For many businesses, the task of creating visual presentations can be seen as a chore – despite their importance. Far too often a weak set of slides is thrown together with little preparation which leads to disaster. In this article, Simon, whose book, The Presentation Lab: Learn the Formula Behind Powerful Presentations, explains this as The Sales Presentation Paradox, gives some pertinent advice to make sure your next sales presentation accomplishes exactly what you want it to.
I’ve previously vented my spleen on the topic of sales presentations. Although they are a business imperative, in my opinion, the vast majority are simply not up to scratch.
Much of my ire comes not from a sense of superiority (in a previous life, I was guilty of foisting truly shocking presentations on audiences – been there, done that) but from a sense of frustration. Most of the problems befalling sales presentations (and thus audiences) can be solved with a little thought and a dash of common sense. Indeed, the issue is so widespread that we’ve even coined a phrase to describe it – the Sales Presentation Paradox.
Let me explain. Sales don’t come easy – most deals are a slog, from thankless days of cold-calling and LinkedIn stalking through to manoeuvring your way around gatekeepers and the competition. Despite these hardships, salespeople willingly throw themselves into battle every day, fuelled by the anticipation of getting a meeting with the perfect prospect.
A huge amount of work to get one shot at the prize. Wow…
So why do salespeople put all their hard work and the opportunity at risk by delivering a lacklustre presentation when they finally get in front of an audience? Going into battle with a lack of preparation, a PowerPoint presentation design that’s been cobbled together, and an over-reliance on bullet points to act as an autocue, defies logic; yet it happens all the time. Like I said, it’s a paradox.
Over time, you get pretty good at recognising the Sales Presentation Paradox in an organisation. It manifests itself in a number of ways. How many of the following do you recognise, either in yourself or your sales team?
Presentations stop becoming a hard-earned opportunity and morph into a task that needs completing as quickly and painlessly as possible, putting it on par with filling out expense forms and updating Customer Relationship Management records. Sales presentation design and messaging creation goes from being a process of considered thought and audience-centric story crafting to an exercise in copying and pasting a bunch of slides together in as short a time as possible.
At Eyeful Presentations, we call this the ‘Starbucks effect’. It has nothing to do with the restorative effects of caffeine and everything to do with the last-minute stab of conscience that seems to hit most salespeople an hour before their presentation.
Take a walk into any coffee shop in any major town at the start of a working day and you’ll be greeted with a field of open laptops with sales people fervently tweaking slide decks prior to their morning meetings.
Why? Because they have not done the requisite work beforehand and so they are content with regurgitating the same old ‘company credentials’ presentation of old, no matter how specific their audiences’ needs. Their version of personalisation starts and finishes with updating their prospect’s (low-resolution-downloaded-from-Google) logo.
Face it folks, this isn’t preparation, it’s panic … and serves neither audience nor presenter well.
At the end of the day, being a salesperson is fundamentally about getting the deal. The purpose of the cold calling, marketing and ultimately presenting is to convince your audience to do something (ideally involving a Purchase Order number).
The sales presentation shies away from a strong call to action. I’ve lost count of the number of sales presentations that wimp out with an uninspiring ‘Any questions’ or, worse still, ‘Thank you’ slide at the conclusion of their decks. At best, it’s a waste of a slide and at worst, it’s a warning sign that the sales message (and messenger) were not focused enough to bring the presentation to its logical commercial conclusion.
So, what can you do about it?
The good news is that addressing the Sales Presentation Paradox is possible for any business. Even better, it shouldn’t cost a penny.
But it will take time, focus and commitment from sales leadership to make it happen. This is particularly tough because sales leadership teams are the biggest culprits when it comes to the Sales Presentation Paradox.
My advice to all sales teams is simple – take a moment out of your busy day to consider how much time, money and effort you invest in getting your salespeople in front of a prospect. In some sectors, this could be tens of thousands of pounds/euros/dollars. With this kind of investment, why would you waste the opportunity to shine because of a paradoxical attitude towards presentations? It makes no sense.
Leaders have a golden opportunity to transform the presentation culture within their business. Salespeople responsible for engaging with audiences have a chance to spark a change for the better. In short, powerful and engaging presentations are everyone’s responsibility.
Transforming your presentation culture will benefit your team, your sales number and, most importantly, your audiences. With stakes this high, what are you waiting for?