Most sales presentation training, including my own, focuses on individual presentations. Yet that has to change, because in all the research I’ve done for my forthcoming book on strategic sales presentations, I’ve found very little written about how to effectively plan, practice and deliver a team presentation. Unlike a group presentation, which is merely individual presentations strung together, a true team presentation is seamless and synergistic.
Part 1: Team Presentations Are the New Normal
The reality of strategic B2B sales is that they usually involve teams. This is a fact that has clearly emerged from my interviews with top executives in researching for my book. Everyone I spoke to said that the majority of presentations they attend at their level are conducted by more than one person, and some said all of them are.
It makes perfect sense, because strategic sales presentations nowadays are almost by definition going to be team sales. They are generally complex system sales, and systems have many parts which generally can’t be comprehended or explained in sufficient detail by one person. Individual parts of these systems require specialized knowledge.
In addition, they are not transactional sales; you are either establishing or continuing a close working relationship with the customer, and that relationship can involve multiple individual connections across various functions and levels.
Often, the customer’s senior level executive is in the room precisely because the decision will have a broad impact across various functions within the organization. As a result, there are various people in the room who have a stake in the decision to be made and who will be working with various members of your team if you are successful. They want to get to know your team and gauge their compatibility with them.
The age of the heroic individual salesperson is over. Even if one person has all the knowledge and expertise to handle the presentation alone, it’s not a good idea. If you’re a short-listed candidate making a closing presentation, you have most likely already passed two crucial tests in the buying cycle: the customer has determined that the need is sufficiently important to invest in a solution, and they have agreed that your offering meets their minimum standards. The key remaining question at this point is “Can you deliver?”
A team presentation goes a long way toward answering this question by addressing two important issues:
First, they want to know: “Are these people we can work with over the long term?
An effective team presentation lets the customer see how your team works together and lets them try the team on for size. Several executives told me they pay attention to how the team works together during the presentation as an indicator about how they will work with the purchasing company.
When a team presentation goes well, the impact can be impressive and immediate. An executive who sat in on a presentation by a PR firm told me their team presentation was so impressive that “the foot of the last guy was barely out the door and the President looked at me and said, hire them.”
What did they like so much about that presentation that clinched the decision? They became comfortable that the firm could deliver on its promises because each person who was responsible for the different aspects of the relationship had a chance to present. They were also impressed by the obvious camaraderie that the team displayed, and had the feeling that spirit would make them easy to work with.
Second, they want to know: “Are we trusting our critical project to just one person?”
Actually, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. They want to be assured that they have “one throat to choke,”—a single responsible point of contact and accountability—plus the depth of an entire team to support their needs. If you’re in charge of the presentation, the structure and delivery of your team presentation must convey both of those characteristics. Numbers also count in terms of reassuring them that you have the depth of capability and talent to handle their needs.
From a delivery standpoint, team presentations also help to add variety and maintain attention. Even the most dynamic presenter can get a bit stale after about twenty minutes, so it helps to have different speakers.
Of course, anything with such strong benefits is bound to carry some risk. Team presentations are much more difficult to pull off properly. Anytime you add moving parts to a system there is much more chance of something going wrong. Plus, any team is at the mercy of its weakest player.
In the next two posts, we’ll discuss how plan, practice and deliver a knockout team presentation.