Presentations of Mass Destruction

by Jill Konrath

Finally! After months of trying, you have an opportunity to make a presentation to decision makers from a company you would love to have as a client. This is your big chance ...

I vividly recall an occasion like this that happened to me a few years back when I was selling computer systems. I'd been working with a big hospital chain to get them to convert their systems.

The committee set up presentations with the three finalists - and they were making trips to each corporate headquarters as the last step in their decision-making process. I wanted things to be absolutely perfect for our morning together.

I made sure our senior execs would be available to meet their big wigs. Since I was new to the business, my technical knowledge left a lot to be desired. So I enlisted the help of several marketing managers - and they assured me they had great presentations that would "WOW" my prospective client.

What happened next was not what I expected. The first presenter gave an in-depth overview of our company - mission, size, market share, growth and a lengthy product overview.

The second person gave an excruciatingly detailed presentation on our proprietary technology. Even though I sold the stuff, it was way over my head and I barely understood a word he said. Finally, we had a demonstration - and I have to say I learned more about how the system worked than I ever wanted to know.

So how did this committee made up of hospital executives, the IT leadership team and end users react to the presentation? Within 30 minutes, their eyes were glazed over and they had "checked out". It certainly wasn't what they needed to hear and it did nothing to advance the sales process.

Funny thing was, in a debrief session after the committee left, the presenters were ecstatic. They were convinced we were a "shoo-in" to win the business because the customer was so impressed with our company and enamored with our technological superiority.

But I knew it was going to take every ounce of sales savvy I possessed to get back into the winners circle. In my opinion, it was a presentation of mass destruction. We had blown it in every way possible.

Since that day, my sales presentations have never been the same - and they've been exceptionally successful.

What did I do differently? Or more importantly, what can you do to have a great sales presentation that leads to impressive sales results?

The biggest mistake sellers make is in thinking that a sales presentation is about them. Erroneously they believe the more they can impress a prospective client with their capabilities, technology, high-level degrees and comprehensive portfolio of services - the more likely they'll get the order.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Customers wouldn't take time from their busy schedules if they didn't already believe you could do the job.

What they're really looking for is this:

So how does this affect your sales presentation? Here are seven tips I strongly recommend you embrace to increase your win rate.

1. Do extensive research prior to any presentation.

Make sure you know as much as you possibly can about the company before you make any presentation. Check the internet. Read articles in the business press or trade journals. Review their annual report and what they say about themselves on their website.

Then stop and think ... How can I/our company make a difference in their business. And really think this through in depth because you'll want to include this in your presentation.

2. Start with your understanding of their business.

Explain that you've been doing lots of research to prepare for the meeting. If you're using PowerPoint, the next slides after the agenda should cover:

Be as specific as possible.

3. Create a dialogue.

The best presentations are highly interactive. This means you have to pre-plan how you can get your customers involved in a discussion right from the start. Before you show the slides, tell customers that they're the experts on their business - and that they're input is essential.

After covering the bullet points on the overhead, ask questions such as:

Write these questions on your notes pages so you don't forget to ask them. Make sure you build enough time in your schedule for this dialogue. It shows prospective customers what it would be like to work with you - and helps build your relationship at the same time.

4. Demonstrate your solution.

Show the details of how your company can help only after a good discussion of your understanding of their business. In this portion of the presentation, cover:

5. Offer ideas and insights throughout.

Intersperse your presentations with any ideas and insights that can help this prospective customer improve their business. These need not be totally related to your offering, but the are important since you're demonstrating your commitment to helping your customer be the best they can possibly be.

6. Stand up during your presentation.

Since you already know how to do this, elaboration isn't necessary. However, research shows that customers listen better and remember more if you're standing. Since that's what you want to happen, stand up - don't sit when talking to prospective buyers.

7. Prepare the team thoroughly.

If this is a team presentation, make sure to prep all presenters with your knowledge of the customer, your goals and objectives for the presentation, any areas to avoid - or stress, insights into the different people attending - and what's important to each of them.

Also review each presentation before the actual client meeting. It's always amazed me how marketing and technical people can still go off in their own direction - even after a thorough briefing. They have tons of other work to do and customer presentations are not high on their priority list. As a consequence, they'll want to reuse slides they used when presenting to the sales force or another customer.

Take these suggestions to heart and I guarantee you'll have a great client meeting. You'll impress them with your knowledge of their business and commitment to helping them achieve their goals/objectives. You'll engage them with your interactive style and build the relationship in the process.

And most importantly, you'll differentiate yourself from competitors who are only focused on covering all the excruciating details of their product or service.

On a final note, after the presentation to the big hospital chain, the key decision maker gave me copies of both my competitor's proposals. He wanted help preparing his presentation to the board. My job–to sort through them and highlight our competitive strengths and the other company's weaknesses.

I imagine you can guess who came out on top! I was lucky though. The other two companies did the same old "here's how great we are" presentation as my company did. I never left it up to chance again.

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About the Author

Jill Konrath helps salespeople get their foot in the door and win big contracts in the corporate market. Sign up for her free e-newsletter by sending an email to . You get a free "Sales Call Planning Guide" ($19.95 value) when you subscribe. Contact Jill Konrath at or at (651) 429-1922 to find out how she can help take your sales to the next level.

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