A presentation is a talk in which a ‘product, idea, or piece of work is shown and explained to the audience’ (Oxford English Dictionary), often including a ‘verbal report presented with illustrative material such as slides, graphs, etc.’ (Collins Dictionary). So, how can we define the related term ‘sales presentation’?
There are a few popular definitions (in virtue of where they are) out there that I think we can quickly reject. Wikipedia (and so Google) defines a sales presentation as:
A line of talk that attempts to persuade someone or something, with a planned sales presentation strategy of a product or service designed to initiate and close a sale of the product or service.
I’m fairly sure the first rule of definitions is that they can’t be tautologies (circular), so the use of ‘sales presentation’ in the definition is a problem. Does a sales presentation need to be planned? Maybe not. Does it need to be designed to ‘initiate and close a sale’ – maybe not – it could sit in the middle of a sales process, and be designed simply to advance the sale to the next stage. Would a telephone call count? By this definition, it might.
The Business Dictionary gives its definition of sales presentation as:
Formal and pre-arranged meeting, usually at a customer’s place (or at a neutral premises, such as a hotel) where a salesperson or a sales team presents detailed information (often including live demonstration) about a product or product-line.
I think there’s plenty to dislike here. ‘Formal and pre-arranged’ – maybe, but not necessarily. Location is probably irrelevant for the definition – a sales presentation could happen anywhere. Even ‘about a product or product-line’ unnecessarily excludes presentations about services or service-lines.
The best definition of sales presentation I could find online was from the Cambridge Dictionary:
A talk giving information about a product or service that you are trying to sell, intended to persuade people to buy it.
There is one small issue with this definition – but I think it’s closer to the mark. As per the Collins dictionary above, a presentation contains illustrative material – otherwise it’s just a speech or a talk or simply a conversation. As a minor point, it could be that the phrase ‘giving information’ is superfluous – the definition works just as well without it.
I think the narrow focus in the Cambridge Dictionary definition on a commercial transaction – ‘trying to sell’ … ‘persuade people to buy it’ – is probably correct. Many presentations attempt to persuade people about ideas, or how to vote, or religion. These presentations are similar to sales presentations, but my sense is that they aren’t sales presentations. A TED Talk may well want to persuade the audience to change the world, change themselves – but I don’t think that makes it a sales presentation in the way that people typically understand the term, because we aren’t selling in the commercial sense.
It’s worth noting that the Cambridge Dictionary definition doesn’t specify that the people you are persuading to buy your product or service are actually those you are presenting to. This is important because often sales presentations are mediated through the press – consider gadget launches for the most obvious example. I think these launches are a type of sales presentation, although the people being persuaded to buy aren’t in the audience, but at home.
Trying to refine our definition becomes more difficult when we consider investor presentations. Are we selling something? Yes – a stake in a company or other investment vehicle. Do we typically consider an investor presentation to be a sales presentation? Your sense may be different, but I think not. It’s something else – because we aren’t selling a product or service, but an investment opportunity.
So, based on all of the above, I think our sales presentation definition should be as follows:
A talk promoting to an audience a product or service that you are trying to sell, including illustrative material such as slides, graphs, etc.
I originally had the phrase ‘intended to persuade people to buy the product or service’ in the middle of the definition, but removed it because it was superfluous, as ‘promoting’ and ‘trying to sell’ already said the same thing. What do you think?