Every time you get the chance to present to a good prospect, you have the opportunity to develop a new client relationship. So it matters how good a presenter you are. In fact it matters a lot. Because if you could double the number of people who say yes to your presentation, you could double your revenue. And that’s a very achievable increase—so long as you know what type of presentation prospects respond to best. Early in my career, I didn’t. But eventually someone showed me the way.
The pretty good presentation
I cut my teeth as a presenter after joining a small business consulting firm. One of the senior guys there taught me their standard presentation. Like a lot of presentations, it was based on a sales process. For example, it identified the prospect’s problem, then proposed a solution and then—with lots of supporting data—showed why our organization would be the best choice for implementing that solution. It seemed to work, particularly with a certain, analytical, type of client. Trouble was, our close rate, across the company, was maybe 10%. At the time, we just accepted this ratio as normal.
But, after I’d been presenting for about a year, an outstanding vendor opened my eyes to a powerful way to take our sales presentations to a new level.
Here’s what happened.
The knock ’em dead presenter
Our company was looking for a CRM solution, so we invited three different vendors to present to us. The first two speakers used the same kind of presentation approach we used, and like us they supported the steps in the sales process with facts and logic. Although they both spoke really well and made strong personal connections with the audience, I found myself getting frustrated as they ran through their facts and data. Both had impressive systems and everything sounded good—but I wasn’t sure I should believe any of it. I kept asking myself, where’s the proof? I was dying for them to give me real-life examples. And I could see my colleagues around the room reacting similarly, furrowing their brows, tapping their pens.
The final presenter took a totally different approach, one that had the room hooked from the first slide. He opened by telling us about one of his clients—a firm much like ours. He described in detail the problems they had managing a large volume of prospecting and sales activity, and the impact those problems had on both the bottom-line and the people who worked there. They were exactly our problems.
He talked about the pain they felt, and how challenges organizing their activity had held the company back. The sales people felt frustrated. Support staff were overwhelmed. Like us, the firm didn’t think they were developing and serving clients as well as they could because they were so busy trying to stay on top of scheduling and delivering. He then took us on a journey, showing us how their client implemented their solution and solved each of their pain points.
Right from the start I was living his story. It was an emotional experience—real and convincing and inspiring. I was that client. I could feel their problems. The pain and the solution were no longer abstract things.
After the third presenter finished and left, my colleagues and I agreed at once we would go with his organization. We made that choice not on any differences in price, capability or support. The truth is, there wasn’t much between all three in those areas. It was simply the power of the last speaker’s presentation. In fact, his pitch had been so much better than the others that one of my partners half-joked, “We should be doing our presentations like that.”
The rest of us thought that was a great idea. The question was, what particular things had that last vendor done that we could adopt?
The anatomy of a knock ’em dead presentation
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the boardroom dissecting what we’d just seen and heard. By the end of the day we’d come up with the key to developing a knock ’em dead business presentation—use the power of story to illustrate the steps in the sales process. In other words, our problem wasn’t that we used the sales process, but that we hadn’t supported it with a story.
Give ’em the proof
We all know story is powerful, but the true power of story in a sales presentation is that stories provide proof that the facts you are citing are true. Sitting through the first two vendors’ presentations had left us begging to be shown examples of what they were saying. We wanted to believe, but we needed to be shown how.
Without a strong story to support what you’re saying your points will always just be abstract assertions. You’ll be asking your audience to take what you are saying on faith. Which is very shaky ground.
The final vendor understood that stories convert abstract facts into reality. They don’t require faith because they make the audience relive the experiences your clients have had. That’s a powerful effect, and for your audience, it’s the proof they need that what you are saying is true.
Be like the hero
Story is a powerful generator of emotion. When your prospect is reliving your story, they’re not doing it just with their head, they’re doing it with their heart. They’re feeling it. And if you tell a compelling story, one of the emotions they’ll experience is the desire to be like the hero in your story who solves their problem with your help.
As I later learned, because facts are abstract they tend to ignite a fear response in people—which explains the furrowed brows my partners and I had for the first two CRM presentations. That kind of emotional response isn’t the kind that inspires anyone to hire the presenter.
New and improved
We recut our presentation. We kept the basic structure, but interwove stories about clients we had worked with. We didn’t want to lose our audience anywhere along the way, so we made sure we backed up every abstract point with an example. We told stories about actual problems our clients had, then described how our clients were able to change their businesses for the better after adopting our solution.
Our new approach worked. Within a year, our close ratio had moved from 10% to over 25%—more than doubling our revenue. And all we did was present differently.
We might like to think we can sway people by pure logic alone, but the reality is naked logic turns people off. At best facts may lead to conclusions, but emotions are what lead to positive action. And nothing generates emotion like the power of story. So kick-up the power of your presentation by bringing your clients’ experience to life with stories that create the desire for your solutions.
About the author: Andy Haynes is a writer for FreshBooks. He is the co-author of two best-selling business books, a successful entrepreneur and business consultant.
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