In the year 1980 B.N (Before Netflix), one of television’s most watched cliffhangers aired leaving viewers breathless wondering ‘Who Shot JR’ in Dallas.

People actually had to wait months to find out the answers and now, even with binge watching and spoiler alerts, the intrigue of the cliffhanger has not lost its power to captivate people.

‘Is Jon Snow dead?’ (Game of Thrones)

‘What happens after Batman is unmasked’ (The Dark Knight)

‘Did Snape really kill Dumbledore and what now?’ (Harry Potter)

It’s no surprise that these shows are highly successful and the magic of the cliffhanger still keeps audiences salivating for more.

The structure is remarkably simple:

1) Make the audience care about the characters (Empathy)

2) Create a situation where the chief protagonist is at significant or mortal risk (Jolt)

3) Don’t reveal the outcome – leave everyone hanging as to what happens next. (Intrigue)

When you’re invested it’s that state of not knowing that drives you mad, desperate to see more.

Cue the sound of millions of dollars going Ker-ching as the next series is produced.

In many credentials sales presentations, there isn’t enough intrigue created and too much is revealed, leaving the client the sense that you have a lot of good stuff, but then again, so does everyone else.

Imagine you have 30 minutes to establish why you are differentiated, why your company would be exciting to work with and why it helps the client succeed.

Traditionally these credentials pitches have a lot of slides about your company, too many descriptions of the 23,000 products and services you can provide, a brief slide of logos on existing clients, followed by a few minutes on the client’s real needs ‘because we’ve only got 5 minutes left’

Now, let’s see what happens with or without a cliffhanger:

Sales Star: ‘So, as you can see from the work we’ve done with our legal clients ‘Ditchett, Quick and Hyde’ and actuarial market leaders ‘Boring Batschitz’ there is a clear 30-50% saving in this area that you’re not getting now’

Client: ‘How do we know that approach will work for us?’

At this point many presenters will whip out the chart/spreadsheet/software/model and try to justify the genuine outcome that other clients have achieved.

As soon as the client doesn’t like or agree with any element of that approach, you’re in a world of pain and in retrieval mode more than my Groodle.

Now, let’s insert the cliffhanger.

Client: ‘How do we know that approach will work for us?’

Sales Star: ‘Well, whilst we’ve seen this result for over 3 years across 25 clients and done some preliminary research on your business, we actually don’t know for sure.

Would you like to find out?

Client: ‘Yes, please tell us’

Sales Star: ‘OK, you can hire us to do a 10K consulting review or proof of concept, which is fully rebateable against full implementation’ or

‘If you get your top three execs in a room for half a day, we’ll workshop it and we’ll find out together’

‘Commit to a site visit with your data and we’ll all know the real figures in just two hours’

If they care enough about your solutions, and your bold outcomes and your client logos are strong enough, would they really not want to find out?

Oh, and it is a total myth that you can’t charge for proofs of concept or reviews.

Do you want to know the percentage increase in sales moving clients faster to the next stage using the cliffhanger?

I’ll tell you… in my next article.


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Elliot Epstein is a leading Pitch Consultant, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Sales, Negotiation and Presentation trainer who gets sales results rapidly. He has coached and trained high profile corporates globally in presenting, selling, negotiating and pitching. He has spoken at over 1500 conferences and workshops for leading companies such as HP, SEEK, Avaya, Hitachi , Asciano, Samsung and Lend Lease

He is internationally renowned for ensuring sessions are engaging, interactive and relevant to winning business in competitive markets.

Elliot is based in Melbourne where he lives with his wife and two hangers-on.

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