The Value of Presenting On Your Turf: How to Use The Power of “No”

A sales presentation is like a circus. You need to control the show.

Sales tip: be the lion tamer

Photo by patrimonio designs/dpc

We were doing a needs analysis at an auto dealership in the southeast. The meeting was at the store, in the dealership General Manager’s office; the General Manager wanted us to know that he was in charge.

As the station AE, sales manager, and I tried to ask our questions, the client checked his email. His desk phone rang, and he answered it. His cell phone rang, and he answered it. Salespeople walked in and out of the office with papers to sign.

It was a circus… his circus… and he was the ringmaster.

Somehow we managed to gather enough information to take the next step, and we invited him to the station for a presentation in a couple of weeks. He accepted the invitation, we put it on the calendar, and left.

During the meeting, the client had told us that he really wanted a jingle for his store. We put a creative strategy together, found a good jingle company, and had a spec produced using the strategy we had devised. We built the proposal and rehearsed it. On Presentation Day, we were ready.

About 40 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, the dealer’s assistant called. “Bob doesn’t have time to come to the station today. He wants to know if you can do the presentation in his office.”

The account executive, sales manager, and I looked at each other, and agreed on the answer.


We knew that if we went to his office, it would be chaos once again. Ringing phones, paperwork, and constant interruptions. There was no way to do a cohesive presentation on his turf. The AE called the store back, and politely told the assistant that the only way we could do the presentation was if Bob came to the station. “And by the way,” she told the assistant, “we think Bob is really going to like the jingle.”

For the rest of the week, we were at a stalemate. Bob wouldn’t come to us, and we wouldn’t go to him. When I left town at the end of the week, we agreed that I would do the presentation as a webinar — but only if Bob came to the station.

Two weeks went by. Every few days, the account executive called the dealership and politely reminded the assistant that she would love to play the new jingle for Bob. One day I got an email from the AE: “Bob has agreed to come to us! Can you do a webinar next Monday?”

The short version of what happened next: Bob came to the station for the webinar on Monday, liked our creative strategy, and loved the jingle. A few days later, he agreed to a $60,000 annual commitment.

The Sales Lessons of This Story

[bctt tweet=”A sales presentation is like a circus. You need to control the show.”]

1. Your best chance at a successful presentation comes when you control the environment. Author and marketing consultant Perry Marshall compares a presenter to a lion tamer:

The circus animals will test you to see if you’re jumpy. They’ll throw you curve balls. In some situations they might even cast insults or lie to you, observing how you’ll react. If they detect a chink in your armor, they’ll pounce on you like a pack of hungry jackals. Circus Brimstone. But nothing unnerves them like a stoic, unflappable opponent who knows his position inside and out.

A circus trainer must always enter the ring first, and in full sight of the lions. In doing so, he establishes that the ring is his territory, not theirs, a notion that he reinforces by shouting, by stomping about, by snapping his whip.

The lions are impressed. Mighty predators though they are, they crawl in with their tails low…

It’s always better to do the sales presentation on your territory, not theirs. Wherever possible, make them come to your office.

2. Sometimes the most effective answer you can give a client is a firm “No.”

“No” won’t work if the client views your offering as a commodity. It will work if you have something that the client values, and can’t get anywhere else. If you have what the client wants, “No” changes the terms of the interaction, and puts you in charge.

Question: How have you regained control of a sales interaction? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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