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Do Your Salesreps’ Presentations Deliver?

Your friendly blogger having a great time in front of 1,000 sales reps at a kick-off meeting at the Adam's Mark in Denver.

I’m lucky when it comes to presenting.  I started playing the trumpet in front of audiences in the sixth grade.  At that point I realized that grabbing an audience’s attention give me a thrill. Once I got into the software business, during customer presentations my instrument was the keyboard.  Demos were my music.  Later on, I delivered presentations, then speeches to audiences of all sizes in more states and and in more countries than I can remember. 

My enthusiasm for working with audiences was a major asset when I was a sales trainer.  (No matter how strong your content is, and how many interactive exercises you include in a program, an enthusiastic and skilled presenter will enable more learning than a lackluster one. )  I’ve read all the books about presenting and speaking, listened to all the experts, attended lots of seminars, joined the National Speakers Association, hired a speaking coach, and on and on…  So, that’s a sampling of the platform from which I’m going to voice a few opinions.

A critical skill for success in B2B sales is communication.  A subset of that is the ability to effectively present.  Maybe you’re not into the Powerpoint thing—maybe your medium is the chalk-talk or the whiteboard.  That’s fine.  Call them conversations or discussions if you’d like—they’re presentations, just the same.  I’ve sat through many dozens—perhaps hundreds of presentations given by salespeople.  Few do a really good job.  Not enough do an adequate job.  That’s more than just my opinion.  I’ve watched their audiences from the front of the room.  I’ve interviewed members of those audiences after a presentation. I’ve seen any momentum they might have had in a deal grind to a halt.

One of the most revealing parts of a structured hiring process is the presentation simulation.  After the salesperson has gone through the interview stage and reference checking has been successfully completed, it’s time for the simulations.  There are actually two, but the presentation simulation is the subject we’re looking at.  About one out of every five sales candidates that make it to the presentation simulation are rejected as a result of their performance. In other words, with all else being equal, if there wasn’t a presentation simulation as part of the hiring process, 20% of the new recruits you hire wouldn’t be able to present much more than their name to a prospect.  Something to think about, right?

Our recommendation is to have the candidate, in front of two or three executives from your company, simulate the presentation of a final proposal.  Since the candidate is provided with instructions and guidelines a few days in advance of the activity, you can always get a good measure of more than just how they present.  Here are just a few of the written observations I’ve made during these presentation simulations over numbers of years:

  • An average of two misspellings per slide! (Hint: Powerpoint has spell-checker.)
  • Color combinations beg for sunglasses!
  • Candidate rocks back and forth with abandon.  (Tip:  Stand with your feet hips’ width apart. Put one foot out about a foot’s length in front of the other.  You can’t rock if you’re doing that.  Take it from me.  I was a rocker.)
  • Rattled change in pocket for the entire 30 minutes. (Hint: Always leave change and cellphone in briefcase when you are going in front of an audience.)
  • Never made eye contact with any of us.  No attempt at bonding.
  • Extreme nervousness. 
  • Using meaningless lingo and buzzwords.
  • Not reading us, the audience, at all.  We were “CEO” and “CFO.”  Obviously never presented at that level before.
  • Shouldn’t have attempted the joke.
  • Never confirmed time allocation for the presentation.
  • DIdn’t introduce themselves.
  • Never confirmed objective of the presentation with us.
  • Presentation didn’t have a logical flow.
  • Not persuasive.
  • Didn’t answer questions that were posed to her.

OK, the rattling and rocking are forgiveable offenses.  But certainly not most of the others.

By the way, when I write and talk about sales being 90% science and 10% art, presenting falls mostly under the “art” category.  Remember though, that presenting is a skill and therefore most people can experience considerable improvement with the right program or coach.

If any of your salespeople lose points for themselves and your company when they present, get them help. There are plenty of people and companies that do fine work in this area.  And, please… Seriously consider not hiring anyone else who can’t deliver at least an adequate presentation.

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