Everyone talks about the importance of customer focus, but very few salespeople apply the idea to their sales presentations, according to my interviews with top executives who have sat through hundreds of sales presentations. They complain about presentations that focus primarily on the presenting company, with slide after slide detailing their story and showing pictures of their corporate headquarters. Or, the presentation is all about the product being sold. Even if they do care about your company, they probably already know all they want or need to know—buyers are better informed than ever.
It’s easy to fall into the trap when you’re preparing your presentation. First, you are justly proud of your company and of your offerings, so it’s altogether human to want to talk about them. Second, you probably have no shortage of presentation templates available to you, put together by your marketing department, so it’s very convenient—maybe even mandatory to use them. Out of habit, you fail to realize how seller-centric your presentations might be.
So, here are a few filters you can use to test your own presentation before you go out and bore yet another prospect. They broadly fit into two categories: content and demeanor.
Customer-focused Content: Problems, Processes and Profits
Problem first, then solution. Solutions are unnecessary without problems. You might think that the problem is understood by everyone, so there is no need to talk about it, yet that’s wrong for two reasons.
First, talking knowledgeably about the customer’s problem is the best way to establish your credibility, far better than touting your credentials or telling them how many locations your company has. And I’m not just referring to a generic description of the problems your solution addresses—you have to show that you have done the research to understand this specific customer and their perspective on the problem.
The second reason is that even when the audience agrees on the description of the problem, they don’t all agree on its impact. In fact, everyone in the room may be impacted slightly differently, depending on their function or position within the company. Buying a solution represents change, and change is risky. So, your goal is to make the listeners feel that not changing is the greater risk.
Take a look at your presentation: do you talk about their problems, challenges and opportunities? How many slides are about them vs. about you?
Process improvements. Another excellent way to gain credibility and respect is to talk about their processes. Most B2B sales opportunities are about improving some aspect of the customer’s business processes. Show your expertise in their business by describing a day in the life of a process owner, both before and after, using their own language or terminology when possible. In my own sales processes, I try to spend time with a typical sales rep during the fact-gathering stage, and when I talk about this in my own presentations, it’s usually the most engaging part, especially when I can bring up anecdotes or examples. Showing that you’ve been on the scene where the process takes place is enormously credible. Do you talk about their business processes? Do you understand their steps, inputs required, outputs, and limitations? Do you talk about how to make their processes faster, better or cheaper?
Talk profits, not products. The language that resonates with the highest-level decision makers is that which talks about their own personal scorecards: the financial impact of their decisions. If solution selling is about solving problems and fixing processes, consultative selling is mostly about understanding and being able to express the business impact of your product or service. How much of your presentation addresses the business impact? What is the effect on revenue, costs, or asset efficiency?
Besides content, the way you present yourself can also demonstrate how customer-focused you are. Although it may appear to contradict what I said earlier about showing your knowledge, you have to be careful how you do it. If you try too hard to show how much you know about the customer, they may decide to cut you down to size a little. Be confidently tentative when you present your perception of the problem, and invite their comments. This will put you on the same side of the desk with the people in the room and ensure a shared understanding of the situation.
Another very simple test is to pay attention to your pronouns. How many times do you use “I” or “we” vs. “you”?
Finally, don’t be so focused on getting your message out that you forget to monitor messages in. Are you paying attention to the audience’s reaction and adjusting your talk accordingly? Are you encouraging questions and interactivity?
If you apply these test to what you are saying and how you are saying it, every member of the audience is likely to come away feeling that you have been speaking directly to them, and that is a wonderful thing to strive for in any presentation.