7 tips for nailing your next sales presentation.

Nothing big in life ever happens when you just send an email.  Job interviews.  Marriage proposals.  The biggest moments in your life are all pitches.  We all need to get them right but sales professionals need to nail them on a daily basis.  That’s the difference between a fat commission and a miserable bonus-free month.  Between being a high-flying A-player and a being a non-producer.  But what are the secrets to delivering the perfect sales pitch?

1. Demonstrate Your Passion

Start with a smile – it’s the first step to looking passionate about your subject.  Try to look like you were having fun.  At a minimum, try to avoid sounding like you’re breaking news of a death in the family.  On the one hand, people can smell your fear.  On the other, they can tell when you're enjoying what you do, too.  You need to ooze the fact that you’re pleased to be there, that you know what you’re talking about (more on that later) and that you love what you’re doing. 

Just don’t overdo it or you’ll sound like an American who’s just stepped off the plane from the East Coast.  One suggestion from a US site was to say: “One of the things I love about my job is to see customers get the outcomes they want from the products and services I sell.  It's even more fun when I get a letter from a happy customer who was skeptical [sic] at first.”  Hmmmm.  In the words of Simon English, the City correspondent at the London Evening Standard, “One of the great things about Americans in general is that they are sincere and enthusiastic.  [But] American firms, in my experience, don’t always quite get the UK market… That means they can’t understand why some clients prefer downbeat sarcasm.”  Well, quite.

2. Adopt a Confident Tone

If you’re not going to embrace all out cheese, you should certainly think about your prosody; the rhythm, stress, and intonation of your speech – the quantity and accent of syllables, the emphasis, pauses, and tones.  The upward inflection or high rising terminal – also known as “upspeak” or “Australian question intonation” – is a feature of some variants of English where declarative sentence clauses end with a rising-pitch intonation, until the end of the sentence where a falling-pitch is applied.  It exhibits a speaker's insecurities about what they’re saying and undermines effective speaking.  If you talk this way, you’ll lack power, authority, and confidence.  It implies subordinate social status.  And to an older generation, it’s agonising.  Here at Randstad, we know it hampers job interviews.  Instead, aim to use an authoritative tone of voice.  Talk low.  It doesn’t matter what you say if you sound timid or apologetic.

3. Use Data to Prove Your Point

Aside from the way you deliver your sales presentation, back up what you say with pertinent facts and figures to make your pitch more powerful and effective.  Specifics work better than generalities.  In Confessions of An Advertising Man, David Ogilvy remembered that his research revealed the greatest single obstacle to advertising the USA as a holiday destination to Europeans lay in the fact that Europeans had an exaggerated concept of the cost of visiting the USA.  “We decided to attack the problem head-on.  Instead of saying in a bland, innocuous way that you can tour America ‘for less than you think,’ we gave a specific figure: £35 a week.”  Putting inflation aside (he wrote that in the 60s), it remains the case that the more facts you tell… the more you sell.

4. Focus on Audience Needs

You also need to stop and consider what the audience wants to hear or how they want the message delivered.  You need to build your sales pitch around what they’re going to get out of it.  Then, while you’re delivering the presentation, you need to focus on your audience’s response, and react to it.  They’re never going to be wrong, the people listening to your sales presentation – in just the same way that when Google+, New Coke or Google Glass were launched and bombed in the marketplace, consumers weren’t wrong for refusing to use it, drink it, or wear it.  What does your audience want to hear?  Do your slides work for them?  Are you overwhelming your audience?  All of these questions can be easily answered – for free – by asking your audience.  They will be a much better judge of what will be well received in a sales pitch than you.  Afterall, they’re the ones who have to receive it…

5. Tell A Story

Telling stories in presentations is achingly hip.  But how do you go about doing it?  The goal is to apply a useful fiction to your own experience (think the foundation story of every internet company, ever), so you can talk about an apparently transformative experience that relates to the overall message of your sales pitch.  Here’s a useful formula to do just that.  First, you’ll need to introduce your story and begin with some form of stasis.  Then add a complication – an unexpected situation that forced you to make a choice.  The complication can be good or bad, as long as it puts you in a position to decide how to respond; it’s a scenario that knocked you off your usual path and forced you to decide how to proceed.  You end with a gripping climax, a transformational moment where everything changed forever – where you learned a valuable lesson, or discovered something important about yourself, or made a decision that explains who you are today.  But what stories work best?  Ask your audience!

6. Choose Your Words Carefully

Don’t.  Use.  Filler.  Words.  It wastes time and instantly marks you as an intellectual bantamweight – ‘that idiot from sales’ that any sensible client will ignore and try to get out of the office as soon as possible.  You are paid to be professional, articulate, and persuasive.  At the very least, avoid: “erm”, “ah” or “umm”; “like”; “you know”; and “yeah but no”.  An honourable mention should go to those who preface verbal responses with ‘So’.  “I don’t know where this comes from,” fumes one commentator.  “I suspect San Francisco via Shoreditch.  But it’s worse than nails on a blackboard.”  “Words like ‘awesome’ and ‘super-excited’ are over-used.  Serious people feel this hyperbole is (as one of the people we spoke to put it) ‘a bit juvenile’, and doesn’t match up to their expectations of a modern sales professional.  On that note, stay away from superlatives like ‘Our product is the best in the world.’  Brag and boast convinces nobody.

7. Remember the 7 Ps

Prior planning and practice prevents pitifully poor performance.  That’s a (clean) version of the 7 Ps, an old military adage first extolled by the British Army.  If you fail to properly plan in the army then the poor performance which follows could mean the loss of life.  For a sales professional the ultimate risks might be lower, but the importance of proper preparation remains unchanged.

How does this relate to sales professionals?  Rehearse before you get there.  You can’t go into a sales pitch, not having practiced.  But the importance of preparation also applies on a more prosaic level.  At the very least, get to the venue early.  But if you can go and see the room that you’ll be presenting in, do so.  Do the lights dim?  How far are people going to be from the screen?  How big is the screen?  How many chairs are there?  How is the room laid out?  Are there options?  Are there blinds / curtains?  What’s the table like?  Then you’ve got to test everything: laptops; videos; lights; PowerPoint animations; speakers; internet connection – you name it.

Even the smoothest operator needs a bit of prior preparation.  This was Ian Fleming’s opening line of Casino Royale, the book that introduced the world to James Bond.  “Scent and smoke hit the taste buds with an acid thwack at three o’clock in the morning.”  Nothing special.  His second attempt produced: “Scent and smoke and sweat can suddenly combine together and hit the taste buds with an acid shock at three o’clock in the morning.”  He didn’t hit the jackpot until his third go: “The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”  Third time was the charm and Fleming’s James Bond became one of literature’s greats.  A bit of preparation could see ensure that your potential customers are shaken and stirred.

Jennifer Stott, principal recruitment consultant

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