When deciding on the structure of your presentation, there are a number of things to consider. Will you present to a group or to an individual? Where will you be giving your presentation? What tools will you use? Sometimes these options are under your control, but often in business-to-business (B2B) sales, you will have to adapt your presentation to your prospect’s needs. In either situation, you can maximize your presentation if you know what to avoid, what to prepare for, and how to make your solution come to life with the tools you have.
Elements of an Effective Presentation
“Effective Presentations,” featuring author Terri Sjodin, highlights how a great sales presentation comes together.
The Right Size
A good salesperson can read group dynamics as skillfully as they can read an individual prospect’s verbal and nonverbal cues and is comfortable in one-on-one and in group presentation situations. This is critical because as a salesperson sometimes you have control over the kind of presentation you will deliver (group versus individual), but in many situations, the size of the audience to which you will present is determined by the needs and structure of your prospect’s organization. In many organizations large purchasing decisions are the responsibility of purchasing committees or of a combination of individual and group decision makers (Grikscheit et al., 1993, p. 152). You might find that you begin with several individual presentations to decision makers in an organization and then are asked to give a follow-up group presentation to a purchasing committee.
Presenting to Individuals
In one-on-one presentations, of course, you only have one person’s needs, preferences, and background to research and adapt to, so customization is usually an easy task. You can closely observe your prospect’s nonverbal communication and listen to their stated needs and concerns and respond accordingly. Do they look worried when you tell them that your company’s integrated marketing plan usually takes four months to develop? You can explain that for preferred prospects you are sometimes able to turn around a faster solution. Do they seem distracted when you begin discussing product features? You can back off and begin asking more questions.
As you learned before, while discussing about the social styles, you will be in a better position to deliver value during your sales presentation if you know something about your buyer’s personality before going into the meeting: Is your prospect conversational and people oriented, or are they task oriented and businesslike? Does your prospect care about details and thorough descriptions, or do they prefer to see the “big picture”? Are they competitive? How do they feel about change? Understanding these things about your prospect will help you to favourably position your product and plan your presentation so that you can put emphasis on the things that matter most to the individual. If you know your prospect is highly competitive, for instance, they will probably be interested in learning about the features that set your product apart from others on the market and the ways in which your product can give their company a competitive edge.
Writing up a customer trait description before your meeting can be very helpful so that you can use the information as a guideline in preparing your presentation (Grikscheit et al., 1993, p. 127). If you’re working with an existing customer or if you’ve interacted with your prospect prior to the presentation, you can use your observations to write a trait description. If you haven’t met the prospect before, try asking other salespeople in your organization, noncompetitive salespeople at other companies, or other contacts you have who might have met your prospect and who can tell you something about their personality (Grikscheit et al., 1993, p. 136). Also, use the company resources including the CRM system to gather as much information as possible about the company and your contact. In addition, it is also a good idea to send a precall questionnaire to your contact to gather information such as the names and titles of the people who will be attending the presentation, how much time has been allotted for you, objectives for the meeting, and any other information that will help you plan the meeting. This information can provide valuable information and help you create an agenda, which is a good idea to send to the prospect before the meeting.
In adapting to an individual buyer, it’s also important to consider their motivation (Grikscheit et al., 1993, p. 128). What are their responsibilities in the organization? What pressures do they face? Are they on a strict budget? Are they concerned with his status in the company? If you have two buyers who purchase the same product, chances are they’ll be doing it for different reasons: (Grikscheit et al., 1993, p. 125) one person might buy a car from you because they sees it as a status symbol, while another person might buy the same car because it gets good gas mileage and is well built and reliable. Keep in mind that delivering value isn’t only about meeting a prospect’s needs; it’s also about showing them that you understand their specific motivations and concerns. The best salespeople present themselves as advisors their customers can trust (Brodie, 2008). Is a prospect worried about proving themselves in a new role in their company? Show them how your product can help them perform their role better, or demonstrate how people in similar positions at other companies have used your product with success.
Presenting to Groups
If customization is that straightforward with an individual buyer, why would you ever choose to sell to a group? Besides the fact that sometimes the nature of the sale demands it, selling to groups is also more efficient than selling to individuals. If you’re selling accounting software to a number of departments in an organization, rather than meeting individually with a decision maker from each department, you can save time by giving your sales presentation to a number of decision makers at once. Group presentations can also help you identify the decision makers in an organization if you aren’t yet sure who they are. By keeping an eye on group dynamics during the presentation you can usually observe the “pecking order” among members and identify the individuals in the group whose opinions hold the most leverage.
Additionally, group presentations can be a way to win greater support for your sale. If you know one or two people in an organization who are excited about your product, you can allow their enthusiasm to influence others in a group setting (Grikscheit et al., 1993, p. 165).
If you know what is at stake for each member of the group, you will be able to facilitate the discussion during your presentation much more effectively. This is why it’s important to gather information about everyone who will attend your sales meeting. Again, think of Lo’s method, where she reads each group member’s bio and googles their names before going into a group meeting. Find out the individual’s needs within the organization. What is their status? How do they perceive the urgency of the problem you want to solve? Do they have any ego involvement in the product or service? (Weitz et al., 2003, p. 264). (For instance, an accountant in the organization might feel threatened by new accounting software if it replaces part of their current role.) This will help you understand the most important concerns you will need to address in the presentation, and if certain parts of your presentation apply more directly to certain members of the group, you can direct those parts specifically at those individuals.
Keep in mind that people act differently in group settings than they do when you are interacting with them alone, so finding out about individual members’ personalities is less important in group presentations. Instead, adjust your presentation to the dynamics in the room. Watch the group for nonverbal cues; when one member is talking, observe how others react to see whether or not they support what she’s saying (Weitz et al., 2003, p. 265). If the energy in the room feels low, or if you get the sense that the group is getting restless, consider moving on to the next part of your presentation or changing tactics.
Sometimes you won’t know who or how many people you will be presenting to beforehand, so you won’t be able to research the individuals. However, it’s always a good idea to ask when you call to schedule your meeting. You may be able to find out information that your contact at the organization wouldn’t otherwise volunteer.
Hear about how to use a group presentation to your “unfair” advantage in this video.
The Right Place
You also might not know where your presentation will happen. If you know you’ll be presenting to your prospect at their office or in a conference room at their company, you won’t have control over the environment. What happens if your prospect has reserved a meeting room and when you arrive there are no empty walls on which you can project the PowerPoint presentation you brought along? When you know you’ll be presenting in an unfamiliar environment, make sure to have a contingency plan in place. If slides or other multimedia equipment are central to your presentation, talk to someone at the company to make sure you’ll be able to use the equipment. And if this fails, be ready to rely on your handouts, product samples, or the good old whiteboard to carry the presentation through.
Of course, in other situations, you will have control over the environment. In real estate, for instance, the presentation takes place inside the product. In retail, the presentation generally happens at your store. And there are other selling situations in which the prospect will come to your office or a conference room at your company or where you will meet at a “neutral” location like a rented meeting space (Chapin, 2008). Here are a few guidelines to follow, depending on the environment in which you’ll be presenting.
Your Place of Business
When the prospect comes to you, treat them like you would treat a guest in your home. Make sure you set up any presentation materials well in advance and have refreshments set out in the conference room or your office. Think about ways you can add personal touches—for instance, a sign with the prospect’s name on it (“[Your company name] welcomes [prospect’s company name]”), or, for a group presentation, information packets at each person’s seat with their name on the front. Sales professional John Chapin suggests having small items on hand that you can give to your prospect, such as pens or calculators with your company logo on them (Chapin, 2008). Small, thoughtful details can make an important difference.
A Neutral Location
If you are giving your presentation in a neutral location like a rented conference room you have the freedom to set up and work out any technical bugs well beforehand. When Keith Waldon of Earth Preserv was preparing for the presentation that secured his biggest customer, JCPenney, he rented a boardroom in a building near JCPenney’s corporate headquarters. He opted for the rented space so that he could pull out all the stops for the presentation. “I wanted to catch JCPenney by surprise,” Waldon says.
When the five executives arrived, Waldon had set up multimedia equipment for video, sound, and slides. He had placed a thick binder of presentation materials (including television storyboards, magazine advertisements, and product comparisons) at each executive’s seat with his name and the JCPenney corporate logo embossed on the front. Besides the conference room, Waldon had also rented an empty storefront in the same building, and halfway through the presentation, he took his customers to see the retail window display he had created there to look like one JCPenney might use to display Earth Preserv products in their stores (Greco, 1995).
Since you will have time to set up beforehand at a rented location, you can treat the presentation the way you would treat a presentation at your home office. Bring refreshments, set up any multimedia equipment well in advance, and arrive early to make sure everything is in working order at the facility. Make sure you know the name of the facility’s contact person; you can call them several days ahead of time to find out what equipment they have at on hand and what you will need to bring (Chapin, 2008).
Your Prospect’s Place of Business
When you deliver your presentation at your prospect’s location, you won’t have the luxury of extensive setup time, and you may find that you have to adapt to the space and resources on hand. However, there are a few things you can do to make a good impression and ensure that things go as smoothly as possible:
- Arrive early and set up any technology you plan to use so that you can minimize the chance of something going wrong.
- When it’s possible, call ahead to find out about the space in which you will be presenting and the materials that will be available to you.
- Let your prospect know how long you will need to set up—particularly if you are using multimedia equipment.
- When you arrive, the first person you interact with will probably be the receptionist. Introduce yourself and let her know that the customer is expecting you.
- In addition to your presentation items, consider bringing food, coffee, or small giveaway items.
- In B2B sales, if your presentation will be around the lunch hour, it’s often customary to offer to take your prospect to lunch before or after the meeting (Chapin, 2008).
Webinars and Video Conferences
So how do you give a sales presentation if your prospect lives across the country, but you have a limited budget for travel? Unless there is a good chance that a prospect will become a key customer, it usually isn’t practical for a salesperson to travel long distances to make one presentation. However, thanks to improved technology, it’s becoming increasingly common for salespeople to address this problem using webinars, video conferences, and online meetings. These technologies are allowing companies to reach more prospects in less time and to reach prospects internationally and across long distances.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to giving sales presentations through video conferencing rather than in person. For one thing, it’s always easier to establish rapport with your prospect if you’re able to have a face-to-face interaction. Video conferences offer the benefit of visuals, so you and your prospect can read one another’s body language and visual cues, but this is not a complete substitute for sitting in the same room with someone. Additionally, since the presentation relies entirely on technology—both on your end and on the prospect’s end—there is a greater chance that a technological malfunction could prevent the presentation from working.
In-person presentations are still the most effective and personal method, so whenever you are able (and when it is practical) to give a face-to-face presentation, this is your best option. However, technology keeps improving, and online meetings and video teleconferences are becoming more successful as an alternative method all the time (KnowThis.com, n.d.) Depending on your selling situation, this is something you might consider. As online sales strategist Joanna Lees Castro points out, video conferencing can be almost as effective as an in-person meeting in a number of selling situations, and it is certainly a better, more personal approach than e-mail or telephone (Lees Castro, 2008).
Even though video conferencing feels different from in-person communications, you should essentially treat your online meetings the way you would treat any sales call. Keep in mind that nonverbal communication has a strong influence on interactions—and, especially with good technology, your customer can see you clearly. Pay attention to your body language and facial expressions, and avoid personal gestures (like playing with your hair or scratching an itch) (Manage Smarter, 2009). Dress professionally, plan your agenda carefully, and make sure to prepare and get your materials set up ahead of time. If you are conferencing from a location other than your office, arrive early to make sure the technology is set up to run smoothly for your presentation.
It is also important to resist the temptation to multitask during your video conference. Close down any other applications you might have open on your computer, clear off your desk, and make sure you will not be interrupted until the call is over. Mute any cell phones and close the door to the room in which you are presenting. Give your customer your full attention. While this level of focus is a given on your end, unfortunately, you can’t always be certain that your prospect will give a video conference meeting their full attention by minimizing distractions. For this reason, it is especially important to have a clear agenda that you follow closely. Keep your presentation brief, and be aware that you will have to work harder to hold your prospect’s attention. Live interaction from your audience is critical to make sure your participants are engaged.
Besides a greater likelihood of distraction, there are a few other extra considerations to keep in mind in a video conference situation. Sales and Management magazine notes that privacy is expected during a video conference, so if you want to record part of your presentation, it is important to ask your prospect for permission (Manage Smarter, 2009). When the presentation is over, Joanna Lees Castro suggests closing the meeting with a clear call to action in which you include a wrap-up and well-defined next steps that you and your prospects should take. At the end of a conventional sales presentation, Lees Castro points out, next-step discussions can happen more organically, as the customer is walking you to the door, but this is obviously impossible in an online situation (Lees Castro, 2008).
The Right Tools
In the best sales presentations, the product or service comes alive. Try to see the presentation through your prospect’s eyes. What is the best way to capture their imagination? How will you tell the story that will make your product or service compelling? In what ways can you delight or surprise your customer? Few people know how to do this better than Dann Ilicic, CEO of Wow Branding. Wow, a small start-up, frequently outperforms big name competitors when vying for a prospect. Ilicic approaches each presentation with the same mind-set: you can’t bore your customer into buying from you, so why not dazzle them? One customer said the presentation Ilicic put together for his company couldn’t have been better: “Dann unquestionably knocked it out of the park compared with the other firms, and they were really high-end firms with spectacular portfolios (Clifford, 2007).
So how does Wow Branding wow its prospects? Ilicic’s approach offers three lessons:
- Take customization to a new level. Ilicic says he and his team spend about fifty hours preparing for a sales presentation. They call low-level employees in the customer company, the company’s past customers, and companies that have chosen not to do business with the prospect to learn things the prospects might not even know about themselves. Glumac, an engineering firm in Portland, Oregon, and one of Wow’s customers, said Ilicic’s technique “was a brilliant move…because he wasn’t asking what our imagery should be”; instead, he researched to find out what the image already was.
- Never miss an opportunity to delight. Ilicic likes to surprise his customers with the small things: like stamping green thumbprints throughout a proposal for an agricultural company—or, for a pharmaceutical company, handing out vitamin bottles on which he has replaced the label with a message about Wow. Sometimes he brings in a cake on which he reveals the suggested name for a new company. Because Ilicic’s intensive research allows them to understand his customers so well, he is able to perfectly match the wow factor to each prospect and make the product come alive.
- Always make the presentation creative and fun. This technique engages the customer, even when the meeting agenda isn’t exciting itself. It also allows Wow to get around difficult or sensitive parts of the presentation. Rather than talking about Wow’s successes, Ilicic records customer testimonials about his company and plays these for his prospects. On another occasion, rather than potentially putting a prospect on the defensive by telling the company what their image should be, Ilicic told them that Wow had been assigned a branding project for their biggest competitor. He launched a multimedia presentation to show them their competitor’s branding overhaul, and by the end his prospects were asking themselves, “Why didn’t we think of that?” After the presentation, Ilicic revealed that he hadn’t actually made the campaign for the company’s competitor; it was for them (Clifford, 2007).
So what techniques can you use to achieve these goals in your sales presentations? The tools you choose will depend on the situation and your presentation style. As Ilicic demonstrates, the possibilities are almost endless, but whatever tool you use, it is important to carefully consider your choice and how you can maximize its effectiveness.
PowerPoint slides provide an easy way to organize your presentation and add helpful visuals. For many salespeople, PowerPoint is one of their go-to presentation tools. It can be an especially helpful tool for salespeople who are starting out and want the security of a clear framework from which to present. An added benefit is that it doesn’t take much technological know-how to put together a clean-looking PowerPoint demonstration.
On the other hand, not all presentation situations lend themselves to PowerPoint (e.g., conference rooms with no wall space on which to project or presentations given in the field), so if you plan to use this tool, make sure that you will be presenting in a space where you can make it work. Additionally, be aware of—and avoid—a number of common mistakes salespeople make when using PowerPoint that can ruin a presentation. As sales coach and author Anne Miller says, “Putting PowerPoint into the hands of some sales reps is like putting matches into the hands of some children (Miller, 2008). To maximize PowerPoint as a tool to successfully sell your story, use the tips in Table 6.2.1 “Guidelines for PowerPoint Visuals” (Miller, 2008).
Table 6.2.1 Guidelines for PowerPoint Visuals
If you want to…
|describe a series of steps
|show product/service comparisons
|a pie chart or bar graph
|explain how your Web site works
|the Web site
Helpful Do’s and Dont’s for Creating a PowerPoint Presentation
- Don’t turn down the lights. It takes the focus away from you, and it can put people to sleep.
- Don’t go overboard with technological gimmicks.
- Don’t hide behind your computer screen when using PowerPoint; make sure you face your audience and make eye contact. This can be a temptation when the computer is set up on a podium close to eye level.
- Don’t fill your slides with words. Use bullet points, separate each point with white space, and cut out any unnecessary words you can.
- Don’t bore your audience with visual sameness. Slide after slide of bulleted lists gets monotonous; visuals and charts have a stronger impact (Miller, 2008).
- Do make your slides easy to read.
- Do replace descriptive headlines with headlines that sell. No one cares about a headline that describes what’s already on the page (Miller, 2008). For example, rather than writing “Our Statistics” at the top of the page, write “See Significant Savings in the First Year.”
- Do use the 10/20/30 rule: Make sure you limit your slides to 10 or fewer. Focus on the things you want people to remember, rather than overwhelming them with information. Give yourself 20 minutes to go through your 10 slides. Any more than this and you will reach the limit of your audience’s attention span. Finally, use only 30-point or larger font size so that your audience can clearly read what you’ve written (Kawasaki, n.d.).
Guy Kawaski, best-selling author, venture capitalist, and entrepreneur, created this rule and describes it in this video.
Do remember that that PowerPoint is only an aid. “You are the star,” says communications consultant Ronnie Moore (Williams, 2007). Use dynamic speaking strategies, move around, keep your audience involved; don’t let your technology take over.
Brochures, Premiums, and Leave-Behinds
It is usually expected that you will have printed material to give your audience during a presentation. In addition to a printed supplement to your PowerPoint presentation (i.e., something that conveys the same information as your slides and on which your audience can take notes), you might decide to bring along brochures with information about your company, products, and services. What are the benefits of brochures? According to sales expert and author Geoffrey James, in some situations you need a brochure to make your firm look serious. However, James lists “I promise to read your brochure” as one of the top ten lies customers tell sales reps. His conclusion: the brochure might gain you credibility, but it probably won’t get read (James, 2009). Don’t rely completely on brochures because they won’t be a focal point of your presentation.
Sometimes a brochure can work as a reminder about you and your company after you’ve left, but this is assuming your customer doesn’t throw the brochure away. When it comes to reminders, a better bet is leaving something functional that your customer will actually use regularly. These reminder objects—calendars, refrigerator magnets, pens, or mouse pads labelled with your company name—are called premium leave-behinds and are a proven method of reminding customers you exist (Sugars, 2007). Almost all salespeople bring some sort of brochure or premium leave-behind on their sales calls.
Samples and Demonstrations
There is almost no better way to make your story come to life for your customer than letting them experience it for themselves. Think of television courtroom dramas: when the lawyer is making her final statement to the jury and they want to pull out all the stops, what do they do? They don’t just give the jury the facts or tell them the version of the story they want them to believe—they brings the story to life; they put the gun in the defendant’s hand; they bring out the pictures of the stab wounds. Think about this when you plan your sales presentation. During the presentation, you can bring your story to life by offering product samples for your prospects to try or by running demonstrations that let them see for themselves what your product can do. When winemakers sell their products to large distributors, they don’t just bring in descriptions of their wines for the buyers to read; they offer tastings so buyers can experience the product. When caterers want to sell their services to someone who is planning a wedding, they bring in samples from their menus, so the customer can say, “Wow this pasta really is delicious!” Or think of Keith Waldon of Earth Preserv who didn’t just tell JCPenney, “We can make displays of our environmentally friendly products for your store windows;” instead, he set up a real shop window display so his prospects could see their place in his story.
Power Selling: Lessons in Selling from Successful Brands
Sell to Someone Unexpected
For the founders of Cranium, Inc., maker of the popular Cranium board game, playing is believing. When the company first launched in 1998, they knew that 50 percent of board games failed in their first year. Cranium’s strategy? Avoid the traditional board game buyers—toy stores—and sell to someone unexpected. Cranium’s founders managed to get an introduction to Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, and they arrived at his office with a game board and challenged them to a match. After playing a few rounds, Schultz decided this was just the game Starbucks had been looking for—something that would support coffeehouse culture—and Cranium, Inc., had its first major sale.
Next on Cranium’s list? Barnes & Noble Booksellers. The company’s founders scheduled a meeting with Terese Profaci, the bookstore’s director of gift merchandising, whose boss told the sales reps on the way in, “I don’t know why you’re here. We don’t sell games.” Still, Profaci’s boss had her play a round of the game with some employees at corporate headquarters, and in the end, Barnes & Noble was won over (Blick, 2002).
Good Reasons to Use Demonstrations
Besides bringing your story to life, there are a number of other good reasons to use demonstrations:
- To educate your prospect. If you are selling a complex product, such as a highly involved software program, the best way to help your customer understand how it works is to show her.
- To involve your prospect. Let them find the results for themselves. Just as car shoppers get to take the wheel in a test drive—and this often makes the difference between a decision to buy or not to buy—customers who use your products for themselves are more likely to make a personal connection with it. A salesperson selling insulated windows, for instance, might place a piece of glass in front of a heat lamp and ask them customer to put out his hand and feel the heat. Then the salesperson might substitute the sheet of glass for a window sample. “Now put out your hand,” she will tell the customer. “Can you feel how this window is going to keep the elements out and save you money on your energy bills? (The Solar Stop, n.d.)
- To prove the performance of your product (The Solar Stop, n.d.). Of course, you can tell your prospect “our air purifiers are quieter than the leading model, and they take up less space in your home.” But if you bring your air purifier to the presentation and set it next to the leading model, and if you ask your prospect to turn both machines on, they can see for themselves that your product is smaller, and their can hear for themselves that it makes less noise.
Give Them the Numbers: Cost-Benefit Analysis and ROI
When you present your solution to the customer, especially in B2B sales, closing the sale usually depends on whether the cost of your solution is offset by the value it delivers (Manning & Reece, 2004, p. 256). If you can quantify your solution using cost-benefit analysis and ROI (return on investment) analysis, you can help your customer determine whether a project or purchase is worth funding.
A cost-benefit analysis quantifies the costs of a purchase in relationship to the benefits it provides. It asks the question “Will this purchase save more money in the long run than it costs?” (Miles, 2003, pp. 139–140). Imagine you are selling an energy-efficient commercial dishwasher to a pizza kitchen. The dishwasher costs $3,000, but average cost savings per year are $800 in energy bills and $200 in water usage: a total of $1,000 (Energy Star, n.d.). Your dishwashers are guaranteed to last a long time; in fact, you offer a five-year warranty on any purchase. At a savings rate of $1,000 each year, your customer will have saved $5,000 in energy and water expenses by the time his warranty expires. Based on this information, you present this cost-benefit analysis to your prospect:
In this case, the cost savings is $1,000 per year times five years for a total of $5,000, minus the initial investment of $3,000, means that there is a benefit of $2,000.
In other words, the dishwasher has a three-to-two cost-benefit ratio over five years ($3,000 in cost to $2,000 in benefit). You can tell them, “This purchase will save you money in the long run. After you make back what you spent on the dishwasher in cost savings, you will continue to save $1,000 each year.” Similarly, you can show your customer a return on investment (ROI) analysis shows the return (profit or cost savings) as a percentage of the initial investment. ROI shows the customer the return (profit or cost savings) compared to the investment he will make. In the case of the dishwasher, the ROI would be calculated by dividing the benefit (in this case $2,000) by the cost of the product or initial investment (in this case $3,000), then multiplying the result by 100, which would yield a 66 percent ROI after five years.
$2000 (savings over five years) ÷ $3,000 (initial investment) × 100 = 66% ROI
You can maximize ROI by cutting costs, increasing profits, or accelerating the rate at which profits are made (Milano, n.d.). Some businesses have a minimum ROI that must be met before a purchase can be approved. While you might be able to learn this information in your preapproach, it is more likely that you will have to discuss minimum ROI with your customer during the sales presentation. You might present your solution and find out more about your customer’s specific needs (including budget constraints and minimum ROI) during the first sales presentation and then write up a proposal in response to your findings, which you deliver during a second presentation.
“9.3 Making Your Presentation Work” from Selling For Success 2e by NSCC and Saylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.