Sales presentations have a specific setting. Often, the audience is relatively small. Most of the time you would have time to discuss and prepare the meeting in phone calls before hand. Where as in a VC pitch presentation the audience is probably constantly testing for reasons not to invest in you, someone sitting through a sales presentation would actually really want to buy something from you. Here are some observations (in no particular order) to help you design better sales presentations.

A good sales presentation does not always equal a slide deck Some sales meetings can be conducted without PowerPoint at all. An alternative is a meeting sketched out live on a white board. For example, you could run your client live through a calculation of the financial benefits of your product. It will be clear that although there are no PowerPoint slides involved, these type of presentations might actually require more preparation than regular slide shows.

Talk about the customer issue rather than yourself. Pages and pages about the history of your company, how many employees you have, where your offices are located, are all about your, and not about the issue your customer is struggling with. If you are a startup and you need to establish that you are a financially stable company, do so, but in (most) other cases do not bore your audience with talking about yourself.

Listen, listen, listen. Each customer has specific issues, and customers are very keen to explain them to you. Listen carefully in the phone calls leading up to the meeting. Listen in the meeting. Focus your sales presentation exactly on the customer. Look the audience in the eye and see whether you maintain the attention, there is still eye contact. Rigorously sticking to your script even when the customer signals (questions, interruptions, eye movement) she wants to take the discussion in a different direction is a sure recipe for a turn down.

Sell the problem rather than the solution. Showing that you can articulate/understand the customer's problem is much more effective in sales presentations than spending pages and pages on the benefits of your product. Once you have sold the problem, the customer is likely to buy your solution.

People buy on emotion, justify with facts. Pages of pages with quantified facts are in most cases not the swing factor in a buying decision. Rather, the decision to buy a product or service needs to feel right. I can trust this company, I can work with this person, I can identify with this brand. The real buying decision is emotional. Facts and data are for the justification after the decision is made. As such, your sales presentation should provide both. (Thank you Bert Decker for reminding me of this)

Be careful with attacks on the competition. There is always a temptation to lash out at the competition in your sales presentation. Be careful. First of all I suggest never write these things down in slides. Rather, address these issues verbally during your presentation. Secondly, make sure you got your facts right. If a customer is sitting through presentation of multiple suppliers, they might actually have more knowledge about your competitor's offering than you have. Comments without substantiation are an instant loss of credibility.

Avoid generic statements. People have been reading the same jargon of product benefits all over: cost effective, efficient, scalable, reduces churn, good ROI. If you use this language without a specific context or backup, it is highly likely that they will not register in the mind of your customer. Be specific. Use anecdotes. Present unexpected visuals.

Talk value instead of features. A customer sitting through a sales presentation is interested in the value your product or service brings, not in the list of features. Long feature lists are boring to listen to and not relevant for the purchasing decision. Talk value, and point to a detailed page in the appendix with all those great product features.

Show real images. Stock photography is artificial. Beautiful people and perfect settings working together perfectly. Why not show the real face of your company? A picture of the first shift at 6AM in the morning. A picture of the great people in your customer service department in the middle of the night. Your central London store that just recently opened? These are not images of the logo that is stuck to the front door of your head office. These are images of the real people that make up your organization.

Tell your story once. Repetition is not always good. Some sales presentations tell the story on the summary page at the opening, then repeat the story using the slides in the deck, and then wrap up the same story one more time with the final conclusion page. The introduction page of a sales presentation should be a teaser, promising a specific solution to a specific problem your customer has. The body tells the story. The final summary reminds your customer about the solution.

If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam. You can find Jan Schultink on Twitter here.