The typical sales presentation is pretty recognisable. Slide one is a cover slide. Slide two contains four or five bullet points about the company that’s presenting – size, number of employees, years in business, and possibly offices on a map. The next slide shows the divisions in the company, and perhaps highlights which part of the company we are now looking at. There might be another level of internal detail, showing the main products offered by the division in question. Next comes a product slide, showing a list of key features that may or may not make sense to the uninitiated. Followed by the ubiquitous client logo slide, showing the 20 or so large companies that once did business with the presenter’s company.

We’ve heard this approach defended by so-called presentation “gurus” who claim that presenters need to build credibility before launching into the main part of a presentation, and that attention levels don’t peak until a few minutes into a presentation, and so the start should be padded with mundane material. This is nonsense for a few reasons.

Firstly, in many situations the presenter has credibility to start with – or at least her organisation does. That’s how they got the chance to present in the first place. Not everyone is selling cleaning products door-to-door, and not everyone is pitching their new start-up idea. Some people just don’t need to build credibility – although strangely, often the biggest companies are the most prone to using this technique.

Second, credibility is gained by having something interesting to say, not just by going on about your company in an entirely predictable way.

Third, attention levels don’t follow a path independent of the presenter – they won’t climb to a peak if a presenter pads the start of a presentation with boring information – they will fall rapidly.

The start of a sales presentation should be interesting. That means encouraging reps to stop playing 20 questions, stop talking about the size of their company, and start challenging prospects to see the world in new ways. Explain why something is an important issue, and why current attempts to solve the problem don’t’ work and won’t work.

For example, at BrightCarbon, we talk about the hidden cost of poor sales presentations – not just in terms of lost deals, but in terms of the time wasted by sales people creating slides that aren’t very good, and the time wasted by marketing providing slides that don’t get used by sales. We then go on to explain why simply improving text-based slides won’t give results. By doing this, we start an interesting conversation with prospects – we think – and get them thinking in new ways.

This approach makes prospects receptive to new ideas – particularly if the reason that what they are doing now doesn’t work is put down to a change in the environment in which they operate – and not their own stupidity. Add in an emotional element that makes people really feel the problems that you are talking about – the time they wasted late at night – and you start your sales presentations far more effectively than competitors who are still banging on about the compound annual growth rate in their turnover.

We regularly run masterclasses on how to nail your presentation opening. If you need help writing yours, sign up here. And for more tips on audience engagement, head over here.

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  1. Image of Mark Mark says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I took over as Sales Manager in my former company. We had an amazing software product which sold only 10 in 2 years. When I took over, I discovered the sales slides where boring and full of dung! Company profile, how head of software is Harvard bla bla. I banned all powerpoint slides at once! Coming from software development myself, I insisted all sales presentations should just demonstrate the product straight from a laptop. Result? More thatn 100 sales in less than a year. No. Don’t try to sell me your company, sell me a solution, show me the product!

    1. Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

      Right, although there’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint slides per-se. They are a good way of packaging visual arguments for sales people to use. But if they say the wrong things, in the wrong way – definitely, you are better off without them.

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A big and sincere thanks for all of your superb help and effort in preparing such fantastic material and for all your excellent coaching tips. Look forward to working with you again soon.

Greg Tufnall Siemens