Changing Your Sales Presentations

Changing Your Sales Presentations

by Melanie Joy Douglas,

Sales people and organizations devote a tremendous amount of time and resources to creating compelling presentations and proposals. The irony is that most of this effort is lost on customers.


First of all, a presentation - even a sophisticated, multimedia one - is, essentially, a lecture: the sales person is the teacher, the customers - the students. The general rule is that, no matter how spectacular the production, people retain less than half of presentations.

Moreover, a typical sales presentation rarely devotes more than 10 - 20% of its focus on the customer and the organization’s current situation. Most of the presentation is devoted to describing the seller and its solutions. While customers may be greatly impressed with what is being presented, they are still missing a substantial understanding of how what’s being offered applies to their specific situation. Ultimately, a lot of time after the presentation, the customers still doesn’t know why they should buy what’s being sold. In most cases, the presentations are heavily skewed toward the seller and the solutions.

Furthermore, your competitors are following the same strategy - presenting, like you. So, what sets you apart?

Jeff Thull, the President and CEO of Prime Resource Group and author of "Mastering the Complex Sale," advises to ask yourself these five questions before you enter the boardroom:

  • What percentage of your sales presentation/proposal is devoted to describing your customer’s business, their problems, and objectives?
  • What percentage of your sales presentation/proposal is devoted to describing you company and your solutions?
  • How well do customers understand their own problems?
  • How much of your presentation is focused on persuading and convincing?
  • How well can your customers connect your solutions to their business situation?
  • How do you avoid then, the traps of presenting? Don’t present, and instead, use what Thull calls a diagnostic approach. "Conduct a thorough diagnosis to uncover problems and expand the customer’s awareness of their situation," he says. "Once the problem is clearly understood, and the customer perceives all the ramifications of that problem, then the salesperson is justified in making recommendations, and a presentation will not be necessary."

    How to begin?

    One-on-ones and small audiences

    Tom Freese, founder and president of QBS Research, Inc., suggests making a point to thank the prospect for their time. Then, summarize what brought you to this meeting. For example,

    "Thomas, we have some initial conversation a couple of weeks ago, and based on your upcoming projects, we thought it would be valuable to sit down and review some solution alternatives. I’ve done some homework in advance of this meeting, and put together some ideas to review with you. But before I just start tossing out ideas, can I first ask: ’What would YOU like to accomplish in this meeting?’"

    Larger audiences

    In advance, arrange to have both you and your audience introduced to each other. Attach names to faces. After the introduction, thank the audience for their time, reintroduce yourself, and briefly summarize the events leading up until the meeting. Then Freese suggests trying an interactive approach like the following:

    "There are a couple options for this type of presentation. One is for me to just deliver the standard corporate sales presentation, talking about all the wonderful things our product or service does. The other option is to set aside the standard pitch and have a more in-depth conversation about how our product would impact your specific environment... So, rather than just starting down a pre-set path for this meeting, let me throw it out to the group. Would you rather I stay generic or get specific?"

    Inevitably, someone will say "Get specific."

    Creating an interactive atmosphere is one of the great secrets of solid, credible presenters. Interactivity means receptivity. A sales presentation should not be a barrage of seller-centred information, but rather a solution-driven dialogue between buyer and seller.