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The presentation trap

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The presentation trap

Is that presentation really necessary?

Most salespeople are eager to give presentations believing it to be the best way to close the deal. The chance to give a presentation is just that – the chance to tell customers all about the benefits of your product or service so that they simply swoon in anticipation. But the statistics reveal that it’s not presenting well that seals deals; it’s all the hard work that precedes the presentation that does it.


This article lays out the groundwork that needs to be done before your presentation to ensure you get a positive answer.


Let’s start with a typical scenario. You get an enquiry about our product range; you send them a quote and now they are asking you to come along and present to the production manager and other selected staff. Your prospect is really biting!


What does the word “presentation” imply? Yes, that you do all the talking and you tell them your story. Herein lies the trap. Before you give a presentation, check that you have answers to these questions:

  • What is the client’s problem or need?
  • Can you describe their pain?
  • Why is this problem worth solving from their perspective?
  • What results or outcomes does the customer seek?
  • What are the consequences for the prospect if they do not implement any change?
  • Of the various solutions we have available, what is the best fit?
  • What are possible problem areas for implementing my solution?
  • What makes us the right choice?


Be honest, do you ever conduct this analysis before giving a presentation? Most salespeople are eternal optimists and think a powerful presentation will knock people off their feet and win the deal.


In our self talk, we say things like: “The prospect is inviting other ‘important’ people so all key decision makers will be there. Plus they have also asked me to just to bring my flash drive as everything else is available in the boardroom – wow this prospect is hot!”


This kind of thinking is dangerous. It’s naive. Can you see the trap you are setting for yourself?


Why are you really excited about giving this presentation? I’d hazard a guess the reason is because you are in your comfort zone. You feel safe here, in your world of features and benefits. The problem is technical knowledge rarely wins the deal and that’s a sad reality.


Let’s continue the scenario. You arrive on time, wow them with your customised slide show – you even remember to insert their name and logos on the first slide. Job well done or so you think. The attendees file out of the room and some even thank you. Your contact escorts you outside and asks for some time to think over the deal. You drive away thinking the deal is done and dusted; you delivered a killer presentation.


Sorry to jolt you back to reality but you have just joined the queue of other salespeople who have also pitched and are feeling just as optimistic as you.


Don’t get me wrong, your story is important and it must be told well. It may give you the chance to uniquely differentiate yourself from your competitors, but by itself it doesn’t create enough of an advantage to greatly improve your likelihood of winning the deal.


Remember your “dream” prospect has turned up in the boardroom with their own story, their own set of problems and vision of what a better future may look like. If your story isn’t aligned with their story, when they are forced to ­­­­choose they will choose their own story. Your dream prospect has his or her own ideas that may include you, your competitors or neither one of you.


Now imagine if you had done it all differently: Before sending a quote based on the enquiry, you asked to discuss the enquiry over the phone to find out what was creating the issue and what their problem areas are? Based on the integrity of their answers, you can make a decision on whether or not to meet with them. If you decide to go, make it clear this is not a “presentation”, but a fact finding meeting. During your first meeting you can start defining the Rules of the Game.

Create your own rules

If you want to be on the top of the pile you’d better stop playing by the prospect’s rules and take the opportunity to propose your “rules”. Tell your prospect that you are there to see if they have a problem that your company can resolve. Get permission to ask questions about their situation so you can really understand the problem (find the pain) and how it’s negatively impacting on the company. Tell your prospect that you’ll need to discuss budgets and reasons why they would want to bring in someone like yourself. Tell your prospect you’re not there to give a sales presentation because it’s inappropriate so early in the relationship. Finally, tell your prospect that if either one of you determines that there’s not a fit; it is perfectly ok to say “no” and move on.


If you really think hard about it these ground rules are of benefit to both parties. Most salespeople avoid asking these sensitive questions, because it requires guts and courage. Remember you are a professional business person and like all professionals don’t want to waste time with suspects, whose motive is to pump you for information!


Before you fall into the presentation trap confirm these critical points with the prospect:

  • You both agree on the “problem” and the pain it is causing, and you can provide a satisfactory solution.
  • The prospect has to do something – the consequences of doing nothing are serious.
  • The prospect has the necessary resources including budget to solve the problem and is willing to spend those resources.
  • You have access to the decision maker and will make your presentation to her and others she invites. Never make a presentation to someone who can’t approve the deal.
  • The prospect needs to implement a solution in a time frame that makes sense for you from a business standpoint. What is the point if they are looking at the long term say one year from now?


Remember prospects are accustomed to orchestrating their Rules of the Game from start to finish. They are used to being in total control so when you start laying down business rules be persistent as you are treading on new turf here. Re-read the cardinal points above and ask yourself whether they are reasonable for both parties.


The answer is yes, as you are starting a fair business discussion not a typical one-sided salesman’s pitch. Now watch how a new respect from the prospect suddenly develops for you. As a professional salesperson, you have the right to ask these questions and get a commitment. If you cannot reach agreement on these points you are wasting your time, this is not a prospect.


If you reach agreement on each of these points you and your prospect can now decide on a presentation date.


The bottom line is the aim of a presentation is not to present your story, but rather to integrate your story with their story to tell a new story. And this means a lot of groundwork must be done way before you and your prospect agree on a presentation. If this is done properly, the aim of your presentations is to get the green light. Apply these new rules and watch your sales soar. Good luck and happy selling.

Last modified on Monday, 05 November 2012 16:35
Clive Price

Clive Price

Clive is Managing Director of The Peer Group in South Africa and has a BA (Econ) from Wits University and a post graduate degree in Learning Psychology from London University.

The consummate sales maestro, Clive can orchestrate any sales dialogue into a win-win for all.Pushing the boundaries of learning, he has successfully trained thousands of delegates around the world who have all experienced the ‘ka-ching’ factor from his unique brand of training. The naughty chuckle in his eyes is perhaps typical of an entrepreneurial thinker, who has turned the conventional ways of selling upside down.

He has an astute grasp of what it takes to succeed in sales and business and has published many articles including:

Objections Open the Doors

Six Common Sales Blunders

How Buyer’s Seduce Salespeople

Watch Your Sales Soar

Be prepared to be blown away with The Peer Group’s brand of training.


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