By Robert Lane and Andre Vlcek
A prospective customer has invited you to showcase your company’s products and services, and the stakes are high. This contract could be huge. Your marketing department and executives have been fretting over the necessary PowerPoint slides for weeks. Every word has to be perfect. Every slide must be in exactly the right order. Your mission is to lay down a faultlessly planned and executed sales strategy that persuades this customer to buy exclusively from you … but you are worried!
What happens if your sales presentation does not go according to a carefully scripted plan or the customer wants you to get to the point? Learn how to create a dynamic sales presentation that gives highly flexible access to all your visual content, helping you overcome objections and instantly tailor messages to customer needs and interests.
When It All Crumbles
(Andre) As a sales consultant and trainer with Sales Psychology Australia, I help people better understand the sales process. But, of course, I also must sell my own services; so I make sales calls too. I used to go into these meetings like countless millions of other salespeople every day, sporting a carefully scripted PowerPoint deck that outlined all the wonderful miracles I could accomplish—one slide, after another slide, after another. Not anymore. I still heavily use PowerPoint, but my approach to customers has changed. Now, instead of waltzing in with my own fixed agenda about how the meeting should flow, I let the customer steer the conversation most of the time.
My presentation materials are engineered so that I have highly flexible access across all visual content, allowing instant tailoring to customer needs and interests, or any objections that might arise along the way. I’ll show you what that looks like in a moment, but first, let me share a story that illustrates why this kind of change was so important to me—and why it probably is important to you also.
Sometime ago I arrived for a scheduled one-hour meeting with the human resources manager at one of Australia’s major petroleum companies. This was my first meaningful contact with them, the proverbial foot in the door. The plan was to discuss the firm’s sales recruitment process. Certainly I had my detailed linear PowerPoint show in hand, for what was supposed to be an informal meeting with only this person—and I had thought a lot about what he needed to hear. As soon as I walked into his office, though, I sensed trouble brewing.
The room contained five people, instead of one, and my HR manager contact proceeded to enthusiastically introduce me to his ‘unexpected’ guests, including the general manager of sales, a psychologist HR consultant, the firm’s call center manager, and of all people … the CEO! His guests happened to hear about the meeting just that morning and were curious about individual issues related to their job responsibilities. All of a sudden, my simple, casual talk turned into a full-blown sales demonstration, addressing multiple competing interests and perspectives. Those careful, late-night preparations for this meeting subsequently evaporated into thin air.
Five minutes into the talk, the psychologist interjected that another meeting was coming up and he had just a few quick questions to ask. Of course, my canned slide show didn’t contain appropriate answers to his issues, or, in some cases, slides sat somewhere 30 transitions away. Other attendees soon asked questions, as well, and a discussion ensued. The GM of sales wanted to know to what extent previous projects had increased sales revenues. The HR manager hoped to explore the candidate testing process; and the call center lady was wondering how all this related to her call center environment. Over the next hour, most of my PowerPoint content sat worthless and unused before me because I couldn’t properly adjust it to the rapidly changing situation.
A Different Approach
(Robert) Andre didn’t get invited back for a second meeting with that particular company, nor did he get the contract. Maybe attendees felt the interview was disorganized, or they weren’t satisfied with the detail of answers given to their questions. Who knows? Andre walked away feeling frustrated and embarrassed. His knowledge and experience could have helped that company immensely, and he WAS highly organized for that meeting—or rather, for one that didn’t occur as expected.
(Andre) Annoyance with PowerPoint’s linear design eventually led me to look for alternative ways of presenting information. It was unacceptable that my reputation hinged upon how well I could foretell the future by lining up perfect slide sequences in advance. Surely I needed something other than PowerPoint, I thought, and then I happened across Robert’s Relational Presentation approach while reading another article. That was the solution I needed and eventually Robert and I teamed up to develop the interactive PowerPoint-based selling process featured in this article, called Visual Selling.
(Robert) What Andre didn’t realize is that PowerPoint already contained all the tools necessary to be fully conversational with, and adaptive to, his customers. He simply needed a change of perspective and a new direction.
(Andre) We began modifying my sales content, using an organizational structure called Topical Navigation. In my case, with my branding, it turned out like the example in Figure 1. Categories of information appear along the left side of slides and individual topics within those categories display in the menu at bottom-left. While working with customers, I now can move seamlessly between hundreds of slide options, in any order, at any time.
|Figure 1: Content slide incorporating topical navigation elements.
Having that kind of flexibility has been a lifesaver several times already. The other day, I scheduled another hour-long meeting with a major bank, to discuss improving prospecting skills for their nearly 200 mobile business bankers. I don’t know. Maybe I attract these things, but upon arriving at the establishment, I could see the buying team was visibly distracted and anxious. The Vice President of Sales then informed me that some kind of technical glitch had occurred within their operations and that he could spare only fifteen minutes for our meeting. My timeslot promptly diminished in size by 75% before my eyes! I had to cut right to the point and hit the highlights of my proposal, without appearing frazzled or disorganized in the process. These days I can do that, and it’s not nearly as difficult as I once thought.
(Robert) To enable that kind of radical spontaneity while presenting, Andre worked through a process called Information Architecture well in advance; he mapped out all the discussion points that might arise with different customers, under various circumstances, and then determined what content would be required to address those situations. He contemplated what he wanted to say … AND … everything his customers might be curious or excited about, afraid of, opposed to, find value with, or otherwise show interest in. He now enters sales calls with a kind of PowerPoint-based, visual database full of sales tools, available at his finger tips. While interacting with customers, he navigates to topics on demand, according to perceived relevance.
(Andre) I played with the organizational structure for awhile and finally decided I needed 12 main categories, as shown in Figure 2. These areas are generic enough to span just about every business-to-business sales situation I can imagine. In fact, the methods are proving so helpful that I’ve begun coaching sales teams on how to apply similar strategies to their situations.
|Figure 2: 12 main categories configured as hyperlinks in the slide
(Robert) I was so impressed with Andre’s thoughts on visually interactive sales techniques that I asked him to provide more detail about three of his categories in the space remaining below. Also note that Aspire now offers a free pdf guide outlining all twelve Visual Selling categories. Request the guide HERE.
(Andre) The three categories featured below see frequent use.
Company: As sales people, we often need access to information about our company—it’s credibility, resources, experience, history, capabilities, and personnel. The trap many salespeople fall into, however, is forcing all this data onto customers as a linear spiel during the first meeting. They plow through mountains of bullet points on slides, explaining the company’s many marvelous accolades, while viewers yawn and think, “Dude, just get to the point so we can go have lunch!”
By organizing company information into sections, and providing random access to individual slides within those sections, we avoid boring prospects with irrelevant details, yet retain instant access to important facts. If someone asks a question about expertise or capabilities, the response might be, “Here, let me introduce you to James, our specialist in that area. He’s been working on situations just like you mentioned for more than 10 years now.” That little piece of company background, at that moment, may be all that’s needed to cement a deal emotionally.
Products: Imagine entering a department store to buy a pair of shoes, only to have a salesperson lead you through housewares instead—looking at pots, pans, coffee makers, and dishes. You ask for the shoe department but your guide says, “Sorry. That’s the next floor down. We’ll get there eventually.”
That’s exactly how buyers feel sometimes when looking at presentations about your products and services. They may not care about all the specs, features, and advantages you think are important. They want the shoe department, and they want it now. When a prospect squirms in his seat and says something like, “Look, I’ve got another meeting coming up in 10 minutes - can we just get to the bottom line?” he probably feels you are wasting his time with irrelevant trivia. Try an alternative approach. Rather than espousing all the virtues of your solution up front, start by asking questions about their situation. What problems are they having? What aspects of their current operations would they like to see improved? Why were they interested in meeting with you in the first place? Probing their motivations and interests can provide invaluable clues that help you dynamically shape proposed solutions. Arrange product and services displays for on-demand access, so that you can identify and target specific buying signals from prospects. In Figure 3, for example, notice that I have random access to my products, and therefore can focus on individual solutions quickly, as unexpected opportunities arise.
|Figure 3: Slide with the categories and other hyperlinks on the left side that allows random access to any slide in the presentation
Price: Yes, undoubtedly you should have a section in your sales network discussing the prices of products and services, and you always should be prepared to discuss prices with confidence. In the end, that’s what everyone wants to know. However, keep a vital fact in mind. Slides discussing pricing are not (or should not be) especially significant for your success. Why not? Because if you use other sections of the network well—that is you tailor solutions effectively to the needs and interests of customers—pricing is a mere logistic. Customers will value what you have to offer more, and be less concerned about costs, if your solutions clearly are relevant to their immediate business problems and motivations.
Work with customers to explore customized outcomes BEFORE the issue of price ever comes up. Allow engineers to hover over technical issues, finance people to focus on commercial terms and payment conditions, and mangers to fret about day-to-day operational impacts—that’s where you sell. Address those issues in real time with personalized, PowerPoint-enhanced discussions because they represent your opportunity. Afterwards, pricing is a matter of working out the details.
The pricing section should enable flexible display of variations so that you can build unique solutions quickly, across everything you have to offer. Have low-priced, medium-priced, and premium-priced options available, along with possible add-ons and value-added propositions, all displayable at the click of a mouse. Probe selling situations to learn more about prospects’ decision-making processes. Then, adjust strategies accordingly.
Visit the Aspire site for more information about visually interactive presentation and the Visual Selling methods discussed above, along with free tutorials, video demonstrations, and PDF guides. Visit the Sales Psychology Australia site to learn more about Visual Selling techniques and other sales-related services.
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