It’s the day before your big presentation. You’ve crammed as much information as you possibly can into your PowerPoint slide deck and you’re confident that you haven’t missed anything out. Yet, you can’t seem to shake that nagging doubt that it might not go as well as you had hoped…
In today’s multi-media age, generating audience excitement and engagement armed only with a slide deck is no easy task. Even if your presentation is highly polished, the chances are that your audience will remember just a fraction of the messages you’re hoping to deliver.
And unless you manage to grab their attention in the first two minutes, they could end up plummeting into the catatonic state of boredom characterised by the phrases “death by PowerPoint” and “PowerPoint hell”.
Yet, by keeping in mind a few golden rules, it is possible for presenters to get their point across — and win over even the toughest crowd.
As most of us will have witnessed, even the most confident presenter can slip into bad habits. Among the more frequent mistakes are not having a clear objective or call to action, packing in too much data, failing to excite the audience and the all-too-tempting trap of using PowerPoint as a script.
Yet by far the biggest mistake — identified by 33% of 600 UK professionals in a recent Citrix poll — is the failure to understand your audience.
To overcome this and ensure that the presentation meets or exceeds audience expectations, it is always worth finding out who is likely to attend, as well as thinking about why they are participating. Is it a learning opportunity? Are they escaping work for an hour? Or has the boss told them to come?
Another worthwhile tactic can be to address likely objections head-on by building them into the narrative. This could include, for example, acknowledging that your product or service is among the more expensive in the market and counteracting this by explaining why it makes a better choice than cheaper alternatives.
The best and most memorable presentations tend to be limited to just a handful of key talking points. This way, you’re more likely to lead with your best ideas, generate more impact and increase the likelihood that your audience will remember what you’ve told them.
With time at a premium for most professionals, it’s simply bad manners to speak for longer than the audience had anticipated. And while it might sound obvious, invariably you’re more likely to encourage a sale or achieve positive feedback if you close by reiterating your key objective and qualifying audience benefit.
We’ve all cringed at presentations that rely too heavily on distracting PowerPoint tricks. Yet, there is a good case for using subtle animation and “builds” to introduce each of your points as you’re making them to help ensure that your messages are delivered in palatable chunks.
In addition, bringing in good visuals and keeping the presentation moving at an upbeat pace can also serve to maintain audience attention — an increasingly tough task in today’s multi-media age.
You’ve given your presentation or made a speech. It has gone brilliantly — although you say it yourself. You ask if there are any questions … and over the next few minutes your smile begins to fade as you are caught off guard by a series of tricky and complicated questions from the audience.
Your failure to answer them convincingly undoes much of the good work you had put in during your speech. So how did it all go so wrong?
Here are eight tips to help you prepare:
You can get more appointments from your cold calls — if you follow this advice. Make these techniques work for you and I promise you’ll see a marked difference in your sales figures.
There are a number of so-called experts out there saying that cold calling doesn’t work but they’re wrong. Cold calling is still one of the best and quickest ways to get new business and it is far from dead — it has changed, yes, but it is growing and is an area that continues to evolve. You need to be on top of what’s changing in order to stay ahead of the game and your competition.
This is one of the things that loses you credibility, rapport and respect straightaway. But what do I mean by stupid questions? Questions such as: “How much do you currently pay?” and, my personal favourite, “What will it take to get your business?”
This is another thing the average salesperson fails to do. The prize for worst ever call reason goes to someone who I once heard say: “the reason for the call is to find out when your contract is up for renewal”. Brilliant. Abject failure to understand tip number two! You have to grab your prospect’s attention and an important part of that is having a strong call reason — something that will engage them.
This part is often missing — particularly if the salespeople concerned are making lots of calls. Prospects can hear confidence and belief in your voice and they notice when it’s missing. You need to persuade people to buy into you and what you offer. They need to have faith in you and trust that you know what you’re talking about.
It often astounds me how little preparation your average salesperson does. The minimum preparation you should be doing prior to a call is to get the name of the decision maker, direct phone number and email where appropriate, an idea of your call reason and what you’re going to say, likely objections and how you’re going to handle them, plus access to your diary to book those appointments in. You also need to know the date and time that you’re trying to make the appointment for before you start to close — otherwise you’re less likely to get a date set up.
If you’re starting any sort of calling session, whether it’s cold or warm calling, make sure you’re focused before you start. This means getting away from any distractions such as colleagues chatting, incoming phone calls, emails, people putting the kettle on and so on. If you’re going to start a calling session, make sure you’re focused on it. As well as the end result you want to achieve.
Another big mistake the average salesperson makes is sounding bored and tired. Your voice is all you have to persuade people, so make sure you give it your best shot. You need to have energy and enthusiasm in your voice in order to persuade others.
The longer the calling session goes on, the more you have to be careful of your energy levels. Sometimes short breaks between focused calling sessions actually produce better results. Remember, If you’re going to make a call, make it sound like a good one!
One of the major advantages of an economic downturn (even a landslide like the current one is shaping up to be) is that there are great deals to be had. The challenge is that many of us are very bad at negotiating.
There is clearly an element of nature vs. nurture here; some of us are clearly genetically more inclined to haggle, while for others the process is more unpleasant and degrading than having teeth pulled.
This is especially true for salespeople who are typically outgoing and persistent, with a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. But when it comes to negotiating the detail of a deal, many experienced sales people crumble, especially under pressure from a well-trained negotiator or purchasing director.
Negotiation is a basic skill we use every day of our lives, whether it is making sure we get a cup of tea in the morning at home or in buying a car, when we are up against an expertly trained and highly motivated individual. Negotiation is not a black art: it can be studied and learned, and I have had advice from a true expert: Derek Arden.
Arden started his working career in a bank, in training and development; but soon found himself in major account management, negotiating with hard-nosed senior buyers at a large supermarket chain. He says he often left meetings with a strong feeling that he had come a distant second in the negotiation, if only because he was operating solo against a team of four people who were clearly expert in identifying and exploiting any of his personal or business weaknesses.
He resolved to read all the books available and go on courses to develop his own best practice for negotiation. He has since spent more than eight years passing on this knowledge to everyone from teams of salespeople to a high-profile individual in the Middle East who needed one-on-one coaching for family as well as business negotiations.
Arden explains that developing negotiation skills is a constant process; you always learn new techniques. Where most people fall down is in understanding the timing of a deal. This is aptly illustrated in his first major personal negotiating challenge, which was to arrange a favourable exit from the bank where he was working.
Arden's advice is that the secret to making a graceful departure from your current employer is to understand the timing: there will be a perfect time to leave, and forcing your own schedule on their internal processes is likely to be very counter-productive.
This leads us naturally into the key element of negotiation: preparation. Arden believes strongly that the most important work is done well in advance. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to secure a good deal for yourself and for the other party. Successful deal-makers always ensure a win for both sides as they are always looking for a long-term relationship with the buyer.
The hardest part of negotiation is always the price, especially if the buyer gives no clue about what they want to pay. Arden suggests having three prices always to hand. First you should always have a high-value dream price, which buyers will accept more often than you might suspect, for example if they need your products or services in a hurry or are looking to empty a budget before the end of the financial year or risk losing it for the following year.
Then you should have a target price which represents what you feel the customer should pay, based on both value for money for them and a sensible profit for you. Finally, you have a walk away price, below which you cannot go, based on hard evidence developed internally from your delivery and finance people.
In a friendly negotiation you can even share this information, and a fair buyer should appreciate your openness and respond favourably. It is important to remember that very rarely do people buy the cheapest offer; what is more important, especially in these hard times, is your providing proof of value for money and return on investment.
Arden also trains people in advanced techniques including influencing and body language, all based around asking good questions, prepared in advance. As Rudyard Kipling aptly put it, "I keep six honest serving-men; they taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.”
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Most salespeople will get the majority of the specification down, but some have to call back a second time to get things they forgot, or that their colleagues tell them will be needed in order to produce an accurate quotation or proposal. You can imagine the impact this has on the prospect. If you’re in a competitive market with other people pitching for the work, you’ve put yourself on the back foot before you’ve even started.
These two areas are essential areas to investigate in every sales opportunity — you need to establish early on in your sales conversation how serious they are, and how serious the project is. Even more important however is getting the “why you” bit answered. The aim here is to uncover both the buying motivation, and also what chance you have of picking up this business. Remember, the fluffier the answers to the questions you ask here, the less likely you are to win the work!
Failure to establish the decision makers involved will mean that you could go all the way through the process, and then fall at the final hurdle as someone else comes in to influence the buying decision that you weren’t aware of. Once you’ve identified the decision makers, you can then decide your approach for engaging them. You also need to identify the process they’re going through in order to make the decision. If they’re cagey about the process this time, it might be that the person you’re talking to is low-level in the organisation. In which case, simply asking about a previous process for similar projects will uncover most of what you need to know.
Asking about the other options they’re considering will usually set the platform for you to get information about other potential suppliers/vendors. It will also get you vital information about alternative competition — either them finding another way to achieve the results they want, doing it themselves in-house, or not doing it at all.
Another area you need to know about is their timescales. Most salespeople make the mistake of only finding out when the clients want to implement the project or when they need to take delivery of the product. If you only get this timescale then you’re missing out on something that’s potentially more important. Make sure you understand their buying timescales to give yourself the best understanding of how to handle the proposal and give yourself the best chance of winning it.
It’s vital in any sales opportunity, let alone a proposal situation, that you identify budget or funding as early as possible. As most decent-sized projects require money from someone’s budget, or the company to have thought about how they’re going to pay for it, failure to identify this can mean the project stalling at the last minute — when you’ve put lots of time and effort into it.
Make sure that you’ve got the budget area covered and you’ll reduce the risk of the project being put on hold, or shelved, plus it may also highlight other people involved in the buying process that you weren’t aware of.
This is the final and most important part of any sales situation, and even more vital at proposal stage. Now for those of you with a short sales cycle, you could also think of the word closing here. For those of you on longer sales cycles, usually with higher-value items or projects at stake, think about gaining commitment to the next stage and to yourself and your company. Failure to get commitment to the project and/or next stage and also to you and your company will mean that you’re likely to be disappointed when it comes to announcing who won the business and who lost it. So gain commitment to ensure you end up in the winner’s enclosure.
So, make sure you take action on the above and the best of luck with your sales!
Most sales and marketing processes work like this: the marketing department generates sales leads that are passed to a sales person; the sales person does an initial qualification, probably discarding half of them; during the sales process, further qualification may happen, either by the prospect or the sales person, and finally about one qualified lead in four gets converted into a sale.
These numbers may change depending on the business but on average, I would assume around ten leads from marketing are needed for one sale.
So what happens to the leads that have been discarded? At worst, they may have been deleted from the marketing database and now aren’t on any system at all. At best, they will remain in the marketing database but not flagged as being special.
And why should they be special? Surely they are have been qualified out or lost? In fact, failed sales could be your most valuable future leads. They are the potential rebounders — hot leads that could be easy wins if they come back.
In our business, we get a steady stream of leads — people looking at our offering. Some get qualified out early because they don’t have the budget, or don’t want our delivery model. Later on they might be lost because they have specialised requirements or simply prefer another vendor and go with them.
Six months later, however, some come back. They have decided that they now have the budget, or maybe our delivery model wasn’t so bad, or they looked for a specialised system and gave up, or the competitor they initially chose disappointed them.
Converting “fails” into customers
Even though the initial attempt at converting these leads failed, compared to the rest of the marketing database they are statistically more likely to convert than the others that we know nothing about.
Actually, these “failed” leads had decided they wanted a system like ours and had some idea of what their requirements and budget were. They fell at the last hurdle, but at least they started the race. So whatever tripped them up the first time, they might get over if they started the race again.
So, don’t throw away so-called failed sales leads. Keep them in the database and segment them into a special campaign. This may require a CRM system that integrates the sales and marketing processes together, so prospects can be moved back and forth between marketing and sales with their history intact.
However it is managed, businesses need to get those failed leads back out of the bin.
John Paterson is CEO of Really Simple Systems.