Mea Culpa – Presentation Mistakes to Avoid

The dumb things I’ve done in sales presentations are legion. This isn’t humility, this is fact. I’ve made these mistakes selling facility services.

14 years later, as a consultant running an RFP process, I saw high-level salespeople making my same mistakes. Even saw my former employer falling down, just like I did.

Oh business gods of the top and bottom lines…when,oh when will we learn.

Save yourself a couple decades of mea culpas (Latin for “my mistake”). Avoid these and you’ll be that much closer to doing the right things and winning the sale.

Here are a few of my classic blunders, there are many more.

  • Top dog talking too much
  • Hey, good buddy!
  • Dancing instead of answering
  • Of course they didn’t read it
  • Never skip rehearsals
  • Me, me, my, my

Top dog talking too much

This can be a hard one, but don’t let your president / owner / sr. exec lead the presentation, or talk too much. You, the salesperson, must be the facilitator, and you determine how long your top dog should speak and on what topics.

Your top dog is only there for a very specific purpose; to demonstrate to the customer that your firm:

  • Considers that customer very important
  • Will commit all the necessary resources
  • Is available for the customer to voice their concerns

Don’t do what I have done and allow the president to start the presentation off with a 20 minute history of our illustrious company.

When he finished and handed back the presentation to me I was looking at a sea of brain dead decision makers, they were either snoring loudly or filling out their lunch orders. Thanks Mr. president.

In another situation, on the customer side during an RFP process, I witnessed an Area VP (highest exec of the presentation team) talk for at least 30 minutes while the rest of his 5-member team sat mutely alongside.

As decision makers, we were thinking “Is this guy, who’s doing all the talking, going to do all the work too? Of course not. Why won’t he shut up so we can hear how they are proposing to do the job?”

Remember, top dogs are there for a very limited purpose. As difficult as it may be to bend the ego of your boss’ boss, give it your best shot. After all, it’s your commission at stake.

Hey, good buddy!

Really embarrassing things can happen when a salesperson makes a point of highlighting their past / personal relationship with one of the decision makers….during the presentation.

It’s obvious it’s happening when the salesperson makes way too many references to their past working relationship with that particular decision maker.

The rest of the decision makers start thinking the salesperson doesn’t value their role in this decision process. It gets their backs up, not an intelligent move.

Also, that particular decision maker may feel embarrassed for the overt attention, and recommend against you to show their peers he / she is not beholden to you – that there were no trips to Aruba, or 50 yard line seats.

So, when you do have a good personal relationship with one of the decision makers –> park it at the door, don’t bring it into the presentation meeting.

Treat all decision makers with equal respect, and attention.

Dancing instead of answering

The purpose of an RFP process is to select the best solution.

That means before you lay out your proposed solution, provide a little background, some context for why you’re proposing what you are.

This does require some sensitivity in the telling. You don’t want to tell that room full of decision makers they’re all just one service mistake away from bankruptcy and jail time. But you still must present the truth the way you see it. Accurately, concisely and with sensitivity to their ego and company loyalty.

And when they ask you a direct question –> provide a direct answer. Don’t blubber on about the benefits, until after you succinctly told them what, or how you’re going to do something.

Of course they didn’t read it

I used to assume all decision makers had read our proposal, and all the other suppliers’ too, before they met us in the presentation.

And in most cases they will have, but don’t expect everyone to. You’ll have a decision maker asking obvious questions that you answered at length in your RFP responses.

Cub scout time, be prepared. Have a very brief, concise synopsis on the tip of your tongue for each major component of your proposed solution. Or better yet, divvy up that chore. Have each of your presentation team members assigned with a very brief, concise synopsis ready should they be needed to update the non-reader.

Did you get the emphasis here on “very brief and concise?” Don’t launch into the director’s cut that details every nut and bolt. You’ll lose decision makers who diligently did their work.

Don’t believe your PR

Competitive advantages between suppliers of facility services are much narrower than your boss would like to think.

Don’t drink that kool-aid. Remain skeptical, question how revolutionary your new (fill in the blank) system, or tool or procedure really is.

This is critical when you’re in front of decision makers and declare you have the greatest whizbang on the planet –> because your competitor made the same claim only 10 minutes before you. And their whizbang was much cooler and had tons more features than yours. Ouch!

Stay away from hyperbole. If you make a claim about industry leadership or first to market, substantiate it with a 3rd party validation, which could be an industry award, certification or media article.

Never skip rehearsals

It’s corny, I know. To lock your presentation team away for 1/2 or a full day of rehearsals. You all know your stuff, sure. You’re all industry professionals with a gazillion years of experience.

Guess what? You’re not presenting the same thing each time. The bids, customers, and their situations change with each bid. Your weaknesses vary according to the context. Your competitors and their offerings evolve over time. Rehearse.

Tell me you’re not saying the same thing, presentation after presentation. If you are, skip the presentation, make a video and email a link to the decision makers so they can view it online from the comfort of their office.

Me, me, my, my

Yes, you’re proud of your proposal, your firm’s capabilities, your references, your revenue growth, your company’s history, your…..

And those qualifications are important, but only as important as they:

  • Deliver a solution to your decision makers’ company
  • Are successfully communicated during your brief presentation time slot
  • Focus on what you do and connect it to the value they’ll receive

Otherwise, your presentation is only a hot air fest of self congratulations.

Save yourself embarrassment and disappoint, learn to avoid these presentation mistakes.

Questions or Ideas?

Send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt
12 Tips for Great Presentations