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Sales-support tools are for support; you still need to do the selling

By Marcia Gauger, for SBT

Question: I’ve used PowerPoint for formal presentations and would like some tips about how to design meaningful presentations to use during sales calls. Can you help?

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Answer: Technology offers many wonderful new sales tools. You have to remember that whatever support materials you use on sales calls, they’re just that — support materials. Don’t rely on any support piece to do your selling for you.
Sales tools should be utilized to pique interest, help explain concepts that apply to each individual buyer’s unique interests and support solutions that you can provide to specific customer needs.
If well designed, you may be able to use the same PowerPoint presentations you’ve been using during customer calls. Whatever medium you choose to communicate your company’s capabilities, make sure it’s flexible enough to address individual needs and solutions.
If you use a generic approach, you’ll be communicating to customers that you don’t really care about their needs, only about what you can do. You don’t need to tell your customers everything that you can do. You will seem more capable if you focus on what you can do to support their needs and emphasize those capabilities only.
If you are unsure about the type of presentation that you should make, ask your customer! You may simply say something like, "How would you like to see the information presented at our meeting?" or "Would you like to see a more formal presentation of our capabilities or an interactive exchange?"
By gaining insights about the customer’s needs and who will be attending the meeting, you will gain insights as to the type of presentation to make.
Laptop presentations can appear more "formal" or rigid than other sales methods. Don’t let your laptop become a pitchbook. Here are some guidelines for utilizing technology effectively in a sales call or presentation:
Know your technology – If you are preparing a laptop presentation, be sure you understand how everything works and how to fix anything that could happen during your presentation. If you are not comfortable with the technology, take a class and practice utilizing it prior to your calls.
Make prior arrangements with the customer – If you are presenting to a committee or large group of people, make sure you understand room setup, lighting, power needs, etc., prior to arriving for your meeting.
I was recently involved in a competitive sales situation. I saw my competition leaving with suitcase in hand prior to my meeting. When I was greeted by the person who is now my client, she expressed how frustrated she was with the sales person.
She went on to explain that she didn’t know the salesperson was planning on using a projector system. Valuable presentation time was spent setting up, the system crashed three times and all while the president of her company waited patiently for an interactive discussion of their needs.
Follow the 3×4 rule – The biggest mistake I see salespeople make in designing PowerPoint presentations is that they tend to put too much on the screen. A good rule of thumb is no more than three rows of four words, or four rows of three words. Use bullet points and talk to those points.
Don’t read to the customer. If you have technical information that you think the customer needs, consider leaving a handout when you leave. Or, send information prior to your presentation for your customer to read and be prepared to discuss the information at your meeting. Use a serif font – they are easier to read.
Involve the customer – Plan questions that would engage your audience in your presentation. If you are working one-on-one with the customer, technology can be a wonderful way for customers to customize their own solutions. For instance, formulas calculating return on investment are a wonderful way to emphasize cost-benefit relationships in a meaningful way for the customer.
Emphasize value for the customer – Too many presentations focus on features and benefits. Take it a step further by emphasizing value.
In other words, why should the customer care? Use value statements as bullet points and talk about how you accomplish those values through the benefits and features of your products. This is especially important early in the presentation to gain interest.
Your technology should be transparent – Regardless of the sales tools that you employ, they should be transparent to the customer. If the customer is focusing more on your medium than on the solutions that you can provide, you’ve missed the boat.

Marcia Gauger is the president of Impact Sales, a performance improvement and training company with offices in Wisconsin, Florida and Arkansas. You can contact her at 262-642-9610 or Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.

April 4, 2003 Small Business Times,Milwaukee

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