3 Keys to Building a Persuasive Sales Presentation

Ted took to the front of the room at a recent presentation workshop. It was his turn to deliver his persuasive sales presentation. Standing at one end of the long oval table and making eye contact with his five sales colleagues he began to lay out the reasons why an imaginary prospect (us) should purchase his system.

“Finally” he said as neared the end of his talk “if you implement our system we will improve your process and as a result reduce your cost.”

“OK” I said “but prove it.”

“What do you mean?” Ted asked.

“You’ve made an assertion” I said “that you will improve my process and reduce my cost but an assertion will not persuade anyone. You need to prove it”

And this “prove it” approach, I believe, is at the heart of the persuasive sales presentation. Time and again I have seen sale representatives deliver a laundry list of assertions to their prospects. “You should buy our product because it has high quality ratings, a competitive price, we have a quick turn on delivery, great follow-up service” and on and on and on.

But the prospect will likely not find that kind of presentation the least bit persuasive because none of the assertions are supported by any evidence.

Let’s look at three methods we can use within our sales presentation to prove our assertions and persuade our prospects. These methods include the statistic, the story and the quote.

Statistics. Research shows (Armstrong 2008, Rossiter &Percy 1980, Kelly & Hoel 1991) that statistics and charts are excellent persuasive tools for a presentation. However, presenting statistics can be tricky. Prospects will often find data meaningless if it’s not put into context for them. Whenever using statistics to persuade your prospect I suggest explaining exactly why the data is relevant to them. So if we use Ted as an example he might begin to persuade his prospect that he can improve their process and reduce their cost, by saying something like this: “For every $1.00 you spend buying printed marketing materials you spend $6.00 managing that material.” You should provide the research source for your data on your power point slide and now put that data in context for them – “what this means Mr. Prospect is that the true cost of your printed marketing materials isn’t in the cost of your brochures and sell sheets but in the managing of the inventory, the processing of requisitions and the distribution to end users”

Now you’ve delivered data that the prospect will find compelling because if they are purchasing printed marketing materials you have shown them exactly how this data relates to them. That kind of data will get the attention of the prospect and so we have begun the process of persuading them that improving their process can, in fact, reduce their cost. The next step in the persuasion process would be to tell this prospect a story.

Stories, or if you prefer case studies or examples are, to the surprise of most, more persuasive than statistics (Pennington & Hastie 1991, Lee & Leets 2002, Green & Brock 2000). I realize that’s not logical but human nature being what it is people love stories. We love to tell them, we love to listen to them and as a result we find stories both interesting and persuasive.

But that same research also shows that the most persuasive presentations combine both stories and statistics. So Ted’s story could come right after delivering his statistic on cost savings and could look something like this: “At this time last year ABC company was in the same situation as you, they utilized a highly manual process that included physical inventory counts, product requests that came in via email or phone call and distribution that was handled by Marketing personnel who spent eight hours a week focused on managing print. Today ABC has transitioned to our automated system, now we manage their inventory and distribution, orders are placed within the system and reports are available in real-time 24/7. Today, the Marketing personnel spend just two hours a week focused on print.”

Now we’ve given our prospect a compelling statistic and a story (real life example) that supports that statistic. We’ve painted a picture for them of two worlds, the inefficient manual world that ABC company used to live in (and that the prospect currently lives in) and the efficient automated world that ABC company lives in today (and that awaits the prospect if they transition to Ted’s system). If you’ve done your homework and can accurately describe to the customer the pain points within their current situation you’ll notice their heads nodding in agreement as you verbally detail their current struggles. One more step and our persuasive case is complete.

A quote from an industry expert, a credible research company or a customer can have a tremendous impact on your prospect. When you quote an expert who supports the case you’re making it is as if you pull that person into the conversation to help you persuade the prospect. So once again, returning to our example, after giving the prospect the compelling statistic and then delivering the descriptive story Ted could show the prospect a power point slide that has ABC company’s logo and a quote from ABC’s CFO that reads “The savings in both time and money have far exceeded our expectations!”

Now, after Ted makes his initial assertion, that his system will improve process and reduce cost, he can prove it to the prospect. By combining a statistic with a story and a quote Ted builds a persuasive case that proves to the prospect that he can, and in fact has, delivered on the promise to improve process and reduce cost.

When designing your next sales presentation be sure to avoid simply making assertions. Instead, use the statistic, the story and the quote to build a persuasive case and prove it to your prospect.

Spicing Up Your Presentation

You made your checklists, did your research, organized your information, and wrote out your speech. You have all the makings of an informative presentation. The only problem is, nobody will be informed, persuaded, or otherwise moved by your presentation if it fails to capture and maintain attention.

The very first step is to pick a medium. If possible, a PowerPoint presentation is typically ideal. Not only is the digital medium unmatched in versatility, but it also allows for printed supplemental materials that serve to support your presentation as opposed to weighing it down. A well-made PowerPoint consists of clear and concise slides that are organized for maximum impact. A great PowerPoint, however, takes things a step further. Employ carefully selected images and stock video footage, sparingly-applied music and sound effects, and even an occasional nudge of humor, and you will be looking at a truly effective presentation.

Be warned! Spicing up a droll presentation is just like spicing up a bland dish: too much spice, and it becomes impossible to consume. Stock video footage can add tremendously to the value of a presentation, but throw moderation to the wind and you will find yourself with a product that spends far too much time on the peripheries and fails to effectively deliver the pertinent message. If music and sound effects are inserted judiciously, the presentation will come off as unprofessional and even obnoxious. Moderation is especially key in the use of humor; if there is a place for it, err heavily on the side of subtlety and caution.

A good rule of thumb when deciding whether or not to add something to your presentation is to ask yourself, “What am I trying to do by adding this?” For example, if the addition is meant to lighten the mood, ensure that the mood needs lightening, and that your addition is appropriately structured and placed to do so.

Presenting Information Well, Too Difficult for Web Developers?

Web site design has gone through many evolutions with techniques coming and going. Most of this evolution has revolved around page layout and site navigation, today a modern site does indeed present a clear and easy experience for the visitor. However one area that seems to have been neglected is the display of numerical information. Perhaps this is due, in part, to that fact that not every site has numerical data to display or perhaps web designers are so focused on ‘look and feel’ that they neglect the clarity of information.

Getting visitors to a site is quite a task as we all know. So when we get them there we want them stay and understand the content. If that content involves numerical data then isn’t it worth making a little extra effort to present that data in a format that is both pleasing to the eye and enticing. So how do we do that? Well when you start to think about it, it really isn’t any different to the way we approach general site design. Today we wouldn’t dream of just chucking all the content at random on a page and expecting the visitor to make sense of it. So rather than just take the raw numbers and throw them into a table let’s give it a little thought. Think about what the data could be saying to user and then start to break it down into headline numbers and paragraphs as you would do with text information.

Numerical data can usually be quite easily segmented and totaled. Summing sections of data provide headline attention grabbing numbers, whilst segmenting provides the opportunity to paragraph the data making far more information easily accessible and far more interesting for the viewer. For example, let’s suppose we have a whole series of sales data and let’s imagine our organisation sells four products. Our raw data is a set of individual sales numbers. Simply placing this data in one big table, although displaying all the data, does not really provide very much information. For instance a normal user would have no idea which product is most popular or whether there are any trends or seasonal variations. With a little thought and effort we can do much better, let’s start by segmenting our sales figures by month and then within each month segment further by product. For each product / month cell we have two numbers, the total value of sales and the number of sales. Providing this in just a simple table will be far more meaningful than our original raw data set. The user can now begin to see which product is performing well and also whether any particular time of year is good or bad. However we can still do much better.

Even at this level of segmentation we are still making the viewer work to see the story contained within the data. Now that we have the data sensibly segmented it becomes a fairly easy task to display in graphical format. Done well graphs are extremely powerful because they both present information in a visual format and add dimension to the data. Relationships between adjacent data and trends across the range are made crystal clear. Choosing the correct chart style is key for making this work really well. Should we use pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs and something more exotic. In our sales data example remember we are looking to provide some attention grabbing headline followed by a paragraph of interesting detail. A viewer of our information may first be most interested in which of our products is the best performing. Although a bar graph of total sales for each product would provide this information, a pie chart representing the product totals would be more attention grabbing. So for our headline let’s provide the user with a pie chart of total sales. Now all we need to do is provide the paragraph, well the choice with our example data is a multi-series vertical bar chart. We have a series of data for each product segmented by month. Along the x-axis we will plot month and the y-axis will represent value of sales. Each month on the graph will contain 3 bars, one for each product. This simple approach provides the viewer with a great deal of information in one pleasing view. The bar chart tells the complete sales story for each of our products showing both trends and easy visual comparisons.

That’s all well and good, I hear you say, but web pages don’t lend themselves to easily generating graphical display. Well that’s true but there are today a wide variety of software packages that have specifically been designed to plugin to web sites and make the task of turning the numbers into eye catching, story telling graphs easy for the web designer. Generally you set a few options, like colours and then simply provide the segmented data to the software. At page view time your visitor is presented with the graph image.

In summary then, with a little thought and a small amount of effort the numbers can really be brought alive and provide a compelling story for visitors.