Insight: The Presentation Trap
Why Making a Presentation Can Cost The Sale
by Bill Simmel

November 26th, 2008   •   Comments Off on Insight: The Presentation Trap
Why Making a Presentation Can Cost The Sale
by Bill Simmel
Insight: The Presentation Trap<BR>Why Making  a Presentation Can Cost The Sale<BR>by Bill Simmel

In my many conversations with sales professionals and in my Sales Training Seminars, I am often surprised that even the most sophisticated professionals get caught in the presentation trap. THEY SIMPLY LOVE PRESENTATIONS (and with apologies to Microsoft PowerPoint, they don’t leave home without it. Why, why, why?

They spend an inordinate amount of time and energies preparing for a razzle-dazzle presentation, and often lose sight of the primary issues at hand. As is always highlighted in Bill Simmel s Sales Training Sessions . . .

. . .everything salespeople do before the sales call — the prospecting, contacting and qualifying of potential customers—seems to be aimed at one thing – creating the opportunity to present their solutions of what they can fix BEFORE they know what is broken!!. “Getting in the door, and getting out the bag of solutions and presenting all of them until something fits”. . .Everything including overcoming objections, negotiations and even pricing is designed with one purpose  supporting and reiterate the presentation just made. Consequently, sales personnel, including management devote a tremendous amount of time, energies and resources to creating compelling presentations and proposals. They view success asgetting the opportunity to present. . .the true goal is lost . . . getting the relationship. Does the end justify the means or means justify the end. In selling -the end quantified is all that matters.

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. Conventional salespeople, sales manager, and corporate types 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 loath giving it up. They seem to be on a mission to relentlessly educate the customer because, after all, we cannot sell them what they don’t understand. We lose another fact customers want to buy not be sold. Their perception of you, your company, your products and your competitors formulate their decision. A Presentation so formulated to your needs, simply forgets theirs!

Exactly right—customers will not buy what they don’t understand. A presentation can take customers to a higher level of understanding, but it is one of the least effective methods for accomplishing that goal. That’s because a presentation—even one that includes advanced multimedia elements—is, in its 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.

A typical sales presentation rarely devotes more than 10 percent to 20 percent of its focus on the customer and their current situation. Generally, 80 percent to 90 percent of a typical sales presentation is devoted to describing the seller, its solutions, and the rosy future if you buy. Therefore, while a presentation may raise the customer’s level of understanding, that gain is usually centered on the solution being offered. All too often, salespeople are dealing with customers who are not sure of the exact nature of their problems, how your products and services impact other areas of their business, who would be concerned about it, and what the cost is in the absence of it. Nevertheless, those salespeople are spending most of their focusing on the solution and not its implications in the customer’s business. As a result, while customers may be greatly impressed with the offering being presented, they still lack a compelling understanding of how it applies to their situation, and they don’t know why they should buy it.

The third compelling reason that presentations are a waste of time in complex sales is: 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. They have meetings set up with you and one, two, or even more of your competitors. In each meeting, a sales team is presenting the best side of its solutions. Your team is telling the customers that they need the solutions that only your company offers, and your competitors are making the same arguments about their solutions. In every case, the presentations are heavily skewed toward the seller and the solutions.

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 two-thirds or more of the information that customers hear falls outside their area of comprehension. Further, what they do hear sounds very much the same. What does the customer understand? Price. As you may already expect, everyone is now starting their downward spiral to commoditizationthe natural outcome of presenting too much, too soon and too often.

To help you avoid falling victim to the Presentation Trap, ask yourself these Six Critical Questions:

  • What percentage of your sales presentation/proposal is devoted to describing your company and your solutions?
  • What percentage of your sales presentation/proposal is devoted to describing your customer’s business, their problems and objectives?
  • How well do customers understand their own problems?
  • How much of your presentation is focused on persuading and convincing?
  • How well can your customers connect your solutions to their business situation?
  • How do customers then respond to competing conventional presentations.

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 peddling is often the only way out.

Ultimately, sales presentations exacerbate communications between buyers and sellers, leading to frustration, misunderstandings, conflict, and adversarial relationships—all of which impede the salesperson’s ability to create cooperative and trust-based relationships with customers.

The advice I share with sales professionals who want 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, then 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 finding yourself jointly developing optimal solutions, which will ultimately benefit both you and your customers.

Bill Simmel

Look for our upcoming article –” Leave Your Power Point in the Office”; even better yet schedule a selling tune-up!  Bill Simmel will suggest the most effective means to leave the laptops in the office and get the customer thinking about you and your  company’s Unique Value Proposition.


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