Presentation Prowess

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There's an old parlor game that illustrates what happens when a message is delivered by word of mouth among a group of fallible humans: By the time the last person hears the message, it's hopelessly garbled and usually wrong.

San Jose, Calif.-based Presenter has a series of solutions designed to eliminate that problem, all of them based on the idea of delivering training or direction either online or via an in-house network, using e-mail, PowerPoint slides and video and audio streaming. That means hundreds or even thousands of customers, affiliates and sales professionals can receive industry updates, helpful sales tips and product introductions first-hand on their computers and Pocket PCs--just as they were intended to be communicated.

"This allows you to reach an audience very quickly and cost-effectively," says Colin White, Presenter's product marketing manager. "We are commissioning one study where we asked over 100 Fortune 500 executives in sales and marketing support areas what kind of problems they were facing in terms of increasing their sales force effectiveness," he says. "Basically, they found that a lot of the time, the information sharing among their sales forces and among product managers was kind of ad hoc. It wasn't captured anywhere, and it was all anecdotal."

While other solutions exist for some types of online training, Presenter's solutions are designed to support fairly sophisticated media-enriched presentations incorporating everything from PowerPoint slides, company logos and voice-overs to actual video footage of sales training or keynote speeches.

But the real beauty of Presenter's solution, White says, may be its accessibility for both the person authoring the presentation and the audience tuning in. Two of Presenter's solutions are hosted, meaning that anyone with PowerPoint slides, a telephone and a network can easily create a self-contained presentation that is then available online. "It's as simple as uploading a PowerPoint presentation to the server," White says.

Audio voice-overs are added through a telephone interface in which the author uses the phone line to add narration to each slide. Fledgling presenters can even re-record their presentation after each slide or wait until the entire process is over, listen to the presentation and then decide whether to publish it or redo the entire thing. "If you like it, you hit 'publish,' and it's on the Web," White says.

In April, the company launched iPresentation Suite 3.0, a complete modular solution using an application that can be installed on the customer's internal IT infrastructure. iPresentation Suite 3.0 also offers customers a variety of playback options, for example, via the Web on mobile Pocket PCs or via telephone for recipients unable to receive streaming media. It costs about $100,000 to implement the full solution, but even that's comparatively inexpensive, according to a Gartner report issued in August, putting the cost of a one-day, off-site meeting for 500 at $370,000. iPresentation's companion, Video studio, which allows businesses to create video-narrated presentations, starts at $15,000 per workstation.

Teach Your Sales Reps Well

Brad Davidson is the president of Securities Pricing and Research (SPAR), a small appraisal firm with a problem many industry leaders would love to be able to complain about. The 11-year-old Annapolis, Md.-based firm specializing in business appraisals has an eager sales force willing and able to contact clients.

The problem is that SPAR's sales associates are often financial planners and certified public accountants who know something about their clients' fiscal needs but nothing about appraisals and how to sell them. "The challenge is how to teach that broker enough about appraisals to be coherent and persuasive when he talks to his client. That's where Presenter comes in," Davidson says.

Rather than spending time teaching the fundamentals of appraisals over and over again, Davidson decided to convey that training electronically. He found iPresentation after using Spiderphone, a competing product that Davidson says didn't allow for adequate branding. "That's very important to us. We want our users to get our brand."

Impressed by the solution's branding options, Davidson gave iPresentation a try. Five presentations later, he is now quite literally overwhelmed with business prospects. "We have a backlog of 500 leads," he says.

Back in the pre-Presenter days, the company acquired about one or two new sales affiliates a week. Now SPAR is able to train about six new affiliates a day. "It's a huge difference, and we attribute it all to Presenter," Davidson says. Best of all, it's eliminated the need for giving the same presentation over and over to the sales staff. "If they had to say this 10-minute presentation each time, I would have to send them to the loony bin," he says.

Each affiliate who sells a SPAR valuation gets a 20 percent commission, but, Davidson says, the company banks on having a continued relationship with its customers, who may need re-appraisals if the company decides to sell or use the business as collateral. The affiliate continues to benefit as the client uses the newly realized worth of his business as a reason to purchase other financial series. "The challenge to our internal sales people is to support these people, teach them circumstances under which it's appropriate to get tab appraisal and to make them comfortable enough to talk to their clients about a new and rather complicated product," Davidson says.

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