The problem with most sales training is that it’s geared to the seller learning about their company and its irresistible, unique and market-leading products or services.
The resulting sales presentations can be described as “death by PowerPoint”. They are features-heavy, often boring and frequently unsuccessful. It’s demotivating for the seller, no matter how resilient. Time and resources are wasted, only to repeat the same sins of commission the next time an opportunity arises.
When first working with a prominent consulting firm, I was surrounded by smart people who were technically outstanding but who didn’t want to think of themselves as “salespeople”. To them, “selling” was loaded with negative connotations, the territory of sleazeballs. Pitches and presentations were dense and lacklustre, and their win rate fell short of their aspiration.
Things had to change, so we developed a must-do checklist of five essential steps in preparing for and delivering a presentation for clients.
This must be the starting point. The best sellers put themselves in their clients’ shoes and imagine things from that perspective. This empathy and the resulting insights help to craft messages that resonate with the customer rather than regurgitate the (often irrelevant) facts about the seller’s business.
Reasons to resist
No matter how stellar your performance, at least one member of your audience will be resistant. As you start your preparation, list all the known and potential reasons to resist. Then explore how you can best mitigate these or, at worst, how you will handle them. Revisit these as you progress through the sales process and amend as appropriate.
Differentiate your content
Undertake a competitive analysis to discover what the customer wants from a supplier, how they perceive you and the competition and how they will decide between you. If you don’t know, ask smart questions to uncover their decision criteria. Once complete, the analysis will inform your tactics for influencing the customer so that you can tailor your business’ capability and their criteria.
Work as a team
In over 70 per cent of the post-bid interviews I’ve conducted, winning firms were successful because they gave the impression (rightly or wrongly) that they were a team. The handovers were seamless, the airtime evenly distributed, the Q&A chaired by one but shared by all. Invest time in getting to know your colleagues and their experience. Make it a team effort, not an opportunity to go for glory.
This is a useful mnemonic for honing your delivery skills: Signposting to the audience, telling them the overall flow and then what’s coming next, so that they can follow your story; Connecting with their interests and concerns, maximising the relevance of your content to their world; Illustrating your points to aid understanding (using graphics, metaphors and examples); Personalising by adding light and shade through your individual style, humour and anecdotes, which helps your client to answer “can I work with these people?” affirmatively.
Over a two-year period, the win rate at the consulting firm shifted from one in five bids to one in two. Other outputs were growth in revenues from key clients and enhanced capabilities and teamwork. It felt like a slam dunk but only because of the discipline in following these five steps, alongside other gems of best practice.
As the Chinese proverb goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – or, here, the first five.