A Must-Do Double-Check to Prevent Presentation Heartache

Have you ever been shocked during a sales presentation?



A few years ago I was presenting an advertising plan to a dentist in Montana. I had met with him a couple of weeks before, and he had been open, enthusiastic, and eager to hear my ideas. In a week of 27 presentations, this one seemed to be in the bag — he was ready to do something, and I had the perfect plan for him.

Now it was a different story. He argued with me about my overall marketing philosophy, didn’t like the strategy I proposed, and called my script “simple-minded”. His demeanor was dismissive, bordering on rude. At the end of the meeting, he told us he’d “think about it”, and left before we could ask him anything more.

I was shaken. Usually when a meeting goes bad I know what went wrong. This time a big opportunity had blown up, and I had no idea why.

The next day his wife, who’d been at both meetings, called the station Account Executive to apologize. A few hours before our presentation, the dentist had met with his accountant and learned that there was more than $100,000 missing from the practice’s bank account. He wasn’t going to buy anything from anyone for a while.

Ever since that day, I start every presentation this way:

Before we begin, I need to ask a quick question. Has anything changed since our last meeting?


Most of the time, nothing has, and I can launch things without a problem. But over the past five years, by asking that question I’ve learned that between the last meeting and this one:

  1. The owner has just decided to sell the business.

  2. The company has agreed to merge with a competitor, all decisions are on hold for the next six months, and the guy we’re meeting with will be leaving the company.

  3. The store has picked up a new product line, and will be retooling its marketing substantially.

  4. The medical practice has just hired an advertising agency.

Knowing this information before diving in has allowed me to make adjustments on the fly, some of which have utterly changed the strategy I recommended. On two occasions, we even agreed to cancel the presentation — it was going to be a waste everyone’s time.

Things happen quickly in business, and the questions you asked on Tuesday could have completely different answers the following Monday. Asking if anything’s changed before you dive in can save you enormous heartache.


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