My friend Jenny told me about an important customer meeting she was at recently. She had everything ready and her team, which included her boss, who we’ll call Jackson, was ready. Jenny was the main presenter.
Everything was going great at first. She was killing it, the customer was all over their presentation. Beforehand, they had even developed a plan on how to handle questions. Things could not have gone any better...
... until question time came around, and her boss decided he didn’t want to follow the plan anymore.
The plan had been for Jenny to answer the questions or hand it off to the best team member as appropriate. That was going fine until the senior person on the customer’s team asked a question that required some thought. As Jenny was thinking Jackson jumped in with a ridiculous answer off the top of his head, and then took over the whole Q&A session from there.
Several days later during the debrief, Jackson told her he was not happy about how the presentation went. While Jenny believed she was giving the customer’s question the proper amount of thought before answering, her boss viewed it as an unnecessary hesitation.
He couldn’t stand the momentary silence, he said, and he believed that it reflected poorly on Jenny and their company, so he felt he had to intervene.
Because Jenny is the thoughtful, awesome person she is, she explained to the team that she was responding based upon her knowledge of the customer. They had, in fact, asked a rather complicated question, and Jenny knew they were looking for a thoughtful approach. What her boss gave them instead was a shoot-from-the-hip response filled with a lot of dated sales-speak.
Jenny didn’t mince words, and she didn’t argue either. In fact, she had already connected with the customer after the presentation to follow up in a more detailed way— something that they greatly appreciated.
Jenny filled her boss and the rest of the team in on this and went onto to shift the conversation to a different topic: The question between hesitation and constructive silence.
Jenny explained that she was also disappointed by what had happened during the Q&A session. They had a plan and they didn’t stick with it. She explained that showing the customer you were taking some time to think about their question was being respectful and acknowledging the depth of the question. It was not a lack of knowledge or a presentation flub.
Jenny called her silent moment what it was: a constructive silence. Silence with a purpose. Yes it might create some tension, but that tension need not be a bad thing. It can be something that’s completely appropriate, and makes you stand out to the potential customer.
Now this was a bit of a hard sell to her boss who was used to the practice of filling every moment with words. And yet as the conversation went on, she actually turned it around on him. “Just the other day” she pointed out, “ you were annoyed when you thought someone had given you a flippant answer to a question. You wanted more thought and depth to their response. If they had taken a moment to think and then answer you with more clarity, wouldn’t that have been what you were looking for?”
Jackson had to admit that it might well have been better.
There’s still some work to go here. I doubt that this will be the last time Jackson is tempted to jump in and interrupt during a sales presentation, but Jenny was happy she stood her ground and walked out convinced that she had made her point which her boss reluctantly acknowledged.
There are so many gems from this story. I think Jackson is really lucky to have Jenny on his team. She was comfortable giving real thought to a customer's inquiry. She spoke up at the debrief when confronted with negative feedback, and reached back out to the customer with a more detailed answer.
More importantly, Jenny really showed herself as a leader by turning what could have been a negative experience around and using it as a learning experience for all of them.
How would you have handled this? What would you do if you are cut off during a presentation? Are you clear on the difference between a perceived hesitation and a constructive silence? How is it viewed within your company?
Lisa Guida, founder of Why Leap Alliance Inc spent most of her 25 years+ in the packaging industry as the only woman in the room. She realized early on that to have the maximum impact she had to figure how to effectively communicate at all levels. She’s combined that experience with years of coaching and collaborates with women who work traditionally male professions in their impactful leadership.