Thinking of making a sales presentation? Don’t!

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The Presentation Trap: Why Making Presentations Can Cost You the Sale

In many conversations with sales professionals, I am often surprised that most get caught in the presentation trap. They spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for a razzle-dazzle presentation and often lose sight of the issues at hand.

The irony is that most of this effort is lost on customers. Presentations that are too early in complex decisions are largely a waste of time.

The advice I share with sales professionals wishing to avoid the Presentation Trap is “Don’t present”.

Conventional salespeople hate to hear this because the presentation is usually the key weapon in their sales’ arsenal. It is their security blanket, their comfort zone, and they loathe giving it up.

1. A presentation is, in essence, a lecture. The salesperson is the talking teacher and the customer is the listening student.

The big problem with teaching by telling is that little information is remembered. People retain only about 30 percent of what they hear. The use of visual aids (e.g., a PowerPoint slide show) boosts retention rates to 40 percent, but the generally accepted rule of thumb among learning experts is that more than half of even the most sophisticated presentation can be lost.

2. A typical sales presentation rarely devotes more than 10 to 20 percent of its focus on the customer and their current situation. Generally, 80 to 90 percent of a typical sales presentation is devoted to describing the seller, its solutions, and the rosy future if you buy.

3. Your competitors are following the same strategy and are busy presenting, as well. Unless you have no competition, your customers will surely hear their story, too

Look at this from the customer’s perspective. Based on what we said about the customer’s area of comprehension, it is highly likely that much of the information that customers hear falls outside their area of comprehension. Further, what they do hear sounds very much the same.

To help you avoid falling victim to the Presentation Trap, ask yourself these five critical questions:

1. What percentage of your sales presentation/proposal is devoted to describing your company and your solution?

2. What percentage of your sales presentation/proposal is devoted to describing your customer’s business, their problems and objectives?

3. How well do your customers understand their own problems?

4. How much of your presentation is focused on persuading and convincing?

5. How well can your customers connect your solutions to their business situation?

How do customers then respond to competing conventional presentations? From my experience, customers respond to presentations in several key ways. First, they concentrate their efforts on the information that falls inside their area of comprehension. Second, customers may also respond by not responding. They listen politely as you “educate” them, thank you for your time, and promise to get back in touch when they are ready to make a decision.

Finally, some customers may actively respond. They may ask you to justify the information you have presented or challenge the viability of your solution. This is the response that every conventional salesperson is expecting. The customer objects and the sales professional goes to work overcoming those objections. When this happens it is apparent that there has been a disconnect along the way and back-pedalling is often the only way out.

The advice I share with sales professionals wishing to avoid the Presentation Trap is “Don’t present”.

Instead, use a diagnostic approach – simply stated, conduct a thorough diagnosis to uncover problems and expand the customer’s awareness of their situation. Once the problem is clearly understood and the customer perceives all the ramifications of that problem, the salesperson is justified in making recommendations, and a presentation will not be necessary.

When you guide your customers through this process, you will be establishing a high level of credibility and find yourself jointly developing optimal solutions, which will ultimately benefit both you and your customers.

By Jeff Thull, CEO of Prime Resource Group

Jeff Thull is a leading-edge strategist and valued advisor for executive teams of major companies worldwide. He is President and CEO of Prime Resource Group.

He is the author of the best-selling books Mastering the Complex Sale, The Prime Solution and Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales. Jeff Thull is also a columnist with and his articles are published in hundreds of business and trade publications.

For more information contact: Prime Resource Group,

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Published On: 7th Sep 2007

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