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Smart Presentations: Visions of the Future

Sometimes a single question makes all the difference

Smart Presentations: Visions of the Future
By John Windsor
February 23, 2009

Sometimes a single question makes all the difference.

Sometimes, a single question — well-timed and sincere, with no sense of pushing your agenda — does more to cement a relationship and advance your chances than all the product features you can name.

But you’ve got to ask it early, not after you’ve loaded clients down with lots of detail.

And the best thing you can ask them is: “What’s your vision of the future?”
Choose a different set of words, if you like, but ask them about the future they envision. This gets them involved in the discussion at a far deeper level than just answering yes-or-no questions.

Asking about the future is far better than jumping right into solving their “pain” and hoping that will prove your worth. And, very likely, none of your competitors will take the time to ask them this one simple question.

One other caveat: don’t limit your question to just what your product or service or idea addresses. If you try to lead clients to your solution, they’ll catch on immediately and, very likely, tune you out.

Why It’s So Powerful

Asking your client about their vision of the future, with no strings attached, shows you don’t look at them as just another account (even if that’s really how you see them). It will help move you out of vendor status, which benefits both you and your prospect. People are more inclined to do business with people they like than they are with mere vendors.

More importantly, you’ll also have a stronger sense of the gap between where they are today and where they’d like to be in the future. This understanding can help you position your offering as a critical part of bridging that gap.

So here’s how to proceed:

1. What’s THEIR vision of the future?
Try it yourself first. What do you think they want to accomplish, beyond mere faster-cheaper-better answers? You can approach this either from the top-down or the bottom-up.

For top-down: 1) What is the organization hoping to accomplish this year? 2) What is this particular part of the organization hoping to accomplish? 3) What are the people you’re meeting with hoping to accomplish in their jobs?

For bottom-up: Reverse these questions.

Both approaches should give you a broader sense of what is likely going on in the organization. Then, when you have a chance to ask your prospect the big question, you’ll be better prepared to keep the discussion of vision going.

This is important because of the next part . . .

2. How can you make that vision even bigger?

Being able to give them ideas about how their vision can be achieved — and advanced — moves you into the rarified space of “Adviser”, not mere Vendor.

But resist the temptation to plug your offering into the mix here. The more you can keep the discussion generic (if you even talk about “solutions” at the moment), the stronger is the personal case you make. And if your prospect trusts and respects your insights — which they should after this brief bit of discussion — you become almost unbeatable.

And it all starts with one simple question . . .


John Windsor, an online columnist for Sales & Marketing Management, is President of Creating Thunder, a Boulder, Colo.-based communications training and consulting company. As author of the popular YouBlog, John offers a unique mix of innovation, communications, sales and marketing ideas. An award-winning marketer, John has held vice president positions in marketing, sales, and business development and has worked with companies like American Express, Reuters, Staples, and Knight-Ridder.