Moving from good to great sales presentations

Sales Presentations

If you’re not in the business of selling, then good is probably good enough when setting a standard for presentations. Unfortunately, in selling, a great formal sales presentation that fails to win the business isn’t good enough. How can we do a better job in crafting a winning presentation? 

Remember the old expression, “In one ear and out the other”? Well, unlike a lot of old sayings, this one is remarkably true. Social science research tells us that immediately after listening to someone talk, the typical person remembers only half of what was said, and after eight hours, remembers only half of that. The truth is many of us hear well – but only a few do a good job of listening and remembering. If you wanted to attach a grade to the effectiveness of most verbal communication, it is well to remember 75% of verbal communication is ignored, misunderstood, or fogotten – no good grades here. The moral of the story: Hearing is not the same thing as understanding and remembering and both are critical for effective sales presentations.Five techniques for delivering presentation customers understand and remember are: 

1. Weigh the Importance. How many times have you arrived for a sales presentation and found out you didn’t have as much time as planned? Unfortunately, for most sales people that’s not a rare event. One of the best ways to guarantee that nobody remembers much of anything you say is to do a 45-minute presentation in 20 minutes. If you’re short on time, triage – focus on the key topics.

Whether you get short-changed on your presentation time, or you’re fortunate enough to get all of the allotted time, you must assign a relative weight to the importance of the various topics and points you plan to cover. If you want to increase your customer’s understanding and remembering, you cannot give equal weight and equal time to every topic in the presentation. In addition, it often makes good sense to sequence the order of the topics relative to their importance – first things first. The notion of “saving the best for last” is an excellent way to never get to talk about the best at all. 

2. Be Ruthless about Clarity. Without clarity, a presentation will not be compelling, engaging, or memorable. This is an obvious truth that may be hard to execute. Here’s where the 3C’s come into play – be concrete, concise, and consistent.A common error in many sales presentations is using tentative or vague language. To be concrete, words such as perhaps, sort of, and somewhat should be avoided. Propose concrete actions, such as “As a next step, I recommend the three of us make a site visit to a reference account next week.” rather than “I recommend we consider a site visit as our next step.”Equally important is being concise. It’s not the listener’s responsibility to find the needle in the haystack. It’s the presenter’s responsibility to clearly share the material and “connect the dots”. As a rule of thumb, more presentations would be twice as good if they were half as long.Last, be consistent. Consistency means calling the same thing by the same name throughout the presentation. Calling an idea or concept by a half-dozen different names leads to misunderstanding and confusion. 

3. Add Emphasis. Why add emphasis? Remember that statistic about 75% of verbal communication being ignored, misunderstood, or forgotten? That’s reason enough. So, what are some ways to add emphasis to the key points in a presentation?Perhaps the easiest is simply to repeat yourself. While repetition as a technique should be avoided in written communication, it works very effectively in presentations. In addition to straight repetition, paraphrasing and summarizing major points are also effective ways to make sure key points don’t get lost. Using examples and numbers are other effective ways to add emphasis. In most markets, the use of examples and numbers can be particularly helpful for expanding and illustrating the key points, so they will be understood and remembered.   

4. Get on their Side of the Table. Since there are no generic people, there are also no generic sales presentations. At least there are no winning generic presentations. If you want to differentiate yourself from the pack, then every presentation must be customized to the customer. This is true whether it is an awareness level presentation early in the sales cycle or a final shoot-out. 

In the age of PowerPoint slides companies are able to provide sales people with some great slide decks. There is, however, a dramatic difference between a deck of slides and a presentation. When building a customer presentation based on a set of slides, the talk track must be developed for that specific customer. This means their examples and their numbers and their concerns and challenges.   

5. Handle Questions Skillfully. You did a terrific job in preparation, everybody attended, and the presentation went even better than you had planned. Then came the Q/A session, and the whole thing went south. Unfortunately, this story happens all too often, even to top performers. There is little doubt that the question and answer period is as important as the main body of the presentation. Yet, many times, hours are spent on background research, preparation, and rehearsal, but the Q/A session is handled off the cuff. In other words, there’s zero preparation for customer questions and concerns. So, let’s review some of the basic tips that we all know, but often forget, for handling questions. 

  • Most Questions Can Be Anticipated. If time is devoted specifically to planning the Q/A session, most questions can be anticipated. If you have not made the presentation before, or it is a different audience then you normally work with, then check with a colleague who does have the experience.
  • Answering Questions You Can’t Answer. No matter how much planning you do, there will be questions that you are either unable or unwilling to answer. So, what do you do? First, there are some things not to do. Don’t ignore the question; don’t try the “I’ll be getting to that later (and I hope you’ll forget it by then)” trick; and don’t hedge. The best approach is some variation of “I don’t know but I’ll find out.”
  • Separate Opinion from Fact. The audience should know whether you’re answering a question based on documented information or personal opinion.

Check out other posts on sales effectiveness at the Sales Training Connection. 

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC     

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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5 Responses to Moving from good to great sales presentations

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  3. Abraham Joseph says:

    As a mentor working with young school kids who have been excluded from mainstream education this is wonderful, fascinating info for me to use.

    Thank you

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