Some sales pros love an audience. Others don’t.
Either way, the sales presentation is the final hurdle in closing the sale. So the show must go on.
Here’s valuable insight on sales presentations that will make yours better every time you step in front of an audience – whether it’s a crowd of one or 100, in person, online or over a call – plus 23 tools, tactics and pitfalls.
4 types of sales presentations
Consider the type of presentation you’ll do before applying the tools and tactics. Some ideas work better in smaller, less formal presentations. Others work best in larger, formal formats.
- Casual. It’s carefully planned but casually delivered. It’s a shorter presentation with more time to discuss. You can enhance the discussion with planned whiteboard prompts (in-person calls) or slides (phone or web calls).
- Interactive. The salesperson facilitates a conversation in person or online with a small group of sales leads. Send documents and slides ahead of time so much of the presentation is a review and exploration of what everyone has seen.
- Formal. It’s carefully planned, rehearsed and programmed. You deliver a formal presentation or webinar with polished visuals with no real-time interaction with a larger audience. You might open up to questions at the end for limited interaction.
- Canned. This is a prepared and distributed presentation prospects can access on their own time. You can post slides, links to white papers, videos and any other relevant information to reach large audiences.
Top tools and tactics
Research like a grad student
Every sales professional needs to research extensively before doing sales presentations (even if you’ve been in your business for decades – and seem to know everyone and everything). Why? Because every prospect, situation, business and solution is different, and variables change everything.
Learn more than the next salesperson about prospects, their needs, your competitors and industry trends. Then learn about what your prospects buy now and in the past. Find out what the competition does better now.
With all this information at hand (but not necessarily in your slide deck) when you present, you prove credibility and avoid awkward situations such as being at a loss for an answer.
Go in energized
Low energy comes across as low confidence. If you don’t appear confident, prospects won’t trust you or your solution.
One effective confidence check: Practice telling your story without slides or any other prop. If you can’t do the presentation without those, you can’t tell it confidently.
Add to that genuine enthusiasm, healthy nourishment and optimism for energy, and you’ll shine in confidence.
Take the ‘airport test’
On the opposite side of the confidence check is the “airport test” – a solid gauge for how effective your presentation materials are. Imagine you left a printed version of your presentation at an airport gate. If someone picked it up and went through the deck, would she be able to interpret your message? If she can, it’s just a report. If she can’t put all the pieces together, that’s a presentation!
Point is, as a presenter, you want to add context. You don’t want to simply read a report to prospects. You are a necessary component, not just the salesperson who put all the details on the slides.
Connect on the issue
You can use small talk about the weather, the industry, sports or arts to connect, but nothing will help you connect better than the issue at hand.
The audience must understand – and admit to – the problem you plan to solve before you discuss solutions and results.
While you likely did this through previous discovery, you want to help the audience through self-discovery. Ask questions to confirm they see the same problem you’re prepared to solve. Only then can they see your solution is the ideal fix.
Belabor the issue
While we’re on the problem, let’s belabor the point: Your presentation should be more focused on the problem and pain it’s causing the audience than about the solution. That’s because of the age-old loss aversion principle: Prospects will double their effort to avoid loss over what they’d do to gain benefits.
So they listen, engage and act more when they’re focused on their problem and the pain that’ll continue or worsen without your solution more than the actual solution.
Build the Before-After Bridge
You can prove value and win sales in presentations more than in any other step in the sales cycle. One of the most powerful ways to do that is with the Before-After Bridge.
Kick-off presentations by creating this visual:
- Before: Here’s your world now.
- After: Imagine your world as you want it to be.
- Bridge. Here’s how we’ll get there.
You know – and can briefly describe on visual aids – the pain points of their current world and the enviable world where the pain doesn’t exist. Then explain how you can help them get there.
Balance your visuals
To create the most memorable presentation buyers will experience, involve as many of their senses as possible. Give them a variety of things to see, hear and touch (and if you’re in food or beverage sales, things to taste and smell!)
- Avoid overloading any slides with text: two or three bullet points with fewer than 10 words per point
- Use photos to convey emotions (such as customers happy with the results of using your solution)
- Use short video to break up the presentation and show the impact of your solutions, and
- Back up your presentation with a slide share (or even printed documents if the client prefers) with more detail than your slides. Pass them along at the end so they aren’t distracted from you during the presentation.
Shake up presentations – and continue to show confidence – by stepping away from your slides and into another “zone.” The physical move helps keep the audience interested.
For instance, walk over to a whiteboard or flip chart and simply map out the prospect’s success story. You might step to a glass window or door that allows the audience to see the outside, office or facility and invite them to imagine the improved situation you’re suggesting.
Talk less ROI, more story
Prospects say they want to know about the Return on Investment, but they will never connect with numbers and facts like they will with a story. In fact, Gong.io researchers found that using the ROI during the sales process leads to a 27% decline in won deals!
ROI creates a logical connection. Stories about people, struggles and success create emotional connections. And most people buy on emotion.
Share before-and-after customer stories. Use images and brief video, if possible, to build a deeper emotional connection.
And if prospects demand the ROI, give it to them. But put it in the shadow of your story.
Guard your language
During the presentation, most salespeople are well-spoken and exude confidence because they’re well-practiced. Sometimes, they become less polished when responding to feedback, and use weaker words such as, “I think …,” “I believe …” and “We hope …”
As long as your presentation is customized to your buyers, you should be able to easily stick with concrete and concise words. You should highlight your deep knowledge of the benefits and advantages relevant to the buyer. Use concrete and concise language such as, “Our solution eliminates XX% of …,” “I can deliver and train on …” and “We will ….”
Look and sound the part
Be conscious of who’s in on your presentation and dress and speak accordingly.
For instance, if you’re in a highly technical field and presenting inside a lab, perhaps your audience is used to someone in a lab coat. If you’re in an industrial field, and presenting on a shop floor, steel-toed shoes and safety glasses may be appropriate.
In any case, use the same language your audience does. Whether that’s tech-speak, acronym-laden, business-professional or everyday language, you can gauge how to speak by engaging the audience early with questions.
Bottom line: Know and meet the audience’s expectations for appearance, tone and language.
Stop at nine
The most effective sales presentations are gutted to the core and shorter than you might think possible. Gong.io researchers found salespeople can keep customers’ attention and win more deals if they limit presentations to nine minutes. It’s what they call a “brain-perking pace” – using two to three slides per minute.
Attention falls sharply after 10 minutes, so the nine minutes is long enough to build interest and enthusiasm, short enough to keep focused attention.
Call for action
All salespeople know they need a call to action (CTA) – yet many often forget or let opportunities slip through their hands during presentations.
You can’t. You must make a call to action.
Clearly define what prospects need to do next – schedule a demo, sign a contract, set up a trial, etc. – and how they do it in a limited time to create urgency for the action.
Then try a CTA like these:
- Let’s start on your path toward X now, by …
- Can we begin your journey to improving X by doing Y?
- Let’s build your future X with this first step now …
- Make your move toward X by doing Y …
- Do you want to X now?
- Let’s get you started today on X. Here’s what we’ll do.
Follow up with custom content
Transform your sales presentation into a buying guide for your prospects (especially if you have one champion among the decision-makers who can use it to persuade the others).
Use the key topics uncovered in the discovery stage as the first slide or page. Use their voice – exact words they used to describe their problems. Briefly describe three key pain points to show you listened and understand.
Next slide or page: Line up those key pain points with a benefit of your solution that answers the problem.
Last slide or page, remind them of their before, after and how you’ll get them there.
Pitfalls to avoid
Pitfalls can be the result of bad habit, poor training or lackluster preparation. Here’s what to avoid:
Apologizing so much
The more you say “sorry,” the less credibility you build. You might think it’s polite to apologize, but most situations we apologize for don’t warrant an apology. Some examples:
- Instead of: “Sorry for the delay” Say: “We’ll start in X minutes.”
- Instead of: “Sorry about the mess” Say: “Please excuse the appearance.”
- Instead of: “Oh, sorry I bumped it” Say: “Excuse me.”
- Instead of: “Sorry you have to do X” Say: “Let’s do X.”
Taking too long to wind up
Some background information is helpful to go over. But most isn’t necessary to get to the point of your presentation.
Be clear about the message you plan to deliver, then deliver it. Make your point and move on.
Trying to cover too much
Similar to taking too long to wind up is trying to cover too much in one presentation. Focus on one to three problems and your targeted solution.
Use 10 or fewer slides to get those points – and a good story – across to the audience.
Making it about you
If you jump to details on your company, solutions and results, you will lose buyers’ interest immediately.
They want to discuss them, their problems and how those make them feel. Your Before-After Bridge can help you stay on track.
Reading off your slides
Too many salespeople rely on their slides to guide them (and buyers) through the presentation. That’s a crutch.
Use slides to emphasize what you say. They shouldn’t have enough text to read verbatim.
Handling technical issues
Asking the audience to “hold on” or be patient while you resolve technical issues is unprofessional and not easily tolerated.
To avoid technical issues – and subsequent in-presentation fixes – do a run-through before the audience arrives to head-off the issues.
Plus, with solid preparation, you should be able to get through the presentation without the technical tools if they fail.
Bypassing the brand
In the (justifiable) effort to customize presentations for each buyer, salespeople sometimes lose the brand feel for their solutions.
Even when you customize, you want to make sure your slides and presentation carry your brand’s colors, feel, look, tone and style. Work from the master sales deck and review it from time to time to be sure you haven’t rebuilt it so much you’ve lost the brand feel.
Not having a throw-down
Most presentations are based on technology tools these days because that’s what customers want. But when you’ve scored a face-to-face meeting, you want to have printed, polished leave-behinds. Those could be brochures, product specs, the presentation, FAQs, tip sheets and some swag.
They’re sure to float around, so many stakeholders could get their eyes on your throw-downs.