We’ve all suffered through presentations where a salesperson crams ten minutes worth of worthwhile content into an hour of our time. It’s hard to follow, it’s not always what you need to know and you're left with unanswered questions. How does a presenter avoid these pitfalls? Over time, I’ve learned three philosophies that help create more focused and effective sales presentations.
Know your audience!
I once went into a meeting with a prospective customer and gave my standard presentation, discussing our technical features and discriminators. About half way through, one person in the audience said “this is all good stuff, but we’re all buyers and are just looking for cost reduction solutions – this presentation would be better for our engineers.” Oops.
We all have a “canned” presentation – twenty-five slides intended to take an hour that we have memorized and are very comfortable with. Although this may be the easiest presentation for us to give, it may not be the most effective to our potential customer. Key to making your interaction resonate is to know what is important to the recipient; emphasize what problem you can solve ( i.e cost reduction) and not what you have to sell.
Knowing whom you’re presenting to, and what’s important to them, can and needs to take preparation and homework.
- Are they executive/manager/individual contributor?
- Have they historically utilized your type of service or product?
- Do they work with a competitor?
- Do you have an internal “coach” who can guide you on what is important?
Start with as much information about what characteristics are important –
- Is speed of fulfillment more important than price?
- Ordering simplicity and online presence a key?
- Competitive pricing?
- Subject matter expertise?
Nothing marginalizes your presentation more than missing the mark on what is of interest to your audience.
What is the culture and expectations for presentations? It’s easy to assume that you have an hour and a half to present, and that a visual PowerPoint® is expected but keep these things in mind…
- What is the culture and expectations for presentations?
- Are they expecting a fifteen-minute standup meeting?
- Bulleted list of topics, or full artwork and graphics?
- Are there any items in your presentation that could require sensitivity to compliance or export?
- Is there a dress code to be aware of?
Once you know who you’re presenting to, make sure your material is succinct and to the point.
Less is more!
Don’t let your audience tune out and start counting the seconds till the end of the meeting! If we’ve done a good job of knowing our audience, we should have a good handle on what is important and how to target specific issues rather than droning on about every possible related specification, variation, or color of product available.
Years ago, many meetings defaulted to being an hour long. More recently, the culture has changed to make 30 or 15 minute meetings the norm. Some organizations even have “standup” meetings to keep people focused on just the topic at hand. It’s more essential to present only what’s important to the audience. So what can you do to have an effective presentation?
Start with a very short overview, and be prepared to focus and elaborate on specific areas of interest. Have a deck of backup slides that allow you to go deeper if your audience asks for that. If your prospect says “sounds good, let’s do it” half way through your presentation, your done! Don’t oversell because your presentation isn’t completed.
Slides should have a limited amount of large, legible text in outline form. Jokes about “this is an eye chart” may seem funny, but do nothing to help your presentation. Don’t read directly off the slide. Your knowledge should be sufficient to elaborate on the outlined material on each slide – emphasizing what you know to be of interest.
Always leave them wanting more – a valid business reason to follow up with additional information!
I always feel good about a short meeting that ends with “You hit on all of our areas of interest.”
Practice a high listen to talk ratio!
As salespeople, we enjoy making presentations and hearing ourselves talk. Why not - we have very important information to impart! This is often to the detriment of our goal which is to create more interest in our presentation material or to close a sale.
Nothing makes you a better presenter or conversationalist than finding out more about your audience. Genuine interest in their needs will strike an important cord. It’s easy to believe that we are experts in our topic area, and that if we ask questions we would only exhibit uncertainty or a lack of knowledge. The opposite in fact is true – targeted questions allow us to zero in on the exact issues that are of importance to our audience.
Active listening is probably more important than the material that I have prepared. This helps you in understanding -
- Am I on target addressing issues that are important to you?
- What are your “pain points” that I am able to address?
- How can I really serve you?
A skilled presenter can make adjustments on the fly. Real-time feedback from the audience can help us shape the presentation itself as we go along.
One presentation that I started with a group of engineers was focused on solutions that we were proposing to a problem at hand. After the first ten minutes, it became evident that the real problem statement had little to do with our products – the issues were at a more basic level. I closed the presentation and sat down at the table, and for the rest of the time we had an effective brainstorming session. This served to increase my credibility with the customer – I wasn’t selling, I was part of the solution.
These concepts are universal for interacting with people – whether one on one or in large groups. Practice these three easy rules and you’ll significantly increase the effectiveness of your presentations.
About the Author
For over 30 years, Dean Kato has created growth and customer relationships for organizations both large and small. His customer base has included such organizations as Boeing, EMBRAER, Airbus, Longs Drugs, non-profits, and the US Government. His focus throughout has been creating win-win opportunities by doing the right thing and serving rather than selling. His current clients look to Dean for guidance in optimizing manufacturing operations and top line growth.