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Is Your Sales Presentation Fit For Purpose?

Bored executives - is your sales presentation fit for purpose
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From preparation to execution, sales presentations can be difficult to manage. Previously, we’ve published some tips for pitching in general, but in this article Simon delves deeper into the underlying problems with sales presentations today – and tells us how to address them.

 

Most sales presentations are not fit for purpose

There is no doubt that sales is an essential part of being in business. For this reason, businesses throw vast resources at getting it right. Training, coaching, specialised recruitment and eye watering bonus plans are common place in an attempt to keep the orders flowing and the business ticking over.

The good news is that, on the whole, salespeople recognise the important part they play in the whole process and throw themselves into the role with gusto. Endless videos, books and blogs dedicated to the ‘art of sales’ are greedily consumed by sales professionals the world over to ensure that they deliver the number required (and, naturally, enjoy the associated spoils).

Yet despite its importance and profile, sales is fundamentally simple. No matter how you dress it up, sales is about communicating the value your service or product brings to your audience. In its purest form, sales success hangs off having a crystal clear message that resonates with an appreciative and hungry audience. The reality is that no matter how marvellous and ground-breaking your widget might be, if you can’t explain WHY it’s valuable, you won’t make a sale.

 

No sales, no business – it’s that simple

So far, so obvious. All of this makes perfect sense until we dig a little deeper and we recognise that the sales person’s weapon of choice is the lowly sales presentation. It’s here that things start to fall apart for one reason – the uncomfortable truth is that most sales presentations are the living embodiment of Death by PowerPoint.

The reality is that sales presentations haven’t really changed since the advent of PowerPoint over a quarter of a century ago.  As a result, sales audiences have been bombarded with a diet of bad practice, from slides cluttered with too many words, clichéd imagery (handshake in front of a globe, anyone?) and slide after self-obsessed slide focused on bigging up the sales person’s company rather than empathising and building an engagement with the audience.

In short, it’s a paradox – companies and individuals all recognise the importance of the sales function yet continue to go into battle with woefully underperforming tools. It’s akin to asking Usain Bolt to dedicate his life to training for the Olympics and then giving him a pair of carpet slippers to wear. In a similar way, companies across the world are handicapping their sales teams, and thus themselves, by equipping them with underperforming presentation materials.

But it goes deeper than simply getting the materials right – it’s about ensuring the ‘presentation culture’ of a business is sufficiently robust. What do I mean by this? No matter where you are in the World, if you pop along to any Starbucks or Costa Coffee in any major city at half past nine in the morning, you’ll see legions of salespeople carefully tweaking their presentation before their ten o’clock meeting. This demonstrates a couple of behaviours that are detrimental to the sales process:

  1. Re-using the same materials time and time again and only making cursory changes (swapping out logos is about as personalised as many sales presentations get).
  2. Presentations being seen as a task – something they need to fix as quickly as possible rather than recognising the privilege of presenting. For many, preparing for a presentation is an exercise in PowerPoint rather than working towards a clear message that resonates with your audience.

Over the years, this culture of ‘let the PowerPoint take the strain’ has damaged both the reputation of sales and the art of presenting. Something has to change.

Some have looked to find solace in new trends. Countless books and blogs will show you how to present like Steve Jobs or turn your next presentation into a TED-like experience.  The reality is that looking to copy ‘what good looks like’ is unlikely to fix the biggest sales presentation ills that have been inflicted upon audiences. Of course, there are the quick wins – from high impact visual slides a la Jobs through to really knowing your content a la TED – but, in my opinion, these still do not address the fundamental issue facing most sales presentations.

 

For a better presentation, remember the audience is key

If you’re looking for a way to immediately improve the impact of your next sales presentation, the answer is beautifully simple and blindingly obvious – obsess about your audience.

So where to start? While the team at Eyeful have created a process called ‘Audience Heatmapping’ which helps presenters gain a deeper understanding of audiences, the good news is that even a high level approach to issue will bear fruit. As a starting point, ask yourself the following 3 simple questions:

  1. Why has your audience given up that most precious of commodities, their time, to listen to you?
  2. Who has been invited to the presentation and why? (hint: try to look beyond job titles here – think about people as individuals rather than job functions).
  3. What is it you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation?

Armed with your considered thoughts off the back of these questions, you can start to pull together relevant content that supports your message. Steer clear of any content that could be considered ‘noise’ (for example, if the audience knows you and your business, they don’t need and won’t appreciate 5 slides of company history) and ensure that the information you share is of value to the audience while supporting your intended ‘call to action’*.

* As an aside, having a strong call to action is a prerequisite for sales presentations so make sure you’ve put some thought into it – what is it you want/expect as a result of presenting?  I strongly believe that concluding a presentation with a ‘Thank You’ or ‘Any Questions’ slide is wimping out and has no place in a professionally prepared sales engagement…but that’s a topic for another day.

When we run our ‘Sales Lab’ training days at Eyeful, we implore sales people to spend more time thinking about their audience and how their message will be remembered rather than obsessing about slide design and fancy animations. Yes, the visual element of a presentation is important, however it can only truly be of value if the basics of message and valuable content are in place first.

So in conclusion, sales presentations are some of the most important presentations many people will ever make. The success of businesses and the livelihoods of all employees rely on these being valuable to audiences and delivered in the most engaging and professional way possible. Eye-catching but ultimately vacuous sales presentations in PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi add no value. It’s for these reasons that businesses owe it to themselves, their employees and, perhaps most importantly of all, their audiences to do it right. So step away from the screen and THINK about your audience, your own objectives and the privilege of presenting before going anywhere near a mouse!

Simon Morton
Simon founded presentation design company Eyeful Presentations in 2004. His goal was big but simple - support businesses to create more powerful, engaging and effective presentations that make the most of opportunities and deliver results. 12 years, thousands of presentations and millions of engaged audience members later, Eyeful's mission continues. He is the author of The Presentation Lab and is globally recognised as a thought leader in the field of presentations.
Simon Morton
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3 Comments

  1. Jim Harvey

    Jim Harvey

    11th October 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Great post as usual Simon. Thanks. I’d echo your obsession with the audience advice. It’s what lots of salespeople talk about, but only the very best do. Some even go so far as to ‘test’ their outline on the audience well in advance of the presentation itself. Not the whole show, of course, just key content, messages and stuff, to test for relevance and allow the audience to tell you what they might want. Sometimes they don’t reply. Often only one or two do, but each of them remembers that you asked, and that’s already a step ahead of the competition who didn’t bother.

  2. Simon Morton

    11th October 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Thanks Jim.

    As you say, it doesn’t take a HUGE amount of effort to stand out from the crowd by doing the basics right. Too many people obsess with creating fancy animations and creating a WOW with their slide deck while simultaneously forgetting that the engagement with the audience should be the true measure of presentation success. It all starts with a healthy obsession with your audience…

    Leave them remembering your message, not your PowerPoint prowess!

  3. Michael

    22nd November 2016 at 1:02 am

    Really good article Simon. And punchily eloquent. Thank you.

    As we are in the same game – how about lunch or coffee?

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