part where we tell people how they can improve their work. Okay in this case they were not open for criticism at all, which we cannot change. But when you bring 'bad' news, try to bring it as positively as possible. And then offer a solution.
Alarm bell number 3. Read between the lines.
I could have sensed that when I used the word strategy and the director interrupted my presentation something was off. For whom did she say this? I knew the goal of the meeting. She knew the goal of the meeting. She invited the others. Did she know that me using the word strategy would trigger something? Would I step on someones toes?
I found out that I did.
The thing is this; Why EVER talk about just technology? Technology is a means to an end. I don't create cool innovative shit to sell technology! We develop it because of what you can achieve with it. We don't build toys, we build tools. Tools that will help you get from A to B.
You currently are at A and use a plan AND resources to get to B. It's not a time machine.
There are so many things that went wrong today. Writing this post and reliving the moments gains me so much insights.
4. Fire your (potential) client before things turn sour.
The more I think about today the prouder I get. I could have stayed 'professional' but they got under my skin. I felt disrespected. And I spoke out.
I meant every word I said about the strategy for their communications. Should there be a soft landing? They are all 'professionals' right? They don't need me to point them to their failures. I didn't publicly humiliate them. I gave them feedback, which they interpreted more negative than I intended it to be.
Did I gain a new client. Nope. Do I care? Nope. Did I get the best ROI? Yep.
Best ROI? YES?!? Yes, I like our technology to work for passionate organizations.
If there were real entrepreneurs on board at that program, they would have changed their strategy 135.000 euros ago.
I once threatened to fire a client in 2000. I remember they formed a big team to innovate. We got nothing done because of everybody taking their piss. After two months of deliberating the next steps I told the director I wanted to quit working for them if he didn't change the size of the team. I told him to get rid of 7 of 10 (in the project team, they could keep their day jobs :) ). He did. We worked 7 years for that organization.
5. Is there a business model?
The accellerator is funded by a big corporation. They splash a big budget to the accelerator each year and they use this for brand image and PR. There is not a big business model behind this for them. And that lack of the business model makes people who run the program lazy.
If I come in and say people are not doing impactful things the budgets are threatened. Sure, they will say I'm a fool. They will say everything is fine and will keep on doing it the way they were before. The can hire their friends. Create cool videos and do expensive photography projects. I also found out that the person who is responsible for the communications within the program is also the owner of the communications company which does the strategy and the branding. How convenient.
6. That's a lot of blaming. What is your self reflection on this meeting?
Yes, I agree.
For me it is hard to bite my tongue. I could tell you why. It has something to do about always wanting to be right. My Youth. Rationalising everything always is what I do when I don't understand certain behaviour.
Could I have been more gentle? Maybe.
Do I think that that would have helped anybody? No.
I know the other three people in the room have a different perspective of what went down today. I respect that. And maybe one of them will/should write a blogpost of their own experience. There might be some interesting insights for me there on how to improve my presenting skills and be more professional.
Can't wait to read it.
Update (Wednesday 16.25)
The director called me and offered to expense us for our time and resources.
I sent her a link to the donations page of The Emma Children's Hospital.
So in the end there is one winner, not just losers. ❤️