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Sales presentation

Dressing down the story

Dressing down the story

In many pitch presentations, I work hard to lift a story to its true potential. Show the bigger picture, put things in a historical context of where humanity is going, visualise the - dreaded word - vision.

In some presentations the opposite is required. The audience will get the dream, but will wonder whether any of this stuff is actually real, or happening within the next 2 years or so, because it all sounds too good to be true, or too expensive, or too science fiction.

Thinking about your audience before you start designing is a cliche from communication trainings. Maybe make it a bit more practical and try to imagine what stereotype people would assign to you after they see/hear you speak for 1 minute.


Image from WikiPedia

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"Ooff, but we answered you already"

"Ooff, but we answered you already"

Often, when I start a presentation design project, I find that the real message of a pitch is buried.

  1. Buried under buzzwords and jargon that make the pitch sound the same as any other presentation out there
  2. Buried under "short cuts": this is a bigger problem. Over time, the company has developed an internal proprietary language where certain key terms summarise the entire concept behind the company. The insiders understand it perfectly, to an outsider it sounds meaningless.

As a result, I tend to get back to the same questions in a briefing meeting. "Why are you different again? What is the difference between your product and the one that company is offering?" My first version of a slide deck often contains deliberately blunt charts that force the client to react and correct a positioning that I think I understood (sort of).

Some people in the room fear that they hired the wrong presentation designer, who keeps on asking the same ignorant questions. Most of the time, I manage to convince them by the time my final product is delivered.


Image on Flickr by Nic McPhee

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Beyond the presentation

Beyond the presentation

The investor or sales presentation is not the only thing your audience will check out:

  • Do you have a proper email address or are you still using your gmail?
  • Is your LinkedIn profile consistent with the claims in the presentation?
  • Does your web site have the latest company logo and is free from cheesy stock photos?

If you do not have much to share with the public yet on your web site (you don't have any customers yet, your product is not finished, etc.) it is often better to keep things brief (Coming soon, we are working on [...]) in a really crips and professional look, than padding the page with marketing buzzwords and claiming that your are a Fortune500-like company with 20 offices, delivering flexible and scalable ROI to 100s of clients around the world.


Image from WikiPedia

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The real competition

The real competition

As a CEO you are paranoid with competitors who are doing things that are very similar to what you are trying to do. But that is usually not the competitive differentiation you need to emphasise in a sales presentation, especially if you are a tiny startup.

The real challenge will often be to get the client to break away from her current practice. Either a big established product, or maybe she is not investing at all in the sort of solutions you are trying to offer.

In my case as the CEO of presentation app SlideMagic, I could pitch it against other new and small presentation solutions that are out there in the market. But that is not the choice people need to make. I even would not consider PowerPoint to be my competitor for a feature-by-feature comparison. I am competing against the inefficient approach to presentation creation and delivery in corporations. And that is a real challenge :-) 


Art: The Chess Players, by Thomas Eakins

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Talking is the best briefing

Talking is the best briefing

A story line skeleton is hardly ever the best briefing for a presentation. It is useful for an analyst who has the fill in the missing pieces of data, not to convey a powerful sales or investor message.

The better approach is to set back and talk things over, that's when big ideas come out.


Image from WikiPedia

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Sales versus investor presentations

Sales versus investor presentations

CEOs are used to doing the company's product sales pitch. When they look for investors or acquirers for their company, it is temping to just press play and do that same sales pitch again. But they can be very different stories.

An investor needs to hear the sales pitch. It makes her believe that the company makes products that people want to buy. Also, it shows that the company CEO is actually good at selling (or not). But investors needs more: strategy, financials, margins, funding requirements, and a more explicit comparison versus the competition than you would put in the sales deck.

Potential acquirers might not be interested at all in the sales pitch. Maybe they are considering to buy the company for a very specific asset they need. (Technology, people, distribution). Acquirers need a very specific, tailored presentation. To make it, you need to put yourself in their shoes and resist the temptation to hit "play" and run the sales pitch.


Image from WikiPedia

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Video briefing

Video briefing

You know how to give that perfect sales presentation, but do you sales reps in the field as well? Probably not. One way to get them to say the right things is write the messages down in bullet points that can be read of the screen. But that does not create the most engaging presentation for your potential customers.

A better approach might be to record yourself delivering the presentation on video and share that with people in the field.

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"It takes too much time to get to the solution"

"It takes too much time to get to the solution"

Clients say they get this feedback after giving a pitch. The initial reaction to this would be:

  • Cut slides from the deck
  • Take the specifics out of your text, make it shorter and more high level
  • Combine multiple slides into one

The danger of this is that you end up with a few slides of highly generic and dense bullet points.  Remember:

  • Slide count does not equal time spent presenting them
  • Smacking someone with the solution in their face instantly takes away the opportunity to lead them by the hand in an interesting story that covers the problem you are trying to solve.
  • The best way to sell the solution is to sell the problem

Here is what I do:

  • Create a super short intro slide that explains the audience what you solve and what you do. So they can stop guessing about the point you are trying to get to.
  • Now, lead people through a sequence of visual slides that highlight the problem, slowing down sufficiently to make sure that the audience "feels" the issue. "Production cost is too high" is too generic. Why is it so expensive, and why could no one do it cheaper until today?
  • Then, present your solution and use the framework of the problem you set up in the previous section to mirror your product against markets that are out there in the market today

Image by David Felstead on Flickr

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Conference booth slides

Conference booth slides

Presentations that run in conference booths have a few special requirements

  • Smaller screens, probably a 16:9 aspect ratio. One set of people will stand close to watch it, the other will see the screens far in the distance. The screens become part of the overall branding of the booth. For the latter group, it is important the the graphical look & feel of your company pops out. Not through the use of big logos, but by applying the corporate colours boldly.
  • Viewers are unlikely to watch through the whole thing, but rather look at a slide here and there out of context. There is no one nearby to explain, each slide needs to stand on its own. This calls fro big bold visuals, with a clear headline that spells out the message of the slide.
  • Go for a relatively slow page rotation. If you are focused in the office, the presentation might run very slow, you have read the slide 10 times over before it goes on to the next one. In a conference booth, especially with more screens, things can start to look ver nervous when each screen is moving quickly. 
  • Related to this. If you keep the differences between the layout of the slides similar, the page transitions will look less dramatic, creating a calmer overall feel of the presentation

Art: Pieter Aertsen, Market Stall, 1569

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Why many vendors find it hard to sell to the "C-suite"

Why many vendors find it hard to sell to the "C-suite"

Many of my high tech clients hire me to design a product presentation that gets them higher up in the client organisation, the so called C-suite (CEO, CTO, CFO, etc.). The IT department buys features and equipment in a tight budget, the CEO can spend more money on what she sees as strategic priorities for the company.

The approach that vendors typically take is to frankenstein "business benefits" slides to the existing technical slide deck.

  • Market research slides that show the ever growing bytes of Internet traffic
  • 10-line quotes of customers who feel more flexible now
  • An Excel spreadsheet that shows how one custom managed to save $42,345.87 in 2013
  • A list of recent technology buzzwords (cloud, flexible, scalable, ROI)

I usually try to go for a different approach. Start with a blank sheet of paper. Trash the traditional system architecture charts. Cut the "business benefits" slides. Instead, I create a presentation that explains why this particular IT problem is so hard to crack, and how clever the client solution is.

The result is a presentation that looks "simple" to techies. "Simple" does not mean "simplistic". It just does not use the complex looking visual language that engineers have gotten used to since graduating form university: network diagrams and acronyms.  Two engineers can communicate using these slides, but the content that is transferred actually has little to do with the network diagram on the slide. If you are not an engineer, you don't get it. And as a result, most of the C-suite will not get it and send you back down stairs to IT.

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Keep the CEO in the loop

Keep the CEO in the loop

Investor presentations usually start with the CFO (who naturally puts a finance spin on the story), then the Marketing Director adds product positioning, the Sales Director puts in a highly detailed benefit analysis: the result 3 presentations.

Why is it so important to have the CEO involved early in the process? She is the only one who has a view on the story that cuts across finance, marketing, sales. An equity investor audience is different from a client, is different from a tech conference, is different from a traditional bank that provides loans. More importantly, she is likely to have to make the pitch herself, and so she better is in sync with the slides.

You cannot delegate the investor pitch design, or give the super high level input "you know the story, pitch that we are more flexible". Time to roll up the sleeves.


Art: Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1876

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How to present pros and cons

How to present pros and cons

A question came in on Twitter the other day:

My answer is: a simple table, like this one I prepared quickly in my presentation app SlideMagic (you can clone it to your own SlideMagic account in the presentation template file that contains on the slides I have used on this blog).

The difference between a good pro/con slide and a bad one is not the design in itself, it is how your present the argument. A presentation slide is a tool to get a decision, it is not a laundry list of pros and cons that you evaluated in your analysis. Put your analysis aside, and design from a blank sheet of paper:

  • Group similar arguments together, if an argument is sort of the same, combine them
  • Sort the rows in the table in such a way that things visually line up. For example you start with rows where both options are "good" (all blues), then do the "OK/good"s, then the "OK/OK"s. etc.
  • Isolated and focus those arguments that are going to drive the decision and/or are controversial. "Option 1 is cheaper, option 2 is faster but the what will make the difference is whether we think [criterion 3] is important.
  • Cut words rigorously until you have a page that is still meaningful but does not look cluttered.

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The impatient audience

The impatient audience

When I am reading I switch in different modes:

  • Losing yourself in a novel and forgetting the time
  • Digging through an article to find the acquisition price that was paid for a company
  • After having failed to resist the click bait title, looking for the answer to the question it raised
  • Absorbing every background aspect of the making of a certain music album

"Newspaper" journalists often get this wrong. They think they are writing for a person sipping a glass of wine and sitting in front of a burning wood fire, while most often they are not.

Hardly any business presentation is digested in the lounge chair. The audience:

  • Has no time
  • Is constantly distracted by calls, emails, messages
  • Thinks that they know it all already and tries to put your idea in a box that is familiar
  • Is clicking down and clicking down and wondering when they get to the point already

The captive TED Talk audience is in the lounge chair sipping wine. The venture capitalist is scrolling down your slides on her mobile while wondering whether the elevator button "1" or "0" will get you to the lobby.

BTW: Happy 2016 to everyone!


Art: Edouard Manet, Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, 1862-1863

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Your audience has heard it before

Your audience has heard it before

You are only aware of your own sales or investor pitch. Your audience (investors, clients) sit through dozens of them. After 10 sales or investor pitches in a certain industry, they probably understood the key industry trends, and in their heads they are wondering how you are different from the others.

Have the "101" slides ready, but the body language of your audience should tell you whether you are the first presentation they are watching, or number 12.


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Sales presentation versus strategy presentation

Sales presentation versus strategy presentation

They are different.

  • Strategy presentation. In most cases, the audience of a strategy project recommendation presentation understands the context. A large part of them probably participated in the project (steering committee meetings, interviews, doing analysis). Therefore, the presentation can be highly in your face, conclusions upfront, in a strict logical order. Pretty much like the classic consulting presentation.
  • Sales presentation. Your audience will be less familiar with the background, you need to drag them in a bit slower, show that you understand their problem, etc. And, logic only is unlikely to lead to a sale.

 

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How to write a good cover email pitch

How to write a good cover email pitch

Cover emails that introduce a presentation are very important. It is the first thing the recipients sees. And given that more and more emails are read on smartphones that are not very good at handling attachments (still), they have become more important.

Here  are 2 poor cover emails:

  • One that says too little: "Please see the attached business plan"
  • One that says too much: the whole pitch cramped into the body of the email with out the visual support of your slides

The enemies we are fighting: getting ignored (the email is not opened), or getting deleted/archived before the whole message has had a chance to come across.

What can you do better?

  1. A good subject line. If it is a cold email, use the full space you have, almost like a Tweet. Good subject lines intrigue, they don't have to  tell the whole story. Good subject lines tell more or less what you want.
  2. Write who you are, how you got to the recipient, what you do (no intriguing here, super factual and super short, let the recipient put you in a box) and say what you want. 
  3. The body of the email is all about intriguing. Unlike when you are in the room where you can stand in front of the door to prevent people from leaving, here, it is you versus the mouse click:
  • Think very hard about what the intriguing aspects of your story are. Every pitch has usually only one, or two. (A completely counter intuitive approach to solve an issue, a truly unique team, etc.)
  • Forget about the classical business plan story line, you need to get these intriguing aspects across as soon as possible, BUT think of a story flow that allows you to do that. In most cases you need to educate the recipient a bit before you can deliver the key surprise. 
  • As you add more content, think hard: does this line increase my chance of a response (pick up the phone, click the attachment, write a reply)? Sometimes the best is to keep things short. Cut buzzwords, cliches, any baggage.
  • Look at the typography, line breaks, paragraph lengths. Do the right things pop out?

In short, cover letters:

  • Say who you are, what you do, and what you want
  • Intrigue, even if that means to leaving out a lot of content, and/or mixing up the story flow.

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Pitch to self versus pitch to customer

Pitch to self versus pitch to customer

Many marketing documents are written to pitch to the author, not the potential customer. When pitching to yourself:

  • You do not have to explain what your solution actually does, you know it already
  • You can boil down critical aspects of the pitch in just a few "place holder words". Reading them will trigger your memory to pull up 15 pages of value proposition in a nano second
  • You have a lot of different customer segments to worry about, so you dilute the story a bit to appeal to as many different customers there are, emphasising a few extra benefits here and there
  • You do not have to explain technical marketing jargon, as an expert you know it all

Think about this.


Image: Hollywood actress Constance Talmadge, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right, looking into mirror.

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Sales presentations can be technical presentations, and vice versa

Sales presentations can be technical presentations, and vice versa

Often, clients tell me that they have to present to an audience of engineers, so the presentation should not be a "marketing" presentation.

The bad interpretation of this is: we are engineers presenting to engineers, so we can get away with text-heavy slides and diagrams full of numbers. We engineers understand each other. As soon as we add pictures or try to make the presentation more visual in other ways, we lose credibility.

What is really going on is this: if you are selling a high tech product there is no way you can avoid well, talking about the technology. But the high tech world is full of presentations written by people who do not really understand the technology, for an audience who does not really understand the technology. These presentations lack substance but are rich in marketing buzzwords. Engineers will recognise them in a second, and don't want you bring "one of those".

We need to eliminate two misconceptions:

  • Technical presentation content cannot sell
  • A senior (and/or) sales presentation audience does not understand technology

Here are some of the things I do to create technical sales presentations:

  • Insist on explaining how it works in human language without "black boxes" or "secret sauces". The Einstein quote about a 6 year old who can understand everything if told in the right way applies here.
  • Very focussed data visualisation. Technology advantages are often beautifully simple: things are faster, cheaper, smaller. Rather than writing a bullet point "we are 33% smaller", put in that very complicated data chart that shows the full richness of your research, but add 2 big bold lines that are 33% apart. 

 

 

 

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I am going to force feed my Executive Summary on you

I am going to force feed my Executive Summary on you

People often ask me what an appropriate summary presentation is to send a head of the actual presentation, the dreaded "Executive Summary".

Executive summaries and web landing pages have similar objectives. Keep the user hooked long enough to transfer the idea/messages and get her to do something at the end (click "BUY", or reply to the email and set up a meeting).

In web design, people have learned a lot. Use lots of white space, attractive images, links with inviting text that scream "click me", cut out boring non-essential information and put that on pages for people who want to look for it.

The Executive Summary though is still in the 1990s:

  • We expect tat our story is so boring that we need to drag the reader through it as long as we can
  • The solution: cut the amount of pages (maximum 2), anyone can read just 2 pages right?
  • Whoa, how do fit all this information on there: reduce font size
  • We need a big bold vision statement upfront (1 paragraph at least), a big bold vision statement really encourages the reader to keep on reading. Maybe there will be more big bold statements on page 2? Good stuff!
  • The it is important to link our idea to all the latest buzzwords, readers love to hear more of the things they read on the latest tech blogs. Even if it is vaguely related to your idea, put them all in there. Wow, this Executive Summary is all about these great trends? I have to read on!
  • After rereading the Executive Summary, we find that it sort falls out of the blue. We need to tie it into the big things that are happening in society. Mobile phone penetration is huge right now. Social media is changing the way we consume content. (This is especially true for younger people). Gartner and IDC have some good stats and quotes on this, let's add them. The reader must think: I want to read more about this!
  • The broader market (TAM) is just absolutely big. We are the only company in this space but the market will grow from $15b (2011 data) to $32.67b in 2014. This size market? These guys have discovered something that I completely missed, must read on.
  • Our technology is absolutely amazing. Let's start with the bottom architecture layer, and build it right up step by step. The "secret sauce" that makes us so scalable and flexible
  •  We are 1.5 pages in, time to introduce the idea. 
  • Oops, what about the team? Five bullets with CV summaries (don't forget the undergraduate degrees, and our hobbies).
  • Squeeze the margins a bit, it just fits.
  • Now copy paste selective paragraphs to put in the cover letter of the email.

This is clearly going to get someone excited (not). Think about your Executive Summary as a landing page that competes for the reader's attention. Make it visual. Make it presentation slides instead of text. Introduce what is you do early. Intrigue her on every page so she clicks through to the next one.

Force feeding Executive Summaries have not resulted in a lot of follow up meetings.


Art: Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala (circa 1841-1871), Taming the Donkey1868

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We are cool! (and you are not)

We are cool! (and you are not)

You are a hot social media startup and you need to sell your product to conservative, old-fashioned, traditional media publishers. What sales deck to use?

Here are the points that are usually emphasised in draft presentations that I see:

  • We are cool, you are not
  • "Social", "mobile" is eating the world, you are on the menu

Firstly, there is a good change that the people in the traditional media company you are speaking to already understand this (their bosses might not). Secondly, it is a bit offensive to put it that bluntly in people's face.

There are a number of other questions the media dinosaur might have which will be very important to close the sale:

  • Is this a financially stable company or will they go bankrupt tomorrow?
  • Are these people serious business partners, or just playing kids?
  • We might be uncool, but we still have 100 years of editorial integrity invested in our brand, will we throw that out of the window when working with you?
  • Is your product actually easy to use, how does it work day-to-day?
  • I like these guys, but how am I going to convince my boss?
  • I can see that all this stuff is interesting for 15 to 25 year olds, our readers are 45+

Even if your product is cool, you still need to show that you are a serious business partner. Spending all your slides on the obvious is a waste of the sales meeting.


Art: Ferdinand Lured by Ariel is a painting by John Everett Millais which depicts an episode from Act I, Scene II of Shakespeare's play The Tempest

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