Avoid coming across as a desperate small business, writes Ian Whitworth.

Sales presentations are a bit of a Wizard of Oz act. Most of us are trying to make our business seem larger than it is, hoping nobody will discover it’s just a tiny old man working the cogs behind the curtain.When you’re presenting on the client’s turf, or on the web, they don’t know how big your office is, or how many staff you have. They just judge how your presentation feels – what you say and how you say it.Unfortunately many presenters give it away with the language they use in their presentations and proposals. It’s the corporate equivalent of Clueless Pickup Line Man in the nightclub, unaware of the real message his words deliver.

 

“Hel-lo! Do you have a map?”
“Pardon?”
“Because I’m lost in your eyes.”
“Ewwww.”

So too, small businesses signal their smallness with cheeseball pitch lines that they think are solid gold dealbait, but actually make them look one step up from a mobile dog wash. Let’s visit a few old favourites.

“Our Team Has A Combined 85 Years Of Industry Experience”

What does this even mean? One person with 45 years experience who should have left the business years ago, and 20 others with two years each? Year-totalling presents a dusty and confusing image of your team’s skills.

“Simply The Best!”

Anyone who has spent time driving around Australia knows that there are only two kinds of pie shop: “Australia’s Best” and ‘World Renowned”. Hands-on pie experience has taught you that these claims sit somewhere between wild exaggeration and flagrant lie. People who actually are the best never say so, except Muhammad Ali, and you are not him.
Variations on this theme include “You’ve tried the rest now try the best!” but “Simply the Best!” gets the Grand Swiss Cheeseball Award for evoking the 80’s motivation anthem. Say it, and the client won’t hear the rest of your presentation, because it’s drowned out by the grating sax solo you planted in their mind.

“Acme Events Pty Ltd”

Small business love to add ‘Pty Ltd’ to their name as if having an actual registered company is a badge of prestige and proof that you’ve hit the big time. Only your accountant cares.

“For All Your Event Needs”

Anyone who hates ads on city TV should spend some time in regional Australia, where most of the ads are made in-house by the local TV channel using one overworked writer, director and cameraman called Dave. Dave doesn’t have much spare time, so his ads fit a strict template. It must open on a shot of a van pulling up in front of a local business in an industrial estate. And it must end with “For all your pesticide needs!” or “For all your budgerigar needs!” or whatever. As a sales message, it carries a strong whiff of fridge magnets. Closely related to this is the claim ‘one-stop shop’, which makes you look, well, like a shop.

“Best Products, Lowest Prices!”

There isn’t a customer on earth that doesn’t know the cheapest product is never the best. Making this claim insults their intelligence and tells them that you’re desperate. Choose one or the other.

Exclamation Marks

You might have noticed a unifying theme throughout the small business-y claims so far: the exclamation mark. Nothing makes you look more like a small yappy Pekinese among the big dogs of business. Desperate for attention! Hey, look at me!! OMG they’re multiplying like the broomsticks in Fantasia!!!
Here’s a guide to the correct time to use them: never.

Graphic Clutter and Giant Logos

The old saying ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ is never truer than in small business marketing. Small businesspeople can’t bear the idea of blank space, because it’s space that can be used to wedge in extra ‘selling points’. Or they enlarge their logo to fill all the available space, creating a cramped, try-hard look. Elegance and assurance come from giving graphics room to breathe.

How To Appear Confident, Stylish and Larger Than You Are

Well, start by avoiding the lines above. Study big brands that are already successful, and copy their style.
If that’s too hard, hire a business writer and a graphic designer. God knows the collapse of print media has left the market awash with top-class writers and designers who will practically work for food.
While accountants will say ‘Your revenues are too low’, comms professionals can actually do something to fix your situation.

Ian Whitworth leads a double life as a co-owner of audio-visual group Scene Change, and principal of creative marketing consultancy, A Lizard Drinking. He can be contacted on email – ian@scenechange.com.au.

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