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?

Leave a comment
Written by

Joby Blume


View Joby Blume's profile

Related articles

Jul 2024

Sales presentations are the cornerstone of many companies’ sales efforts, yet so often they aren’t given the time and attention they deserve. Thrown together at the last-minute, often your sales reps stand up in front of a sales presentation that's nothing more than a glorified page of notes. Read this article for everything you need to make the ultimate sales presentation.

Jul 2024

Sales presentations are important, but 1000s of people each day ignore the principles of sales presentation design and sales messaging and deliver material that is tired, ugly, and ineffective. These sales presentation ideas will help you to easily improve your sales presentation; stand out, engage your audience, and sell more.

Jul 2024

We exhibited at a large trade exhibition a couple of weeks ago, and I went along to see what other vendors are up to. A lot of exhibitions are a desolate wasteland for exhibitors with nothing but tumbleweed and other vendors to stop the boredom. This show was actually pretty busy though, and by walking around l think I managed to notice things companies were doing (right and wrong). Some of these observations are surprisingly apt for sales presentations too...

  1. Image of Fernando HelenoFernando Fernando HelenoFernando says:

    Hi, Very interesting Post. We are a translation company and we are eager to find anything new. Thank you.

  2. Image of Rejinald Agustino Dafi Rejinald Agustino Dafi says:

    Good meaning of sales presentation I want more definitions

  3. Image of Joe Pops Joe Pops says:

    Sales presentations are a structured communication tool used to influence a purchase decision. They contain two main components: a spoken narrative, given by the presenter or presentation team, and the supporting visuals.

Leave a Reply

Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

Tell me more!

As we were novice and non-marketing professionals, everyone took the time to explain and teach while also doing, which came in handy to feel more comfortable with what we were creating.

Marc Chaanine Jamaica Bearings