Launching into a sales presentation unprepared is like taking a penalty at a soccer match with a blindfold on.
Preparation gives you a better chance of being on-target with what the customer wants to hear. This means asking the customer what they want before you make your pitch. It may also benefit you to find out about the company and its competitors.
Listening is under-rated. People give away a lot more than they mean to. And it gives you an opportunity to pick up on their mood, language and concerns. Lock into these concerns by replaying their words and link the benefits of your product or service to their objectives. It shows interest, builds empathy and will help make your sales pitch seem more relevant.
The best presentation is a conversation
Most salespeople like to present formally, probably on PowerPoint either as a paper handout or from a laptop. This has the merit of being able to get across a lot of information in a structured way, whilst allowing you to retain control of the meeting.
Trouble is, after 10 minutes the audience begins to lose interest and after 20 minutes they are barely paying attention at all.
Too often presentations are a 30 or 40 minute monologue by the salesperson. Result? The customer gets bored and switches off.
Conversation is a more effective sales technique because it is more interesting to the customer. You may get fewer product points across but they will remember more of what you say.
Which brings us to the 1st law of selling...
The 1st law of selling: let the customer talk
I promise, hand on heart, that it is easier to listen your way to a sale than it is to talk your way there. Why? Because buyers like talking and they will like it even more if you seem interested in what they have to say.
So when they are talking, nod in agreement every now in again, take notes, murmur the occasional "good point" and don't interrupt.
Now most salespeople like to talk. That is why they are salespeople and not librarians. Resist the temptation. Clasp your tongue firmly between your teeth and don't let go until the buyer has finished speaking.
Use questions as a sales technique
"Self-discovery" questions work particularly well. For example, rather than say "you should buy our widget because it reduces wastage by 15%". You might say "our widget reduces wastage by 15% - would that be of interest?" Getting the customer to think out the value of your product for themselves lodges the point more effectively.
Questions also keep the customer talking, which is a good thing. However, too many fact-finding questions can become hard work. For example: what is your budget, when do you want to start, when might you want delivery, how many, which sizes etc. Keep those types of questions for when you are close to writing out the order.
Think of yourself as a consultant
A consultant collaborates with the customer to work out what is required and how best to deliver it. A consultant feels and behaves as an equal in the relationship and a consultant is treated as someone who can contribute to the customer's business.
Unfortunately, for many salespeople this is just isn't going to happen. Their lot is a razor-toothed buyer who divulges the minimum of information, cares nothing for a cosy relationship and cares everything about driving the price down.
Capitalise on early attention with a strong opening
Take advantage of the fact that you will have most attention at the start of your presentation.
A common mistake is telling the customer what they already know - so no long replay of the brief or showing off your product knowledge.
Move quickly to how you can benefit the customer - it is not a detective story, don't keep the good bits until last. If you have a particularly strong sales point, don't be afraid to lead with it.
Structure your presentation
A structure will help you sort out your sales presentation. It may be helpful to think in terms of what you want the customer to:
Know: eg the facts about your product with strong customer relevance
Think: eg this could help with problem X - be as specific as you can
Feel: eg the emotive bit: dramatise how brilliant your product is
Do: eg the proposal: give the buyer something to say yes to
Keep the charts simple
If you really must use charts, then keep them simple.
1. 12 charts are better than 24. Over 36 risks alienating the audience.
2. Pictures are good. You can have more charts if they are less wordy.
3. Try and have no more than 4 bullet points per chart.
4. As a rule, never have more than 40 words per chart and aim for an average of 25 or less. Generally, the fewer words the better.
Connect charts with narrative
Use connecting words to hold your presentation together. At their simplest, connecting words include: although, however, because of etc.
Sometimes the connecting words can be used as chart headers.
Focus on what is relevant to the customer
Ask yourself of every piece of information... is this relevant to the customer. If not, then leave it out. Clutter distracts from the main message.
And no lists. Lists dilute your message. Better to take your strongest point, put it on a pedestal and sing the Hallelujah chorus than to plod, hopefully through 11 benefits of your product. A good maxim is to limit yourself to three.
Remember to check that your audience is agreeing with you
Every now and again it is helpful to check that the audience agrees, especially if you are saying anything potentially controversial, eg budget proposal. Just ask "how do you feel about that".
Also, watch their body language for signs of disagreement or approval.
Your close should aim for several things:
1. A one-line summary of your idea
2. Make a proposal. If nothing else it helps flush out objections that the buyer may not have previously shared.
3. Next steps. Creating a follow-up is important, otherwise other priorities intervene and the buyer may forget about your proposal.