The Definitive Guide to Sales Presentations

10 Steps to Improve Your Sales Presentation

Businesswoman at whiteboard leading meeting in conference room
Whiteboarding can help your sales presentation. Hero Images/Getty Images

You've spent hours placing cold calls and have managed to scrape together a few appointments to make your sales pitch. At this point, how you act during your sales presentation will determine whether you'll close another sale or walk away in defeat.

Stand Up for Your Sales Presentation

Always give your presentation standing up rather than sitting. When you stand as you speak, you are speaking from a position of strength.

A standing person feels more energetic than a sitting person, and that will come through in your presentation. It's also easier to speak loudly and clearly when you're standing because sitting puts pressure on your diaphragm. Finally, standing allows you to use your body language to its full extent — pacing, gestures, writing on a whiteboard, etc. And body language is a huge part of your appearance and the attitude you project.

Make Eye Contact

Eye contact is also a crucial component of body language. Regularly making eye contact with your audience maintains a connection with that person. If you're giving a presentation for more than one person, glance at each of them in turn. Don't just focus on the "most important" person there, or you'll make the rest of your listeners feel excluded. Usually, you'll want to maintain eye contact for five to ten seconds at a time before switching to a new person.

Make It Enjoyable

Try to have fun with your presentation. If you don't enjoy your own presentation, who will? If you're having a good time, that energy will come across in your presentation and will help your audience have a good time, too. Inject a little fun into your presentation — whatever will help you to enjoy yourself.

That might be an amusing slide, a great quote, or joke or two thrown in. Just be sure to stick with business-appropriate humor. Then, before your presentation begins, think about how great it will be if your prospect decides to put in a huge order right on the spot. Visualize yourself in that situation, and bring that mental energy into the room with you.

Plan and Practice, But Don't Be Stuck to Your Script

Anytime you give a presentation you should know in advance exactly what you're going to say. Do some rehearsing, sticking to your script exactly. But when you go into the actual presentation, be prepared to do a little veering from your script.

A presentation almost never goes exactly as planned. Your listener might have a question you're not expecting, or he might be very interested in something you mention in passing, inspiring you to dedicate several more minutes to that topic. But in those situations, don't think that you've wasted your time by preparing in advance. Your script provides you with a jumping-off point. Without a place to start, your presentation would be much weaker.

Break the Standard Mold of a Sales Presentation

And speaking of scripts, the traditional sales presentation, in which a salesperson talks about his product and the prospect listens, isn't the best way to sell.

Any old-style presentation will be designed to work well with a wide range of prospects. As a result, it won't be a perfect fit for ANY prospect in particular.

The first step most salespeople should make to improve their sales appointments is to ditch the standard pitch. A typical sales pitch starts with the salesperson describing his company and laying out its role in the industry, including any awards or certifications it might have.

The reason salespeople start out this way is quite logical: they want to show the prospect that their company is a legitimate and respectable provider, establishing their bona fides from the very beginning. Unfortunately, what the prospect hears is “Now I am going to talk about myself and my company for a while. Look, I have slides.” The first few minutes of the presentation is when the prospect is listening most closely, but if you fail to say anything that interests him, he'll start tuning you out.

What Is of Interest to Your Potential Client?

During the first appointment, most of your prospects won't be feeling a huge need for change. They may be mildly interested to know what options they have — that's why they agreed to the appointment in the first place — but if you don't pique their interest pretty quickly, your window of opportunity will close. And if the prospect isn't seriously considering making a change, he'll hardly be interested in hearing about how your company stacks up compared to Company X.

So instead of breaking out your standard PowerPoint deck, try coming up with a new agenda that will revolve around your prospect instead of around yourself. This agenda should be centered around one or several issues that are significant for the prospect. These issues could either be problems that he's facing or opportunities that he wants to seize; ideally, you'd include some of each.

For example, you might start out by saying something like, “My goal for this meeting is to help you lower production costs by at least 20 percent.” Now you've got the prospect's attention! Then you can ask the prospect questions about his current production setup and what he'd like to change (and keep the same). At this point, it's finally time to talk about your product, but in terms of what the prospect needs. For example, if your prospect cited fewer production line breakdowns as his most pressing need, you can focus on that aspect of your product. You'll be telling the prospect exactly what he wants and needs to hear, and showing at the same time that you listened and are responding to his answers.

How do you figure out what issues will interest your prospect? You might pick up on something the prospect says during your cold call. Googling the prospect may also generate some more ideas; if your prospect is gearing up to meet new legislation, just had a record-breaking quarter (for good or bad), is about to open up a new office overseas, or is facing other major changes, you can probably dig up the necessary information online.

A third option is to speak with some of your existing customers who are similar to your prospect in size, industry, or type of business. If several customers who are all similar to your prospect mention the same issue, there's a pretty strong likelihood that your prospect will also be concerned about that issue.

Make It a Conversation

As you design your presentation, remember that interaction is the key to building a presentation that will appeal to the specific prospect in front of you. If instead of doing all the talking you bring the prospect in by asking questions and responding appropriately, you can address that prospect's target issues without spending a lot of time on topics that don't interest him. And the more talking the prospect does, the more likely he is to sell himself on your product — which makes closing the deal a whole lot easier.

Using a conversational presentation structure doesn't mean you should be ad-libbing. On the contrary, it's important that you stay organized and do plenty of research and preparation beforehand. The more you know about the prospect before your appointment, the better.

If you already have an idea of what the prospect's most pressing needs might be in relation to your product, you can bring along customer testimonials, research data, even news stories about how your product will fill those needs. At a minimum, you should have a list of 20 to 30 questions prepared in advance. You almost certainly won't have time to ask that many questions, but it's far better to end the appointment without using all your material than it is to run out of things to say.

If you use slides in your presentation, you can keep your prospect involved by asking him a question every slide or two — even if it's as simple as, “Do you have any questions about this?” Keeping the prospect involved also keeps him paying attention to your material. If the prospect's response to one of your questions takes you off on a tangent, go with it... it's better to spend the time talking about subjects that interest the prospect instead of saying “Let's talk about it later” and moving on to the next slide.

Write the Perfect Opening

Once you've determined the subject or subjects for your appointment, start by crafting a few sentences that you'll use to open the appointment by asking the prospect's permission to discuss that subject. For example, you might say, "Mr. Prospect, many of my customers are working hard right now to gear up for the upcoming legislation. Fortunately, I've been able to help them significantly reduce the amount of time and money they need to spend to qualify for the new rules. With your permission, I'd like to tell you more about this so that we can see if I can be equally helpful for you." If your research has been successful, your prospect will enthusiastically agree.

Probe for More Information

Now that you've gotten the prospect's interest, you can start probing for more information. Asking questions is an important part of the appointment for two reasons: first, it helps you to qualify the prospect; and second, it helps you to fully identify the prospect's needs, information you can then use to fine tune your approach. It also helps to keep your prospects involved by making the appointment more of a conversation and less of a presentation.

The Next Steps Towards Closing

At this point, you may have impressed the prospect enough that you can now close the sale. In more complex sales processes, the next step may be another meeting, or you may need to draft a formal proposal. In either case, if you're not closing the sale on the spot, be sure to schedule your next activities before you leave the appointment. In other words, you and the prospect should agree on the specific date and time when you'll speak again. This helps keep your sales process on track and moving along to the close.

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