What Makes A Great Sales Presentation And What You Are Probably Doing Wrong

"That's the best presentation I've ever seen. Done, let's move forward."

The above was the feedback given by one of our customers, shortly after securing a multi-million dollar investment for a pilot project in the energy sector.

His client was a global entity head who had made a career out of spotting the diamonds in the rough, and in this pursuit had, in no uncertain terms, sat through more pitches than had had hot dinners.

He had been an A-typical prospect - a hard nut to crack. So, what separated this presentation from the rest? Was it the idea? That would have contributed, but it’s only half of the puzzle. Nobody at this stage of the process would have made it with a mediocre proposition.

A great idea merely qualified you to be seated across the other side of the table - it didn't make you special. There was something else at play.

Whilst this might be a unique scenario in terms of the stakes, the challenge in a complex sales environment is as common as they come. You may be, or know someone who is working for a company that doesn’t necessarily possess the best solution in the market for the customer.

After all, not everyone can be the best. Especially when ‘the best’ exists in a vacuum of perception.

As a salesperson, you know that the reality of your product or service in the marketplace plays second fiddle, in virtually all circumstances, to the customers’ perception of it.  You, as the voice of the organisation you front play the most critical role in creating this perception.

Like any artist, you use the tools at your disposal to help you along, especially if it increases your conversion rate by 50%. Presenting, your presentation.

A Well Designed Presentation Isn’t Just A Pretty Face

Presentation design goes far beyond the aesthetics. Sure, it might look good - but if it doesn’t support the presenter in articulating their message properly, it’s only going to end up in attractive tears. Engaging a single graphic designer will likely yield sub-par results, and only nominally improve conversion rates. Large enterprises tend to understand this, spending millions with specialist agencies, but the principles can apply universally - be it for startups, SME’s or SMB’s.

Understand The Role Of Pattern Recognition In Presentations

After sitting through thousands of presentations, I’ve seen first hand that most of them are pretty bad.  In fact, ask yourself - when was the last time you sat through a corporate communications presentation or training seminar without spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling, and scowling, through your old school chums’ Facebook feed?

...He was annoying then, and it looks like not much has changed.

Most people’s preconceived notion of sitting through a presentation is that it's going to be bad; so they’re most likely disengaged before you even start. If you go on to self-fulfill their prophecy with a presentation that looks just like the chump’s before yours, immediately the anchor point of the prospects’ perception will be negative or neutral.

There’s very little you can do to climb back from that.  

If You’re Reading From Your Presentation - You’re Doing It Wrong

People in your audience can read (well, hopefully they can).

This isn't a bedtime story session amongst the big corporate babies with lots of tender money to spend, it's a sales pitch, and they’re looking to see whether you know your product well enough to not have to read off of a pixelated slide.

You have a story to tell, and your spoken words are the lines of that story. The actual presentation merely plays the role of the accompanying photo, complementing the audience’s ability to understand you.

You have limited time standing in front of your prospects, and you want to use it actively engaging people with eye contact, hand gestures and powerful body language.

Don’t Downplay The Role Of The Presentation Itself

Salespeople are correct in believing that they are a crucial element to the sales process, but their affability isn’t the only thing getting a pen to a contract.

Humans are inherently visual creatures, and putting aside the fact that a professionally designed presentation reflects well on the company's approach to business, visuals are critical to communicating the intended message to the audience and delivering it with a degree of impact necessary to overcome any biases or scepticism your audience may have.  

If a key point to your USP is an unrivalled 20-year track record in delivering positive outcomes for customers - then, yes, you can convey this adequately with a bunch of dot points on a default Powerpoint presentation template, but adequacy and mediocrity doesn’t sell products. Plus, if you work in a business where there is a perception of homogeneity amongst suppliers, this is particularly relevant.

Impact Matters More, And More Often, In Highly Competitive Industries   

Imagine that I had a unique product where I guaranteed to automate your entire debt collection process at the touch of a button. As well as this, I could make you better looking, and for all of this, you’d be paying a flat-fee of $10 per month. Chances are, my presentation wouldn’t need to be terribly good to convince you to part ways with your hard-earned cash.

Adversely, if you’re in an industry where there exist an innumerable number of competitors that can do a similar job to you, then it's a different story.  Take the example of Recruitment Agency A and Recruitment Agency B pitching for the same account.  

Agency A has a stock-standard Powerpoint of the ilk that so many of us have had to endure at a corporate offsite. Agency B, on the other hand, has invested in a professionally designed presentation, allowing the presenter to articulate immaculately the desired message. Even if the content is identical, Agency B screams out as the one more certain of their own product, able to convey their message with more impact.

At this stage, it’s assumed you’re shaking your head, confident in your obvious customer-valued USP, and decent conversion rates. So - why fix what’s not broken?

Your USP Might Be Unique, But USP’s In General Aren't

Here’s why. And by Joe, does it actually kill conversion rates. The following are examples of hypothetical, but very plausible USPs of three companies.

Company A: We have a two decade long track record of delivering positive customer outcomes.

Company B: 95% of our customers have been with us for over five years.

Company C:  We have more customers than all our competitors combined. We’re rolling in them.

As a thought experiment, give it some time and consider which one you’d pick.

Great! But Irrespective of your answer, whilst each of these USP’s is by all accounts unique, none of them are so unique as to clearly differentiate them from the others. To Michael Jordan it, not a single one of them is a slam dunk.


And herein lies the one fundamental reason why a professionally designed presentation has the power to dramatically increase conversion rates: a professionally designed presentation should give the presenter the scope to explore the implications of this USP.

Generally speaking, this can be somewhat abstract, but without the support of both visuals, and a format that enables the presenter to take the prospect on a journey through this, the gravity and importance of your very unique, very special and very personal USP is so easily lost in the sea of its competitors claims.