A sales presentation is "what you say to the customer when you have the floor." It is not a conversation, a questioning session, or a rapport-building chat.  It is what you say when you must literally "stand and deliver"--whatever selling proposition you have to offer.

I recently had a conversation with the scintillating Terri Sjodin, author of New Sales Speak: The 9 Biggest Sales Presentation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.  Here are some quick pointers to make your presentations better:

1. Make certain it's the right time.

Never make a sales presentation or pitch to an individual or even to a group of two or three people.  If the size of the group is small enough to have a conversation--that is, a real give and take of ideas--have a conversation.

You still may end up making the same points, but if the meeting is personal, it's more effective to have the points evolve from the conversation rather than presenting them in a one-to-many format.

2. Don't give a keynote--or a lecture.

Some people wrongly believe that sales presentations should be like keynote speeches--entertaining but without much meat. Other people are believe that sales presentations should be like lectures--informative and instructive. Both groups are wrong.

The purpose of a sales presentation is to persuade a large group of people to make a collective decision. Any entertainment or information that's included must be subservient to that all-important goal.

3. Use a simple structure.

The basic structure of sales presentation should be as follows:

  • Introduction. Preview what you're going to communicate.
  • Body. The content you want to communicate, with supporting evidence.
  • Conclusion. Summarizes what you just communicated.
  • Close. Asks for the next step.

This basic structure is universal because it matches the way that adults learn and make decisions.

4. Create an 'argument' for buying.

Imagine that you're a defense lawyer, giving your arguments in court. You start by telling the jury what you're going to prove. Then you go through your argument, step by step, showing how the evidence supports your position. Then you summarize your argument and ask the jury to find your client "not guilty."

5. Answer three essential questions.

In your presentation, answer the three questions that are uppermost in the customer's mind:

  • Why should we work with you?
  • Why should we work with your company?
  • Why should we buy now rather than later?

To accomplish this, construct a series of claims or arguments. Describe to the customer what you're planning to do, what tools you're going to use, why it's going to work for them, and why it makes financial sense to buy now. Support each argument with real, verifiable data.

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