Effective Sales Presentations: Advancing the Sales Cycle

Effective Sales

Taking inventory

Before you begin creating a presentation, take inventory of the information you will need to get started. This will serve as a checklist to ensure that you and your team are staying on course and creating a presentation that will hit the mark. Engage your sales representatives in creating this list—they typically know which messages resonate best with different prospects. They can also provide input as to how they intend to use the presentation and what tactics and content have (and have not) worked in the past.

  • Identify the target audience and its business issues
  • Determine the goal of the presentation and its role in the sales process (e.g., to generate interest in learning more about your product or service, or to gain introduction to the decision-maker?)
  • Determine the level of detail appropriate for the audience
  • List key messages for the solution (e.g., value proposition and key differentiators)
  • Enlist appropriate reviewers (e.g., Sales, Marketing, and pre-sales technical engineering personnel) to ensure full content accuracy as well as help establish interdepartmental “buy-in”


Think outside the PowerPoint slide

Many presentation writers try to brainstorm the story they want to tell while using Microsoft® PowerPoint®. But crafting a story when you are limited to bulleted concepts can be difficult. Instead, try writing out the story you would like to tell. (You can leverage this to create speaker notes—more on this later.) By formally capturing your thoughts in a written document, you can craft your story more quickly and easily. Key reviewers may find it easier to provide critical feedback on your “story” as well.

For example, the following is a sample guide for an IT-industry presentation that can help you outline an overall concept and define what content needs to be included. An outline also helps the presentation team members consider “branch slides” that can help address a specific industry or audience member (e.g., a CFO).


# Slide Title Key Elements and Messages Possible Branch Slide Sets
0 Title Slide (Self-explanatory)
1 Agenda Summary of content to be covered
2 Key Trends If applicable, describe key industry or business trends in order to provide a context for the business problems/customer pain points described in the next slide. Vertical audiences: branches that drill down on industry-specific trends
3 Business Challenges/
Pain Points
List the pains/challenges facing businesses/employees that do not have the particular solution being offered. The goal is to help the audience identify personally and feel the “pains” as their own. Vertical audiences: branches that drill down on industry-specific pain points
4 Understanding the Problem Elaborate on the complexity of the problem and how existing processes, workflows, customer demands, etc. require a new approach to the particular business area. Line-of-Business (L.O.B) audiences: branches that drill down on business problems to be solved, for example, for a VP of Sales or CEO
5 The Answer:
Your Solution
Introduce your solution by providing a high-level introduction that answers the questions, “What is it? Why should we spend our limited budget on it? What is the real value?” If possible, graphically illustrate the solution and how it provides business value (show rather than tell). IT audience: a branch that discusses the larger IT environment that this particular solution requires
6 Key Capabilities and Business Value Prove the business value by explaining how the solution provides a capability or benefit that solves one or more of the business challenges listed previously. Industry audiences: include branches with industry-specific benefits that demonstrate a deep understanding of the industry-specific pain points and how the solution addresses them
7 ROI/Business Case Summarize the business case for the solution by providing benefits backed up with ROI data (dollar amounts or percentages regarding cost savings, increased productivity, reduced downtime, etc.). Expand the business case with branches that may include:

CXO audience: Slides that elaborate on how the solution impacts both the top and bottom line through “hard” and “soft” returns (reduce costs, increase revenues)

Industry-specific audiences: industry-specific ROI data, if available

8 Customer Success Story Describe a powerful customer success story with ROI data, if available. Industry audiences: branches of industry-specific success stories.

L.O.B audiences: branches with L.O.B.-specific success stories

9 Next Steps What is the call to action? Depending on the audience, the next step may be to seek an introduction to the decision maker or to show a demo of your solution to the technical group.


Keep it focused…on the customer

In today’s business world, your audience probably already has researched your company and its products on your website. So if prospects invite your sales representative to their offices, they really want to know how your solution will solve their business issues and pain points. The prospects must be convinced that you understand the business obstacles they are trying to overcome. This fact alone may mean you need to create more than one presentation for a specific product or solution, perhaps focused by industry or by audience type (e.g., the budget owner wants to hear different points than the implementer of the solution).

The following table of typical stakeholders across a company can help you consider the presentations that you may need to create for different audiences. (This list is oriented toward IT presentations, but stakeholder profiles are typically similar from company to company.)


Stakeholder Profile Characteristics
Initiator Has identified the problem areas to address and has asked staff to identify possible solutions.
User Will be the one to actually implement/use the solution. Concerned about ease of use and support.
Influencer Will likely define technical specifications and provide information for evaluating options. Wants to understand the technical underpinnings of the solution and how it fits into the overall enterprise architecture.
Decision maker The one to make the final recommendation to the approver. Ultimately responsible for ownership of the solution, including implementation, integration, internal support, and tracking ROI.
Buyer Controls finances. May question price, ROI, TCO.
Approver Top management with final budget authority. Needs to be convinced the solution is the best option for the money.


Plan for customization

Experienced marketers know that their sales representatives will customize presentations to fit their prospects’ needs. This behavior should be encouraged, not discouraged. After all, your sales representatives will be most successful if they have done their homework to understand the unique business pains facing their prospects and how your company’s solution can address those issues. The salesperson may not be presenting to an individual or group for the first time, and therefore, may have to tailor the content to cover only the most relevant information. After all, nothing loses an audience more quickly than covering stale material.

While you must be willing to relinquish some control over how and precisely what your sales team presents, your role is to provide the foundation for a logically flowing, compelling presentation that adheres to corporate standards for messaging, language, and design. One way to maintain

some content control is to include an appendix with branch slides suitable for various industries and company sizes, etc. For instance, survey the sales force during presentation development to learn which success stories would be most useful and include those as extra slides for use as needed. By providing easy-to-use, ready-made slides, you know your salespeople can customize the presentation to meet their needs without compromising the standards of the material.


Balance brevity with useful detail and illustrations

For better or for worse, bulleted lists tend to be the dominant form factor in PowerPoint. The advantage of bullet points is that they prevent overzealous authors from trying to convey every bit of information about your company. Bulleted lists present a concise summary of your message and can be easily read by those listening to the presenter. The presenter expands on points where necessary, which can often only be determined by “reading” the audience. To ensure that the bullet points are read, make sure they convey valuable information and are not reduced to industry jargon and sound bites.

Similarly, do not try to fit every piece of information about a point onto the slide. Leaving something for the speaker’s notes ensures that the audience will listen to the presenter and keeps the amount of screen-cluttering text to a minimum. At the same time, your content should be memorable and meaningful to the prospect. Remember that people grasp pictures more quickly than words. Visually illustrate your points whenever possible with a graph or image and choose visuals that help to further the audience’s comprehension of your points.


Mastering organization

Although a story is not compelling if it does not flow properly, determining the optimal flow of a story is difficult until all the parts have been recorded. Even best-selling authors rarely establish the flow without many rounds of reorganizing. So, after you have created your first draft and walked through a practice run, shift the content around until the flow feels natural and the presentation tells a compelling story. If you have backed up your key points with persuasive supporting content, such as industry statistics, analyst quotes, or customer testimonials, you are likely to see a positive response to your presentation.

Your sales representative may choose to present only portions of the presentation. For that reason, “modularize” the presentation into discrete sections that make sense on their own. Ensure the presentation flow is strong regardless of which or how many modules are skipped.


What goes into speaker notes?

As the marketing guru, you need to provide scripted speaker notes so the presenter has detailed information about each of the points on the screen. And since you started the creation process by capturing your presentation in story form, you can now lift from that document to build your speaker’s notes.

While some presenters may add a personal twist to the story, the story should essentially remain the same—by providing speaker notes, you can ensure a basic level of messaging consistency. Have faith in your salespeople—in many cases, they do not require a narrative script as much as clear, concise talking points presented in a logical order.


Test and revise

Finally, make sure you test the presentation with a few salespeople (both senior and junior). As part of this testing, you should see how well the presentation works when skipping certain sections. Obtain feedback and revise the presentation appropriately. Nothing ruffles the feathers of the sales team more than being handed a sales tool that doesn’t meet their needs—especially when they are sitting down the hall from you and are often eager to provide input into the development of these tools.

No sales presentation will be successful without aligning your sales and marketing organizations. With such goal-oriented cooperation in place, you can help your sales representatives succeed by providing them with a customer-centric message that clearly explains how your solution solves the prospect’s business issues. Ultimately, by managing the messages in your company’s sales presentations, you can increase the effectiveness of your sales team’s communications and help shorten the sales cycle.


Learn more about effective sales support at Pragmatic Institute’s Market.

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  • Stephanie Tilton has been immersed in the world of marketing for over 17 years, in roles as diverse as product marketing manager, competitive analyst, and marketing communications manager. Harnessing her unique blend of technical knowledge, marketing savvy, and writing skills, she has crafted winning communications for leading brands such as Akamai Technologies, EMC, Macromedia, Novell, SAP, and Symantec. Contact Stephanie directly at stilton@tentonmarketing.com or visit www.tentonmarketing.com

Stephanie Tilton

Stephanie Tilton

Stephanie Tilton has been immersed in the world of marketing for over 17 years, in roles as diverse as product marketing manager, competitive analyst, and marketing communications manager. Harnessing her unique blend of technical knowledge, marketing savvy, and writing skills, she has crafted winning communications for leading brands such as Akamai Technologies, EMC, Macromedia, Novell, SAP, and Symantec. Contact Stephanie directly at stilton@tentonmarketing.com or visit www.tentonmarketing.com

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