Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

How do you best present solutions?

Sales presentations can come in many different guises. Here are some contrasting ways in which people pitch for business:

  • Formal or informal
  • Individual or to a team
  • In front of one/a few people or in front of many people
  • Long or short
  • With questions or without questions
  • With visual aids or without visual aids
  • Five minutes or much longer
  • One off or modular.

Whichever way you and your company present, this is where you really earn your money. This is the performance element – get this wrong and you can be out of the door swiftly. Get it right and your presentation can be the differentiator that wins you the business. As with so many aspects of sales, it all starts with the preparation...

How to write a great sales presentation for a formal pitch

There is a six-step process to effective preparation for a formal sales presentation.

1. Identify your outcome

Your first step in preparation is to identify what you hope to achieve. Do this by visualising an ideal outcome. How do you want your audience to feel and think, and what do you want them to do as a result of your presentation?

Identify the positive audience reaction that you want, for example: ‘By the end of my presentation, we want them to have confidence in my new proposals and be eager to start implementing them’.

What do you want them to take away from your presentation? If there is one core message, what is it?

2. Research your audience

Find out as much as possible about your audience before you begin your preparation, so you can plan your whole presentation from their point of view.

  • Why are they there? What are they expecting? What are their wants and needs? What roles will they take?
  • How much do they know about the subject?
  • How much do they need to know so that you will achieve your objective?
  • What is their attitude likely to be to you and your organisation?
  • Have they any past experience that will influence them towards or against you?
  • Are decision makers present?
  • Will they read your proposal beforehand?

Only include material that will be of interest, benefit or concern to your audience. Use examples that they can relate to. Ask yourself ‘If I were in their shoes, what would I want to hear?’

Researching your audience will also enable you to show that you understand their problems and concerns and help you to establish rapport with them at the start of your sales presentation.

Key point

The key point here is that all sales presentations should be audience centric rather than you centric

3. Brainstorm

You may or may not be part of the creative element of putting a presentation together. There may be a temptation to ‘cobble’ a sales presentation together, using previous presentations and only making small adjustments. Avoid this mistake!

If you are part of the team, or if you are producing a presentation yourself, you can’t be creative and organised at the same time – ideas don’t come in order, so use an ideas map to brainstorm your topic (for more, see Mind Mapping).

Now you are ready to select the appropriate information to include in your presentation

4. Select and structure your material

Your ideas map will almost certainly include more material than you require. Now start selecting suitable information against your specific objective, your audience’s needs and expectations and the time available. Avoid going straight to creating a slideshow. Your presentation must have a logical structure.

Don’t think you have to tell them everything about you and your organisation. Audiences are generally interested in what you can do for them! So go for a simple structure that focuses on the audience’s interests.

Nobody can remember a great mass of detail, so concentrate on a few key facts. Ask yourself ‘If my audience goes away remembering only three or four key facts, which ones should they be? What is critical for them to know so that they can make a judgment about our suitability?’

You need to find examples and anecdotes to illustrate your key facts and bring your presentation alive. Many presentations fail because they are over-dependent on facts and lack imaginative word pictures.

Only start thinking about your visual aids when you know what you are going to say; don’t plan your presentation around them.

5. Focus on the start and the finish

The start and finish of a presentation is critical, because of the primacy and recency effect – people tend to remember more easily what they witnessed first and last. The start must be punchy, getting attention and capturing the audience immediately. It tells people why they should listen, what you are going to talk about and the scope of your presentation.

Here is what you need to cover:

  • An introduction to you (if some or all in the audience do not know you)
  • The length of time the presentation will last
  • When you intend to take questions.

Finally, ensure you remember the COMB:

Context – relevance to the audience
Objective – the goal of the presentation
Map – the agenda that you will follow
Benefits – the WHY: Why should they listen? What’s in it for them? What will they get as a result of listening carefully?

The conclusion should be short and definite. Summarise the main points and, if appropriate, state the next action.

6. Practise

Always rehearse a sales presentation. Stand up, and do it for real. Do not keep going back to the beginning each time you stop – otherwise you may never rehearse the ending! Remember to time the whole talk and aim to finish it a few minutes short of your time slot. Practise as a team, if appropriate, or in front of colleagues. When possible, practise in the same room in which you are delivering the presentation.