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.

Prop Up Your Presentations

Our presentations, that is, when we speak to clients, owners, stakeholders, boards, councils, students, and colleagues, typically include traditional visual aids. PowerPoint is heavily used, or perhaps more accurately, over used.

On reflection, many of us have access to highly-varied potential prop material, the use of which could enhance our communication effectiveness, especially for visual and kinesthetic learners. These learners prefer to understand by, respectively, seeing and touching or handling objects, in contrast with auditory learners who tend to focus on spoken words.

Given that we rarely know the learning preferences of audience members, we should anticipate that all three types-auditory, visual, and kinesthetic-are likely to be present and plan our presentation accordingly. Accommodating all three learner types will increase the overall listening level of your audience.

Consider these actual illustrations of using props to enhance communication:

o An engineer was trying to explain various consequences of leaks in municipal water distribution systems. To illustrate one kind of damage he brought to the meeting and used a large, heavy brass valve that had been deeply eroded-several inches-as a result of proximity to a water jet issuing from a hole in a water main.

o A city administrator occasionally brought a baseball bat to meetings to, as he said, “get attention” (hopefully symbolically).

o A consultant was speaking to college seniors about “10 Tips for Achieving Success and Significance.” A memorable prop was used for each tip. For example, the speaker held a crystal vase drawing parallels between it and one’s reputation. Each person’s reputation, like a hand-crafted vase, is unique. Major time and effort goes into building a reputation and in creating a crystal vase. Once shattered, a reputation, like the vase, is impossible to restore.

o A professor used a rectangular cross-section foam beam, with longitudinal parallel lines drawn on it, to show tension and compression.

Perhaps my thoughts about recognizing different types of learners, especially the visual and kinesthetic learners, reinforced with the prop examples provided above, will stimulate you to think in a fresh way to use props to fully utilize your speaking opportunities. As noted by consultant Mel Hensey, “communication is not what is intended, but what is received by others.” Judicious use of props will help others receive what you intended them to receive.