Slide Tips: The Sales Presentation - Part One (by Kevin Sasser)

May 6, 2008

This post by Kevin Sasser is the seventh in our Slide Tips series.
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Kevin Sasser is a seasoned executive with over twenty years of experience in enterprise sales, product positioning, and strategic marketing. He has worked with organizations ranging from community banks to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in planning, preparing, and implementing new technologies and mission-critical systems. In addition to serving as Vice President of Goldleaf Financial Solutions, Kevin is an entrepreneur, author, blogger, and nationally known public speaker.

Kevin’s blog, has readers in over 25 countries, and has been nominated for “Best Business Humor Blog.”

I remember the day my father brought home our family's first microwave oven. While we were far from the first on the block to own this modern culinary marvel, we still viewed this event as the catalyst that would catapult us deep into the heart of the middle class.

Dad unpacked the mammoth machine, as mom and I rushed to the store to purchase our first collection of prepackaged microwave dinners. On the drive home, I envisioned how my taste buds would react to the overwhelming, bountiful flavor that surely would erupt as soon as we introduced the cardboard boxes in our grocery bag to the powerful, yet controlled, radiation contained within our new oven.

As we prepared for the maiden meal, the atmosphere was careful and serious, like a crew preparing the space shuttle for launch. My father read the instructions to some feast-in-a-box emblazoned with the word "Gourmet" while I confirmed the verbal commandments and executed the dictated tactics.

"OK, cut a slit in the top of the box."

"Cutting slit in box....check."

"Put box in microwave. Set power on high."

"Box in microwave, power on high...check"

"Set timer for 75 seconds."

"Seventy-five seconds?"

"That's got to be a typo, it takes 15 minutes to boil water, try 10."

"10 seconds?"

"10 minutes"

"10 minutes...check."

After we put the fire out, it dawned on us that technology, when not used effectively, can deliver havoc and wreck the most noble of intentions.

In that light, Powerpoint has been blamed for everything from lost sales opportunities to the death of personal verbal communications. While it was no more our microwave's fault for the charred debris that had previously been destined to be my family's dinner it is not Powerpoint's function or responsibility to elicit effective communications.

We are an instant-gratification, I-want-it-now type of animal; however the majority of sales presentations are built on the false assumption that our audiences will find the value of our proposed solution as engaging and compelling as a new Harry Potter novel.

Successful sales presentations begin with the understanding that the objective is to persuade your audience to purchase your solution. You are not there to educate, entertain, or impress, however these are meaningful byproducts of your efforts.

Your primary goal in presenting is to latch onto audience's attention span, stimulate their minds with information that is relevant and meaningful, and aid in the construction of the mental vision of a better world in which their challenges and goals have been met via the use of your products or services.

Tip 1: Your Prospects Time and Your Slide's Real Estate are Both Precious, Treat Accordingly

The question you should answer before clicking on "File -> New PPT" is: "What's the reward for my audience?” If you ask a group of professionals to stop their day sit still and listen to you for an hour, what's in it for them? Can you save them money? Can you increase revenue? Can you give them a competitive edge?

Assume that your primary decision maker is going to be called away from your presentation after fifteen minutes. Structure your slides so that when this happens, he or her leaves knowing exactly why they should purchase your solution.

For some reason, in the beginning of a presentation, many vendors feel the need to state the obvious, especially if it’s stated by an industry analyst. For example:

Consider these two vendors – key points after 15 minutes

  • Vendor A = A mid-tier player in the enterprise space with over 200 clients in the perverted arts vertical.
  • Vendor B = The company that can help with my widget problem.

When planning your sides think more "elevator pitch" than "War and Peace"

Tip 2: Follow the 10/20/30 rule

One of Guy Kawasaki's greatest contributions to mankind is the 10/20/30 rule for presentations.

10 Slides

20 Minutes

30 Point Font (min)

If you are selling a complex, enterprise solution you may need to go past 10 slides, but break up your presentation into sections, each tailored to a specific group of decision makers. Each section should be as succinct as possible.

For example:

  • For the Executives, clearly state how your solution will make/save their organization money.
  • For the Business Users, clearly state how your solution will meet their goals. For example, "This is how we will help your team open new business development opportunities".
  • For the Technical Audiences, if you have a sales engineer, keep your mouth shut and let them talk. Clearly state the expected impact on their internal infrastructure and any skill sets needed to manage the system.

Keep this thought in mind, to purchase your solution; your audience will most likely have to answer to a higher authority who will ask the questions that demand the answers above. You want your messages to be as clear and concise as possible.

Tip 3: Take advantage of innocent bystanders

Practice your presentation on people who know very little about the technical aspects of your solution. Our receptionist, secretaries, and administrative staff are my favorite victims.

If after 3 minutes, they do not understand and are not following your presentation, throw it away and start over.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week.