Sales presentations don’t exist in a vacuum. They are delivered as part of sales meetings. What’s an effective agenda for a sales meeting? When does it make sense to present? Is there a one-size-fits-all answer, or do things change as we move through the sales cycle?

Sales meeting disaster

A few years ago I went with an ex-colleague from my last employer (who subsequently went bust) to a sales meeting with an investment bank in London. We had been invited to present for 30 minutes, with 30 minutes for Q&A. The decision maker was the SVP Marketing, a woman who seemed as efficient as she was successful. On the meeting room walls were museum-quality artworks. We were talking about a very big project.

My then-colleague took charge – it was “his” meeting. He opened his laptop, hit F5, and started to present – barely a minute into the meeting. After the hour was up, he was still going with an extended capabilities pitch. No matter that the prospect had asked for something very specific that wasn’t being addressed. No matter that there was supposed to be an agenda for the sales meeting…

The marketing team around the table started to fidget, to become uncomfortable. I started to become uncomfortable. Eventually, after an hour of monologue, they pretty much threw us out.

“Show up and throw up”

It doesn’t make sense to waste an opportunity by just presenting a canned presentation to a prospect regardless of their situation. Any so-called “presentation guru” prepared to “show up and throw up” with their PowerPoint deck is giving bad advice. Of course you have key sales messages you want on the meeting agenda – but that agenda needs to have some relation to the prospect’s interests. Not every prospect is interested in the same elements of your offering – unless you only sell one thing, and there are only one or two reasons anyone might buy it.

Have you heard the old Talmudic advice about having two ears and one mouth (so listen more)? That’s a reason to think in terms of structuring a sales meeting properly – with room for conversation – and not seeing the presentation as the only part of the meeting.

Sales meeting agendas change

There’s no single way to structure a sales meeting; as you move through the sales cycle, different things are required. At the very first meeting, you are likely to be fact-finding, exploring whether or not your company’s solutions are a good fit for the prospect, and discovering what challenges they feel most urgently. At a best-and-final pitch presentation, you may be responding to an entirely prescriptive meeting agenda, with scoring on how well you answer certain questions.

Going in to any sales meeting with the exact same agenda (say hello, open laptop, present everything in credentials presentation, stop) is a recipe for failure. It might work sometimes (so do bullet-point pitches, sometimes), but that doesn’t make it right.

Set and share the agenda

Many sales people fail to set an agenda for a sales meeting. This is a mistake. Sharing an agenda for your sales meeting helps the prospect know you are professional, makes them aware you will respect their time, allows you to take some sort of control of the sales process, sets you apart as being clear in your communication, and let’s the buyer know what you expect from them.

First sales meeting agenda

  1. Introductions and rapport-building
  2. Share the agenda (if you haven’t done this in advance)
  3. Introduction on challenges companies like the prospect’s face, and why attempts to solve them haven’t worked. This should take around five minutes (ten minutes at the absolute maximum), and is the educational ‘challenger’ part of the meeting
  4. Probing questions – to find out which part of your description resonated with the prospect, and what particular challenges are significant for them
  5. Visual Conversation – talk to the prospect about their answers; when appropriate use short slide sequences about your solution and capabilities, and how they can help solve the challenges that are significant for the prospect. This visual sales conversation ought to allow you to talk and listen – in roughly equal proportion. Explore how good a fit your offering is for the prospect. Objections will emerge as part of this sales conversation, and need to be handled, using visuals if appropriate.
  6. Define and schedule next steps.

Second sales meeting agenda

  1. Introductions and rapport-building
  2. Share the agenda (if you haven’t done this in advance)
  3. Five minute introduction on prospect’s challenges and why attempts to solve them haven’t worked (‘challenger’ education)
  4. Check summary of situation is correct, explore implications. In this way, the presentation can’t be a monologue as there’s a pause for discussion after the introduction has been delivered
  5. Sales presentation, to cover what characteristics a solution would need to have, and your company’s own value proposition. The value proposition and solution will clearly and demonstrably ‘solve’ the challenges the prospect has admitted to having
  6. Questions and answers
  7. Trial close and objection handling
  8. Close, define and schedule next steps.

Prescribed agenda

Because pitch presentations are often scored to assess how well you do against each question, ignoring the prescribed agenda to deliver the presentation you want to give can be risky. But simply following the agenda slavishly is risky too though. It stops you from differentiating, and hides the key advantages you offer. In general, the amount of time for presentation and discussion is fixed (or at least recommended) by the prospect – and it makes sense to stick with this. Where questions are asked, it makes sense to answer them and make it clear that you are answering them. What usually works well is to use your value proposition for presentation structure, and map this to the questions so that answering questions and selling happen alongside each other.

More information

For a more detailed look at setting sales meeting agendas, consider Mike Weinberg’s excellent New Sales. SimplifiedChapter 10 suggests good questions to ask during each section of a first meeting.

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Joby Blume

Director

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  1. Image of Dr. Christopher Croner Dr. Christopher Croner says:

    Thank you for sharing this interesting insight into agenda setting for sales meetings. Although agendas are definitely a must for keeping things organized, effective, and on-time, it is important to remain flexible as well. In addition, allowing for open discussion can really encourage a positive environment that all sales reps can take something from. This flexibility can often lead to the most successful meetings, despite going off agenda.

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