Death of a Sale by PowerPoint
Back when I was running a fintech software company, I was subjected to a lot of boring sales demos. One particularly painful experience involved a 120-slide sales presentation by a technology vendor that wanted to partner with us. I was one of three people in the room. They started with the “vanity slides” detailing how great their company was, then dove into detailed slides about every feature of their product. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, I was about to pull a “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and fall asleep. The sales guy didn’t even notice and droned on for about two hours. Not once in his presentation did he ask about our goals or objectives. Sadly, I still experience this today, when looking at many technology vendor sales demos.
If you’re like me, there’s not much worse than feeling trapped in a room while someone is giving a long, boring sales presentation. The salesperson drones on and on about their company, their product, their features. They read slide after slide, bullet point after bullet point. There’s no room for needs discovery or engaging the customer in conversation — and certainly no collaboration. The experience leaves the prospect dazed and detached instead of inspired and engaged. Such an ordeal has been satirically nicknamed, “death by Powerpoint.”
Avoiding death by Powerpoint requires switching from a boilerplate tactical routine to a strategic discipline. Let’s explore why this is critical to a successful sales presentation.
Value Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Sales people think they’re explaining the value of their offering by focusing on the features and benefits. But value is in the eye of the prospect. The prospect is interested in how he is going to solve his business problems. If you’re using canned slides that focus on features and benefits, then you can’t focus on the priorities of your prospective customer. So ditch the slides and have a conversation. Find out what your prospect wants to do and help her find a way to do it. It’s about creating vision.
According to Forrester Research, the win rate for companies that create the vision early in the decision lifecycle is upwards of 74%.
Tech companies invest a lot of time and money orienting their sales force around the product, making sure salespeople are “product experts.” This is necessary, but not sufficient. What they need to be are “problem-solving experts.” The sooner your sales person can get a clear understanding of the problems that buyer is facing, the sooner you’ll achieve what Forrester calls, “buyer empathy.” That’s when you begin to demonstrate value. It’s about being customer centric.
Just Show Us Your Stuff
“But wait a minute,” you might be saying. “What if the buyer calls requesting a demo?” Well then, your company has most likely been shortlisted. If that’s the case, then their vision has already been formed, to some extent. If this is the case, you should assume that their vision was influenced by:
- Their peers and industry analysts
- Your marketing content (hopefully)
- Your competitor’s content
- Your competitor’s salesperson
Regardless of how the vision was shaped, it’s incumbent on you as the sales person to figure out what the vision is and re-engineer it if necessary. If you don’t clearly understand the customer’s needs, then you’re not likely to win the deal.
Less Powerpoint, More Whiteboard
Whether your customer is in discovery mode or called you for a product demo, your sales process should move from presentation to whiteboard as soon as possible.
When I make sales calls, I find that the faster I got to the whiteboard, the more collaborative the meeting becomes. The way I measure whether or not a meeting is going well is often based on how many times the prospect grabs the pen and joins me at the board. That’s when we’re truly collaborating. When we get to this stage, I can dig in with the prospect and find out what they want to accomplish. The meeting becomes about them. My role is that of Advisor, rather than Seller and we’re operating as a team solving the prospect’s problem.
This isn’t better just for the sales person, it’s better for your prospect. Forrester Research surveyed executive buyers and found that executives overwhelmingly (88%) prefer conversations over presentations. They also said they give only 11% of all sales people a second meeting. Who’s more likely to fall in that 11%…the presenter or the collaborator?
No More Lazy Selling
If you want your prospects to collaborate with you like this, you’ve got to do your homework. You can’t just “show up and throw up“.
In an on-point (and expletive-laced) blog post, Jason Falls does a good job of explaining why most product demos are so irritating. He lays out four questions that need to be answered:
- What does the software (or service) do?
- What are the possible use cases?
- What would be a use case for me?
- How much does it cost?
In order to answer those questions, you have to be prepared. Spend some time in advance of the meeting to find out as much as you can about the prospect and their objectives. Do some research on the prospect by reviewing their website, reading their annual report, if available, checking them and colleagues out on LinkedIn and looking for social profiles on other channels. Figure out their target market, core offerings, and chief initiatives. Then choose use cases that the prospect will relate to, and be prepared with brief stories. Telling use case stories helps kick off a sales meeting by providing context. You don’t need to identify customers, and the use cases don’t necessarily need to be case studies. The point is giving the prospect context.
I find that my prospects tend to discover themselves in the stories, giving us a leaping off point from where our real discussion can begin.
Here are some tips for delighting prospects and showing buyer empathy.
- Do your research. There’s lots of information about your customers — read it before the meeting.
- Stop winging it with canned presentations. Take the time to prepare use cases, questions and agenda items that will facilitate a two-way conversation.
- Differentiate your company and offering by collaborating with the buyer instead of focusing on your product’s functionality.
- Start talking to customers and find out how they’re using your products. Interview them and write up as many use cases as you can. [Note: These are not case studies. They’re for internal use.]
- Educate your sales team on the use cases. Help them become familiar with how customers use your products and services.
- Stop focusing sales training primarily on the product and start teaching reps how to facilitate white board sessions with prospects.
- Help reps prepare for meetings by guiding them in preparing conversation starters and open questions to get discussions rolling.
- Focus not just on quantity of meetings reps hold, but also on quality. If reps are measured only on number of meetings, you’re incenting them to not be prepared. Give them the time they need to prepare adequately for sales calls and drill them to ensure that they’re ready.
To capture and hold an executive’s attention, you need to meet them where they are. Being customer-centric makes a huge difference.