I’ve gone on more sales calls than I can count. I’ve seen building materials salespeople try to sell every type of product to every type of customer – architects, distributors, dealers, contractors, engineers, big boxes and owners.
It didn’t matter who we were meeting with, however. Because most of the presentations I sat through were terrible.
The sales rep would bring up things like how old the company is, how many facilities they have and the size of their operation. Then they’d cover their technical and engineering departments. Once that was out of the way, they’d move on to describing their product line.
I put on my best poker face, but I was screaming on the inside. I kept being amazed at how badly most of these salespeople were fumbling the ball.
I had to fight the urge to take over the call and improvise my own sales pitch. Whatever I came up with, I knew it would’ve been ten times better than the one I was witnessing. But all I could do was sit back and watch the customer tune out the presentation. My job was to observe, so that’s what I did.
After the call was over, I’d report back to the company and tell them how to fix their sales presentations. I had seen one of their sales fall flat, but if they followed my advice they would see their future sales numbers multiply.
But why did those presentations go wrong in the first place?
Emails and websites are a good way to reach a lot of people at very low cost. Although they’re fairly cheap, companies will spend a lot of time and money making sure they get the most out of them. They’ll do A/B testing, keep track of open rates and continuously work on their SEO.
Sales presentations are far more focused. It’s a way to reach a few customers at a high cost. Yet I rarely see companies give as much consideration to these presentations as they do to the subject lines of their emails.
Many sales presentations are put together by the salesperson themselves. The company takes a hands-off approach and trusts that the results will be fine. They rarely are.
Others are created by the marketing department. Those are usually put together by people who don’t have enough experience dealing directly with customers. As a result, they treat it like they’re assembling a PowerPoint presentation instead of creating an experience.
Both of these approaches are incredibly common, but neither are great. Both will cost you a lot and give you very little in return.
The solution isn’t to pull back on presentations. Done right, they’re the perfect way to reach customers. You just need to make sure they’re effective so you’re not wasting your salesperson’s – or the customer’s time.
How to Create an Effective Sales Presentation
Not every sales presentation I sat through made me want to bury my head in my hands. Some of them genuinely blew me away and left the customer impressed and ready to take the next step.
Here’s what those great presentations had in common.
1. Make It All About the Customer
Your company was founded sixty years ago by a father and son team? Wonderful. You’ve just upgraded your facilities and purchased new equipment? That’s nice.
You’re opening new warehouses and making headway into the Canadian market? Okay, sure.
That’s all great, but why are you telling the customer any of this? No architect would set aside thirty minutes of their workday to hear about how well your company has been doing. Contractors are far too busy to sit down and have you tell them how long you’ve been in business.
If a customer is making time for your presentation, it’s because they’re hoping to get something out of it. They want to come out of it with a solution to a problem, such as cutting down their installation time. A company that can guarantee fewer shipment delays. A building material that’s both higher quality and weighs less than the one they’re using now.
Think of it this way. The customer is doing you a favor by meeting with you. They’d rather not sit through a sales pitch, but they’re giving you a chance to make a case for your product. So, it’s your responsibility to make it worth their while. Don’t waste their time telling them how successful your company has been – show them how you can help their company succeed instead.
2. Grab Their Attention Right Away
Your customers have something in common with me. They’ve all sat through too many bad sales presentations. When they sit down for yours, they’ll be bracing themselves for yet another bad one. They’re expecting you to waste their time, because that’s what most sales calls do. That’s why the first two minutes are critical. It’s your chance to get their attention and show them that you’re not just going to give them a run-of-the-mill presentation.
Right off the bat, you have to make it clear that you understand the problems they deal with and that you can help them overcome the challenges they face. Otherwise, they’ll start staring at the clock, glancing at the notifications on their phones and tuning you out.
3. Think Big – Really Big
There are two ways to look at what your customer is doing. You can narrow down on the day-to-day details of what they do, or you can pull back and look at the big picture.
Is that contractor installing fixtures in residential buildings?
Or are they providing people everything they need to focus on what really matters in their lives? Is that owner looking for ways to get green certification? Or are they doing their part to create a more sustainable future? Is that distributor making products available for their customers? Or are they instrumental in keeping the economy running?
It’s that big picture thinking you want to emphasize. You want the customer to know that you see them as part of something bigger. They’re not just constructing new buildings, they’re changing the world.
But when you focus on the small details of your product, you’re making them think small.
When you try to sell your product on a technical detail like its perm rating, you’re talking to the customer like they’re just the people who install external walls. If instead you sell the same product on its ability to protect the building from unpredictable weather events, you’re speaking to them as a forward-thinking company with a vision for the future.
Think of your customer in big picture terms. What are they doing to change the world?
Make your product part of that story. If you can help them achieve great things, they’re far more likely to want to buy from you.
4. Talk About Risks and Problems
Benefits are nice to have, but that’s it. When you lay out all the advantages of using your product, your product goes into the “maybe” pile. Even if it’s a great product, the customer won’t be in a rush to switch from the decent materials they’re using to the better one you’re offering.
That’s why your presentation should be about risks and problems. Risks and problems are urgent. They need to be dealt with as soon as possible.
There are risks to not buying from you. It could be falling behind while the competition moves ahead, expensive maintenance a few years down the road, or project delays and callbacks. Whatever risk you can help them avoid, make it front and center.
Same with problems. Every customer has a set of problems that weighs them down. They’re the things holding them back, the frustrations they face each day, or the reason they keep losing customers.
If your product can help a customer solve any of their problems, that should be the big message from your presentation. Because offering them a good product might get you the sale, but taking a load off their shoulders will almost guarantee it.
Sales Presentation Best Practices
Those are the major principles behind an effective sales presentation. But the details matter as well. So, here’s a quick list of the best practices you should follow when putting together a presentation.
1. Be Clear and Concise
The product you’re selling comes with a very detailed description and a long list of technical specs. You have to know them all and know them well so you can answer any question the customer has. But you should also ignore almost all of them in your core presentation.
Your presentation needs a clear and concise message. It should be simple enough for the customer to understand without any additional explanation. You should also avoid having too many tangents – stick to your main point all the way through.
2. Tailor the Presentation to the Customer
If you could give the same sales presentation to an engineer or a building owner, it’s too generic. Each type of customer will care about your product for a different reason. For an architect, it might be the specific features. For an owner, it could be long-term cost savings. For a contractor, it could be the seamless installation process.
Research the customer ahead of time and adjust your presentation to make sure it speaks directly to them and their needs.
3. Have a Strong Value Proposition
What’s the one big benefit your customer can expect from your product?
Will it help them be more efficient? Will it save on costs – and are those short-term expenses or long-term ones? Will it help them succeed and increase their revenue? Will it give them an advantage over the competition?
Whatever it is, that’s your value proposition. It should be emphasized throughout the presentation. The customer should never forget that that’s really what you’re offering them.
4. Include Visual Elements
Graphs, charts, images and videos are all great communication tools. Make use of them. Presentations with a strong visual component are more persuasive, more engaging and more memorable. If you’re relying only on words and text, your presentation is going to fall flat.
5. Include Demonstrations
If you can, give a live demonstration of your product. Seeing the product in action helps the customer envision what the product can do for them.
If a live demonstration isn’t possible, use case studies. Those aren’t as powerful, but they still help the customer picture what they can get from working with you and using your product.
6. Keep It Interactive
Getting the customer to participate in the presentation is a great way to keep them engaged. It’s much harder for them to tune you out or start daydreaming when they’re actively involved.
Encourage questions, feedback, and discussions throughout your presentation so you never lose the customer’s attention.
7. Make Following Up Easy
End your presentation by giving your customer a clear set of next steps. Provide them with your contact information. Let them know when and how you’ll be following up with them. Offer any additional support they might need for their decision-making process.
Don’t Lose Another Sale to a Bad Presentation
When you give a bad presentation to a customer, you might as well have not showed up at all. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and gets you nowhere.
It’s also easy to avoid.
Most building materials sales presentations are so bad that it doesn’t take much to deliver a superior one. As long as you focus on the customer, address their needs directly and make a clear case for the value of your product, you’ll be able to wow them.
Anything less than that and you’ve lost the sale before you even get to the end of your pitch.