The Oscar for winning those performances is to reach the next and last step of the buying process; where sales teams and customers finalize negotiations and sign contracts.
Yet understanding what happens in winning presentations is somewhat of an enigma.
“It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma, ” – from the movie JFK.
That quote describes customers as well as sales teams in B2B presentations.
Customers are there under a false belief: They think they’re assessing the merits of the proposed sales solutions.
In reality the merits of competing sales teams’ RFP responses have already been reviewed and evaluated by customers. If customers wanted clarification about those responses, they could get it by email, conference call, or web meeting.
No. Customers are rarely, if ever, aware of why they really have in-person presentations from sales teams.
And sales teams believe the goal of their presentations are to convince/persuade/compel customers to select them, which is true.
However, sales teams don’t know how to explicitly do that; they lack a model and understanding of what’s really happening. They can’t see themselves in action, and must rely on their team’s second-hand impressions of what’s happening, which is biased by being in the presentation themselves.
Nor does videotaping rehearsals or training sessions tell the true story either: Posing in filmed sessions are one-sided misrepresentations of what may or may not occur when customers are in the room.
There’s so much going on for both sides during presentations that it’s difficult to understand what’s really happening. As a result, presentations are truly a “mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.”
So here, based on my experience in hundreds of sales presentations, is a SWAG at decoding the enigma of sales presentations.
It Takes a Trifecta
Sales presentations provide customers the opportunity to road test potential relationships before they make their final decision.
Customers want to experience what it might be like working with a particular sales team as their future supplier. That’s the subtext for customers’ sitting through sales presentations.
And to accomplish that road test, customers assess how likeable, credible, and culturally aligned their potential choice may be. Therefore, sales teams compete against one another where…
The Presentation Trifecta is Likeability first, Credibility second, with Affinity to follow.
These are the three must win positions for sales teams; Win, place, and show. For customers to select a sales team to advance to the next step in their buying process, the sales team must achieve number one or two in each position relative to their competition.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Customers don’t want to work with people they hate…or who they don’t believe…or who may embarrass them by saying or doing the wrong thing in their company’s culture.
And, if it wasn’t obvious at first glance, the importance of Likeability and Credibility in business is described in WSJ’s “Why Likability Matters More at Work“, and Inc’s “6 Ways to Become a Credible Leader and Team.”
Adding (cultural) Affinity to the other two positions addresses customers’ needs for their suppliers (sales teams in presentations) to fit in their organization.
Attributes that Contribute to the Presentation Trifecta
While there are many generalized articles on how to become more likeable and more credible, there’s more to the Presentation Trifecta than win, place, and show. There are attributes that contribute to being picked the winner for those three positions.
While some attributes make stronger contributions than others to Likeability or Credibility, all of them, when properly researched and applied, add up to a big win for matching customers’ cultural Affinity.
Assigning Attributes to the Presentation Trifecta
The following table is not an exhaustive list of attributes but covers the primary ones for each Trifecta position; your experience and attributes may vary.
How-To Win the Presentation Trifecta
The following attributes are presented from the sales team’s perspectives, and are not in order of importance but in alpha order only. Master these aspects of your sales team’s performance, and customers will be falling over themselves to select your team as their supplier.
Articulateness: the sales team’s ability to communicate their value proposition in a clear and distinct business narrative. If sales teams tell their story straight and true, they’ll be perceived as credible potential suppliers.
However, you may have already suffered through the painful opposite of articulateness, which are flubbed answers, embarrassing anecdotes, and incriminating faux paus.
Besides rehearsal, insightful sales intel helps win the day here.
Body Language: being aware of postures and making confident movements helps connect with customers, communicating assurance and ease. Sales teams don’t have to do much here but be aware of their own, and avoid sending the wrong signals, e.g., arms folded across the chest, nervous hand tapping, leaning back from customers when they’re speaking, etc.
One tactic is to subtly mirror the customer’s’ body language, e.g., if the customer speaking leans forward, so does the sales team, if the customer speaking leans back, so does the sales team. This will take some sensitivity and practice to avoid looking like a choreographed caricature of customer movements.
Ease with Challenge – Conflict: how sales teams deal with difficult questions or challenging customers speaks volumes about a potential customer-supplier relationship.
Customers are looking to see how sales teams handle themselves, whether they’d throw someone under the bus, or stand up and be accountable. Sales teams must:
• Avoid reacting defensively
• Answer straightforwardly
• Accept responsibility
• Communicate learnings and corrections as appropriate
If there’s a fire fight, only the sales team loses.
Conciseness: something as simple as answering questions with simple, clear answers (with an appropriate level of depth and detail) is huge. Customers don’t want to sit through a sales team’s long-winded, blowhard answers. They want information short, sweet, and accurate.
Rehearsal will help sales teams get their individual answers down to 60 seconds or less, which can cover as many as 120-200 words per answer: more than enough information for customers as they can ask follow on questions if they want more detail.
Empathy: without sounding like the movie trailer for Old Yeller, sales teams want to find opportunities to express their emotional understanding of customers’ situations; at the business, departmental, and personal level.
First and foremost, Empathy starts with genuinely listening to what customers say.
The next step is to include business stories that highlight human consequences, and how the sales team, and/or its company brought about positive outcomes.
Gracefulness: being graceful in presentations doesn’t mean the sales team wears ballet tutus. It does mean rehearsing enough so that the hand-off from one sales speaker to another is done without stepping on toes, or embarrassing silences that a truck could drive through, or correcting one another’s answers.
Grooming/Clothing: about physical appearances; life isn’t fair, the world isn’t fair, and neither is business. Attractive sales teams have a step up, and that’s not fair. Nothing to be done about that, either your team is attractive to look at, or they are not.
However, hairstyles, jewelry, and clothing are choices. For sales presentations, the only imperative is to match your customer’s cultural norms. Sales teams dress style must match the customers, e.g., high-tech campus casual, Wall Street finance formal, etc.
Nothing screams “We don’t belong here” more than dark suits and ties at a Silicon Valley tech firm. Conversely, can you imagine mohawks and visible tats in an Investment Banker’s conference room?
Humility: is the wisdom knowing that everyone is wrong sometimes, that stuff happens, and that there’s always a bigger dog somewhere. Humility can be seen as a quiet confidence, knowing that your sales team and your offer are great, while accepting the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that come along for the ride. Know it, own it, and use it.
Humor: oh, the double-edged sword. Getting customers laughing is a good sign for sales teams in almost every instance.
And this doesn’t only have to come from a funny story or ice breaking joke. Look for opportunities where culturally appropriate visual humor can be included in your slideshow decks.
Be careful, but when you’re confident you’ve got the right take on acceptable humor in the customer’s culture, go for it.
The dangerous part of humor is when it misses and is seen as culturally incorrect, or even worse, as a sign of desperate and nervous salespeople.
Best advice regarding humor in sales presentations is to be yourself but with your professional face on.
Meaningfulness: is about seeking to connect business concerns to a higher calling. All sales topics must be focused towards customers’ business needs, wants and desires. But with meaningfulness the intent is to connect those business topics to goals or aspirations that have greater meaning than treasure alone. Ideas that business topics can connect to may include beliefs in:
• Hard work that pays off
• Fairness & level-playing fields
• Caring & helping others less well off: we are our brother’s keeper
Bringing this level of meaningfulness into sales presentations can create strong connections with customers, showing that we are all similar at some level, sharing common hopes, fears, and joys. And it can only be done by really understanding customers as individuals, along with their company values and culture – and genuinely caring about those values one’s self.
Passion: in presentations, is for the sales team to show a strong enthusiasm for producing the customer’s desired outcomes. And like humor, can be a double-edged sword.
Customers commonly want suppliers to be excited about their work, but overly passionate sales teams can end up looking like hyper-emotional cheerleaders, which hurts their credibility.
Therefore, sales teams must find selected moments when they can communicate their passion in an intelligent manner, and avoid sending the wrong message. The balance of the presentation can be done in cooler, quiet confidence.
Personal Manners: while there may not be a set of universally correct manners (they can vary by generation and culture), getting them right is essential for sales teams to align with customers culturally, and be liked by them too.
When sales teams miss those cues, such as not opening doors, or interrupting, or behaving in an overly familiar manner, the disrespect can sink a presentation faster than snow on a red hot skillet. Forget the great price and spectacular value proposition – the sale is toast.
Technical Smarts: this is when sales teams includes power SMEs, ones that customers are in awe of. Credibility hangs on the interactions when sales teams get technical with customers.
And as you’d guess, one misstep and it’s virtually impossible to regain. Therefore, sales teams should always include the vital few, well-rehearsed, relevant SMEs to carry the presentation at these points. Or blow your credibility out of the water, never to be seen again.
Slideshow Decks Matter Too
Slideshow decks (think PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote) are prompts that help sales teams toward winning the Presentation Trifecta.
As a consultant, I perform best-practice assessments on slideshow decks, and since I can’t sit in my clients’ live sales presentations, I help out on the deck-only portion of their presentations.
As a result, I’ve learned the following about the relationship between slideshow decks and their impact on the Presentation Trifecta.
Atrocious Slideshow Decks Erase Credibility
Imagine the Credibility of a sales team whose slideshow deck were a mish-mash of cheezy clipart, schizophrenic design, and out-dated photos?
The quality of the slideshow (design, organization, and narrative) greatly impacts selected attributes, and can change customers’ once positive view of the sales team to a less than stellar overall evaluation.
Consider the impact on a sales team’s Credibility for:
- Articulateness & Conciseness – if there’s too much text on screen, or messy images, or the sales’ story meanders, customers will assume that’s what they’d get from that sales team / supplier
- Technical Smarts – this is where “what you know” is more important than “who you know,” and the slideshow deck must communicate expert knowledge; why would customers select a “partially expert” sales team / supplier?
Good Slideshow Decks Strengthen Likeability
An intelligently designed deck can support and enhance sales teams’ Likeability by supporting several of the team’s personal qualities and skills, such as:
- Gracefulness– a good deck enables dynamic navigation, where customers ask an out of order question and sales teams can get to any topic in as few as one to three clicks. This addresses the reality of presentations where sales teams want to talk about “A” through “Z” in order – yet customers want only to hear about “K”, “P”, and “R” and in “R”, “K”, and “P” order. A good deck enables sales team to do just that.
- Humor– interjecting culturally appropriate humor is a great engagement tactic. A favorite client of mine has reused a Far Side cartoon many times over the years – because the humor in it acts as a stepping stone from which he transitions into a more serious topic and drives home his point. He is able to share his personal humor, make his serious point, and increase his Likeability with his audience.
- Meaningfulness– a smart deck will integrate deeper meaning into appropriate slides so they are available when the time is right to get serious, or at least more so than making a profit or slashing costs
Likeable Sales Presenters are Sometimes Forgiven Atrocious Decks – Sometimes
Sales teams that have atrocious slideshow decks, and know it, believe decks aren’t that important in customers’ final selections. Their erroneous logic is that they’ve been selected before using atrocious decks, so why change now?
Those lucky few sales teams are being selected in spite of their decks. The Likeability of those sales teams is so great that customers forgive them their catastrophically bad decks and still select them.
But this isn’t the norm; it only happens for a very small minority of sales teams. And even those sales teams that are occasionally selected while using bad decks could be winning many more if they were to use a halfway decent deck.
The reality for most sales teams, in most customers’ sales presentations, is to go in with a good slideshow deck. Why stack the odds against one’s self?
The goal of a sales team in a presentation is to get the customer to select them for the next and final step of negotiation and contract execution.
But the path there is as much an enigma for customers as it is for sales teams.
The Presentation Trifecta directs sales teams to strive for first or second position in Likeability, Credibility, and Affinity, relative to the competition. Once achieved, customers will select them and move into the final stage, and happy days are ahead.