Sales presentations are a major part of most salespeople’s lives, and yet may sales reps struggle with them. They lack confidence, they lack structure, and they end up fudging the whole thing and missing out on opportunities.
We’re here to tell you there is something of a science to putting together a great sales presentation – or, more accurately, an art. It’s all about storytelling. We cover storytelling structure in another of our articles, but for the purposes of this piece it’s worth a quick recap.
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Stories are a great way of communicating because everyone has an understanding of how stories work. We all know, for example, that every story has a beginning, middle and end. Knowing this means that from the beginning we are drawn to anticipate the end. Provided you’re telling the story well, that should mean we are engaged enough to listen out for the typical elements of storytelling: character, setting and an inciting incident.
When it comes to character, everyone wants to follow the story of a character they can identify with. In sales, that’s especially important because we’re not looking for escapism – as customers, we’re looking for solutions to our problems. We want to see characters just like us succeed and we want to know how they’re doing it. Of course, first we want to see them suffer, as we are, so that we know the transformation (buying the product, using the service, etc) is worthwhile. The setting gives the story context. By making it similar to your customer’s setting, you help them see themselves in your story.
The best way to create rich connections is by telling and listening to stories.
One typical way to use storytelling in sales presentations is to relay customer stories to your prospects. It’s an easy way of showing them characters they can identify with in situations they recognise, achieving transformations they aspire to. In our blog on storytelling techniques, we gave this example of how such a story might begin:
Like you, Jill was managing a relatively small marketing team that was producing great content, but she was finding they were getting very little traction among the team of 250+ salespeople spread out across the globe. She believed in the content and she trusted her team, but she wasn’t getting any real feedback from the sales reps – she wasn’t even sure they were using it. It seemed her team were still getting a lot of requests for new materials, which in itself was enough to prompt her to find a better solution, since her department was already stretched and they didn’t have the time to drop everything to create new resources.
From this short opening, we know that Jill is a marketing manager of a small department dealing with a large team of salespeople who are geographically dispersed. We know that she is frustrated by the lack of feedback from sales and stretched to capacity by additional requests for new material. If you’ve chosen the right customer story to share, these identifiers ought to resonate with the prospect you’re in front of. You’ve reeled them in – now you just have to convince them that the change Jill made could also be right for them.
So, here’s the confusing part. Every story has a beginning, middle and an end. But assuming you have about 20 minutes to deliver your sales presentation, it’s more than likely (in fact, it’s advised) that you’re going to be talking about more than a customer story. And yet, your entire sales presentation should also follow a beginning-middle-end structure. Which means you end up with stories within stories. Very meta.
There are two main ways you can handle this. The first is to use one story and spread it out, piecemeal, throughout your sales presentation. The second is to include multiple stories within your sales presentation and use them to underpin your value proposition. We’ll examine both ways in this section, as well as looking at the structure of your sales presentation.
70% of American employees believe giving captivating presentations is a crucial skill for work success
A strong opening is your best chance of engaging your audience’s attention. If you fall flat at this point, it’s an uphill battle to get their attention later on – not to mention a huge blow to your confidence. So what’s the winning formula? Well, we have 5 great ways to open a sales presentation here.
Intrigued? You’ll have to read the full blog for more on those suggestions. But the basic point is that you need to capture their attention from the get-go. So whichever method you choose, make sure it’s right for the audience every time.
If you choose to use one customer story and break it up throughout your presentation, you’re going to need to bring it in at the beginning. Introduce Jill or whoever and give them the time to resonate with your audience.
If you’re going to use multiple stories to demonstrate the benefits of your offering, save them for the middle and start with another tactic.
The middle of your sales presentation is your value proposition. What is the problem your offering solves and how does it do that. This is clearly the bulk of your presentation. When you’re putting this section of your presentation together, forget about features. You might even want to forget about benefits in the conventional sense - too often, benefits aren’t personal enough. They’re too abstract. Use your customer stories to make it specific and always bring it back to emotions. Sure, your photocopier is five times faster than the customer’s existing model and that’s a huge time saving – but how does that make them feel? Using character-based stories helps you to throw in emotional language that might seem out of place without a character to pin it to.
If you’re using one customer story, this is the point where we really get to know Jill and what her business challenge is costing her – emotionally. And then we get to hear how she was able to turn things around thanks to the solution you sold her. This is one of the advantages of using just one story and spreading it out across your presentation: the audience becomes invested in the character’s fate.
If you’re using multiple customer stories, you can use them in this section of the presentation to illustrate all the benefits you describe. Again, make sure you draw attention to the emotional impact of both the business problem and the solution. Words like ‘happy’ or even ‘delighted’ will resonate less than phrases like ‘relieved’ and ‘a load off her mind’, so think carefully about the language you want to use.
Again, we’ve put together a blog post outlining five great ways to close a sales presentation, which you can read for more inspiration. But in terms of storytelling for sales, it’s really important to wrap your story up neatly – this is no time for illusive endings. It’s always worth taking the opportunity to summarise at the end – describe both the problem and the solution, reiterate the benefits and then close with some really good news. If you’re going to use data, this is a good place to throw some in – but be careful how you wield it. Some cultures and some businesses appreciate data and will want to see some, but other people will be turned off by it, so do your best to find a happy medium or tailor to your audience where you can.
If you chose to follow one customer story throughout your presentation, this is where you tell us Jill’s happy ending. What is the emotional outcome of taking up your offering? How has her life improved since making the change?
If you opted to use several customer stories and you have one really good one with outstanding results, that could be a really good way to close your presentation – so long as you bring in the emotional aspect.
However you close, please don’t end with a slide that says ‘Questions?’ You don’t want that to be the customer’s final impression of you. Closing strong means leaving something up on the screen for your customers to chew on as they go about the rest of their day.
What we’ve established so far is that every sales presentation should have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning and end need to make a strong statement: the opening has to reel customers in, and the close has to leave them with something to think about. The middle is where you insert your value proposition – all the (emotional) motivators to make a break from the status quo and benefit from your offering. We’ve said throughout that your presentation should be tailored to your customer – and maybe you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of work – but here’s a little trick that might help you:
Don’t create entire sales presentations. Create segments.
Make openings and middles and closes that fit all your different buyer personas. Store them in your content management system. Piece them together for every customer. Practice linking from one segment to the next so that you still achieve that flow that you have when you design a complete sales presentation.
60% of people find generic sales pitches irritating
The advantage of this technique is that:
If you have a decent content management system (we recommend iPresent!), you can even put together slide decks on the fly - even in front of your customer if you’re feeling brave. It saves a lot of work. But it’s a skill - so practice, practice, practice.
Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.
This is not really the place to expound on the intricacies of successful design, but since we’re talking about creating great sales presentations, we may as well go over a few of the basics. If you want a more visual guide, check out our quick post on Digital design tips to help you focus on the customer.
Stick to a limited colour palette and just a few fonts. It makes it easier to read and helps people focus on the point you’re trying to make rather than the way in which you’re making it. The same goes for negative space. It doesn’t have to be white, but it does need to be clear and unobstructed. There’s a time and a place for video backgrounds; your sales presentation is not it.
When you’re delivering a sales presentation, there may be a temptation to put more or less everything you’re saying down on the slides. Resist. Your customers don’t want to watch you read from a slide deck. Avoid pages of bullet points.
Similarly, a slide is not the place for complex information like graphs or infographics. It’s too hard to digest that information from across the room while someone is talking to you. Redraw graphs and isolate important elements of infographics so that the customer knows exactly what you want them to see.
Less is almost always more. Your slide deck is there to back you up – to stand behind you as a reminder of the central point behind this part of your presentation – not to do the talking for you. If you can’t say/show everything you need to say/show in the course of your presentation – great! There’s your reason to follow up.
No doubt you’ve done a lot of work on building your brand and that includes colours, fonts and visual tone. Make sure these stylistic elements cross over from your website to your sales presentations and other content. Consistent branding is hugely important to building a brand identity and to winning customer trust. Incorporate your logo but don’t overdo it. Your sales presentation is not a rally car. You can afford a little subtlety.
There are a lot of fun and amazing things you can do with PowerPoint these days. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Too many gimmicks, too much animation, weird slide transitions – any and all of these can distract from your presentation and undermine the point you’re trying to make.
At all times, remember that you are telling this story. You are leading the customer on this journey. And at the end of the day the relationship you hope to build is between you and the customer, not the customer and your slide deck. Don’t let the slide show take over.
If you’re choosing based on ease of use and flexibility, we recommend a tablet every day of the week. The UX is intuitive and pretty well ingrained in all of us since we’re all on our smartphones 24/7. It’s adaptable to different presentation situations – whether you’re making an elevator pitch, taking the opportunity for a walk and talk, or standing in front of a roomful of people. And with software like iPresent, you can easily navigate your material with a simple swipe or tap. Present direct from your tablet, share your screen with others, or connect to a big screen and present on stage. Of course, with iPresent you can also easily share content with your customers and sync all that data with the CRM – plus discover which content works best for each situation... But that’s a topic for another day.
Thanks for reading our tips and best practice guide to developing sales presentations! If this was useful to you, please do share it with your friends and colleagues.
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