Stifled Sales Conversations & Missed Opportunities

There are few things that rile us Eyefulites more than preachy sales presentations.

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You know the type of thing – a salesperson uses their set of linear PowerPoint slides to beat their audience into submission. Every attempt made by the audience to engage with the presenter (questions, comments, requests for clarification) are shot down with a withering ‘Can we please leave the questions until the end?’

You might think I’m exaggerating for comic effect but sadly this is how many sales presentations are still delivered. No wonder that PowerPoint and, in some circles, presentations as a whole have got a bad reputation.

The good news is that we, along with a few learned friends, are determined to break this awful practice. People like the team at Top Sales World recognise it’s time to embrace sales conversations and equip sales teams with tools that support rather than get in the way of audience engagement. So much so that they invited our founder, Simon Morton, to offer his thoughts on the topic as part of their ongoing podcast series, Hardtalk.

Click below to hear the interview in full:

Transcript:

Barb:               
Welcome back everybody. You are listening to Top Sales World, Sales Hardtalk. I'm your host, Barb Giamanco. We've got an action packed segment for you today, and I'm excited to be talking with Simon Morton. Simon founded Europe's leading presentation design company, Eyeful Presentations, in 2004. His goal was big, but simple. Support businesses to create more powerful, engaging, and effective presentations that make the most of opportunities and deliver results. 12 years, thousands of presentations, and millions of engaged audience members later, Eyeful's mission continues. Simon's book, The Presentation Lab, continues to make waves and has been released around the world in six languages. So Simon, welcome to the programme.

Simon:            
Thank you, Barb. Great to be here.

Barb:               
One of the things that I like about this is I think quite bluntly, can I just say that many sales presentations I've had the opportunity to sit in on aren't very good. So I'm super excited to talk about our topic, which is stifled sales conversations and missed opportunities, how toolkit presentations allow salespeople to sell, not preach. I love that. So let's jump right in, shall we?

Simon:            
Yeah. In terms of ... you've hit the nail on the head, really. The opportunity for us to make a difference is immense because the bar has been set so incredibly low when it comes to sales presentations. Now the good news is if yours is slightly better than the competition, it puts you in such a strong position that even small changes can have big, big impacts.

Barb:               
Yeah. So when you think about those presentations, because I was being blunt and being honest, I think many of the sales presentations that I have sat in on, watched, listened to, they're just not very focused on what the buyer wants. They seem very, very focused on what the vendor's trying to sell and they're not very impactful. So what are some of the common issues that you find with the kinds of presentations that are being created today, Simon?

Simon:            
It's the strangest thing, and sales presentations is probably the worst manifestation of the issue, but most presentations seem to completely forget not only common sense, but everything we were ever taught as salespeople. So yeah, there are so many cliche maxims out there, two ears, one mouth, use them in that ratio. We've all heard the long list of things that we should be doing as salespeople, and very experienced and successful sales professionals do the right things very naturally until it gets to the presentation, and then suddenly it seems all common sense just leaves them and they turn this robot where they're just throwing information, generic, inane, self-censored information at a prospect, hoping that some of it's going to stick, and the really spooky and quite scary thing is that as soon as somebody steps away from the presentation, they become a better salesperson again.

And then as soon as there is a need for a presentation ... and it's an intrinsic part of a sales conversation is that the presentation phase, they just disengage the brain again and they just turn into this dictator, and so to answer your question, I think that probably the biggest issue with sales presentations today is that presenters and salespeople talk at their prospect. They talk at their audience rather than engaging with them, and it's not a particularly subtle nuance, but it happens way too much, and I think a lot of it comes down to the way that people kind of see presentations as being pre-canned, pre-formatted, and there is a script and you follow it and you just hope that your audience will be quiet long enough to allow you to get through all 30 slides that central marketing have given you.

Barb:               
Right, and so I was just going to ask you that question, because it feels like some of this might be ... sorry, marketing folks, but it feels like some of that might be marketing's fault. They go to all this trouble to create these presentations and then they sort of pressure reps to just work through the bullet points. Do you see that as well?

Simon:            
Yeah. It's a topic that's been discussed for quite some time now, is that lack of engagement between sales and marketing, and frankly, I don't think anybody's blameless. So it's really easy, as experienced sales folks, for us to sit together over a coffee or a beer and bemoan the fact that the collateral that we're given from central marketing is not fit for purpose, which means that they've got to work way into the night to craft things that really do sort of align themselves with sales professionalism, and the reality is we need to meet in the middle. Marketing, as a function, is absolutely intrinsic to sales success, and we often get pulled in by marketing folks into our customer base, really as a result of their frustration, that salespeople are not listening to them and utilising the materials that they worked really, really hard to create.

So when we ask the sales guys why they're not using the materials, they say, "Well, it doesn't really allow us to engage with our clients," and so we say, "Okay, well show us what you're using," and outside of them typically being the worst death by nightmare that you've ever seen, they tend to be different flavours of the same problem. They're still talking at the audience, because this whole presentation thing ... we talk as a business a lot about presentation culture. There is a culture around presentations that fundamentally says they are a tool by which you can hit your prospect right on the head with rather than use them as a ... a few people do this, but it's a maddening small number of people do this. It should be seen very much as a platform to spark the sales conversation, to test understanding, to build understanding, and then off the back of that, demonstrate that you're able to support your prospects in whatever endeavours they're looking to address.

So the easy answer is marketing live in their own little bubble. They don't understand what it's like on the front line. Frankly, salespeople don't understand presentations any more than marketing people in many situations, and we need some mix the two together and then not focus on fighting your own corner internally, actually put yourself in the shoes of your audience. It's a phrase we use a lot. We talk about the audience being the most important stakeholder in any presentation, yet time after time, they are the last person anybody really considers when they're crafting their presentation and that shouldn't be the case.

Barb:               
No, it shouldn't be the case, and unfortunately I find sometimes that's true in sales calls as well. Salespeople are going in with that same kind of agenda and it's really all about, "Let me tell you all about us." Funny story, Simon. A few weeks ago, I gave a rep ... who had an interesting technology that I thought might benefit my business, but I gave him time on the calendar. Literally after saying, "Hello," the guy launched into his pitch and 10 minutes later, I had to interrupt him and say, "You need to stop talking."

You haven't asked me a single question. You don't know why I even said yes to the call, and this was just the call, but I've also been in situations where I've said, "Sure," and they'll say, "Oh, let's get on GoToMeeting, and they roll into the pitch just like you described, talking all about the corporate history and then they want to walk you through all the aspects of why this works for them without actually figuring out whether or not it works for you. That whole talking at scenario. I think about different presentations that bug the heck out of me, one thing that you'll probably speak to you, because I want to get into, this concept of the presentation landscape and how that plays out in sales presentations, but in addition to the talking at, it's things like, "I know you can't read what's on the slide ..."

Simon:            
Yeah.

Barb:               
Or you've got the presenter who's just robotically going through every bullet point, and I find myself sometimes sitting there, whether it's in a meeting or just a conference presentation and thinking, you could have just sent me the PDF and I could have read that. You're not really giving me anything that's interesting. So let's talk about that presentation landscape that you have developed as a concept. How does that play out for sales presentations?

Simon:            
Yeah, it's one of the many things I get somewhat animated about, because I look around at the materials, the vast majority of the materials that are available to people, that are looking to improve their presentation engagement, and I'm talking about books, blogs, YouTube videos. You can't move for well meaning content out there looking to support people that are aiming to become better presenters, but the vast majority, I'm talking now 80-90% of the content that's out there fits very much into what we would term formal presentations. So all of the soft skills stuff, how to hold yourself, how to use your hands, how to breathe properly, all of the information about how a slide should look, if you're going to use slideware, what size fonts you should be using. There are a million bits of well-intentioned, good advice that works perfectly for a formal presentation when you're talking at a large number of people.

So that might be at a conference. It might be ... actually, sometimes in the sales process at a very formal pitch, where there is a very clear set of directions. The present presentation will be 20 minutes followed by 20 minutes of Q&A to a set agenda, and that's fine, but we all know, anybody with any sales experience knows that the best sales meetings happen when you have a conversation with your audience, and this is where my frustration comes from, because on the left hand side of the landscape you've got this formal thing, which happens once in a blue moon, but when it does there's a lot of information to be shared there. This middle piece, this interactive presentation, the opportunity to listen, respond, and engage with your audience is not particularly well served, and certainly in terms of the way that people, marketing sales, sales enablement, all of these teams internally craft a presentation, they don't tend to think of the conversation. They tend to think of the formal presentation.

So sales guys end up with a script. People may not call it a script, but it tends to be a script that is designed to get as much information across to an audience as quickly and in as structured a way as possible. Well people don't buy like that. They buy based on conversations, and we need to ensure that people are equipped with tools that enable that conversation, and the landscape can go all the way through to what we call the informal presentations, which is that cup of coffee meeting, where it's just the two of you, and frankly, you shouldn't be anywhere near a PC, because it's an informal conversation that if you're armed with nothing more than a pen and a notepad, you should be able to get across your message visually, even if it's just doodling a very simple process diagram that explains sort of what you do and how you do it, then that's still presenting, and where this frustration around the presentation landscape comes out is that all presentations are deemed to be formal and everything else is just a bit too complex and a bit too frustrating to address so people simply don't.

Barb:               
Well, thank goodness. You just helped me to realise that I'm not as old school as I used to think I was, because I rarely in any customer situation, give a "formal" presentation. It's really about having the right kind of conversation, preparing the kinds of questions, and then listening, but I tell you, I've gotten in other situations where it's not uncommon, and even if you go to say a local Starbucks, or in your part of the world, it might be a different coffee place that people tend to go to, it's not uncommon ... you've probably seen this. I have. You walk on by and it's clear that somebody is meeting with somebody for the first time and the next thing, you see the laptop go up and, "Here, let me show you this. Let me walk you through the demo." I see this a lot with tech companies, and then at the same time, you can almost see the eyes glazing over with the person on the other side.

Simon:            
Yeah, always.

Barb:               
Because it's like, "Oh my gosh, this is not what I had in mind when we sat down to have this conversation." So you mentioned sales enablement also having a role here. So how can they help get those sales presentations to that optimal level? Again, I'm assuming it's sales, sales enablement, and marketing all working together, but what's their role?

Simon:            
Yeah. Sales enablement is a really interesting one, and we've been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic sales enablement teams who have recognised that the presentation piece is not just a set of slides that are available through whatever call system you've set up. There actually are ... they go way deeper than slide collateral. They are very much about sparking the sales conversation. So if there was any advice to share to sales enablement teams when they're looking to support this part of their very important and very complex role is never forget that the presentation is there to compel and convince your audience. So as you're going through a sales enablement programme, and I wrote about this recently Top Sales World magazine is don't see it as an opportunity to improve the look and feel of your slides.

That is not the purpose of presentations within a sales enablement programme. It should be ensuring that the sales presentation material that's created allows your salespeople, with good training and with the right support, to have those conversations. So if that part of the programme is simply taking the death by PowerPoint deck that you had before and taking a few words out and sticking it on a new template, you really are doing nothing but playing around the edges. It's a fantastic opportunity. Presentations are ... we've done numerous surveys, and the presentation is seen as the weapon of choice by most salespeople out there, for good or bad reasons, just putting lipstick on that pig is not going to be sufficient and it is not going to address the challenge that all salespeople face now, which is differentiating themselves against ever stronger competition.

Barb:               
No question about it, and that interactivity is key. I like what you've said, which I'm a big believer in, and it takes a little more time, but it's so important. You've got to think about these conversations, whether they're formal or informal from the buyer's point of view, and so many times, Simon, I see that many presentations start with the, "Let us show you the picture of our corporate building and our corporate history," and I'm talking big name brands who are well known, who don't need to communicate why that's important, and in fact, the customer's probably already read about them on the web anyway. All right, so we've got a couple of things happening here. So sales enablement and marketing can certainly help by creating more compelling and convincing presentations, as you said. What advice are you going to give to sales team members who might still get that flat sort of formal presentation? How do they make it their own so it better fits the situation and helps them be more compelling and convincing? Is it just simply choosing not to use it? Or what do they do?

Simon:            
There's a bit of that. I have to say, there's an element of being brave, and this is where ... we've been doing this for over a decade now. I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of sales teams taking this best practise on. Very quick sort of a story. I remember I was actually been pitched to by a services company. They were looking to offer us a particular set of services to our business, and the salesperson was brilliant, really, really good. Great rapport bill, great sort of discovery phase, and then just as we were eating out the palm of her hand, she said, "Great, okay. Before I go into the presentations, any questions?" "No, just I'm keen to understand why she was presenting," and then she, over a period of 30 minutes, sucked the energy, the enthusiasm, and the buzz out of the meeting by presenting slide after slide after slide.

And I said to her ... at the end, I said, "We were about to sign, and we will still sign because he was so good at the start, but what the hell was all that about?" And she said something really scary to me. She was relatively inexperienced, and she said, "My sales director has decreed we must all deliver this presentation in every sales meeting." I said, "What? The entire lot?" She went, "Absolutely, to that script, and if we don't, we get marked down on our KPIs." That was ... well, your stunned silence was very similar to my stunned silence, and I'm like a dog with a bone with this stuff. So I called up the sales director. I said, "Yeah, this person was fantastic and we look forward to working with you guys, but she almost lost the deal because of that. We need to get together and talk." And fundamentally, it was a trust issue between sales leadership and sales reps.

Barb:               
Sure.

Simon:            
And that was the big thing, and so back to your original question about how do we make sales teams make this move over to a more consultative, grownup, mature conversation that references visual elements of a presentation to spark understanding and what have you. It comes down to everybody in the mix, kind of rethinking the sales presentation and engagement process. So this is about making sure that salespeople go into a meeting, not 15 minutes beforehand in a Starbucks around the corner changing the logo on the front page and thinking they've personalised the presentation to that prospect, but actually spending two hours the day before really thinking about the topics that that prospect wants to discuss with them. To your example, Barb, you gave up your very valuable time to that rep to listen because you obviously had an interest. It may not be a clearly defined need, but there was something there that made you go, "You know what, I'm busy, but I will spare 30 minutes to listen to this person." The guy that then just rambles on at you for 30 minutes, just simply wasn't prepared.

Barb:               
No, not at all.

Simon:            
Wasn't mature enough as a sales person.

Barb:               
Not at all. As a matter of fact, I didn't end up buying, because the technology was interesting, but I wasn't really compelled, because what I know about technology is that there were other similar technologies, but for whatever reason, my gut said, "Hey, give this guy a few minutes of time and talk to them," but he lost me, and to be fair, I'm a sales person myself so I'm going to be a tougher judge, but the fact that he never even started with the one question I might've asked, which was what was it bout what you read about our offering, why did you decide to give me some time today? Maybe that would be the only question that person would have needed to ask in order to move this through in the right direction. Now, before we wrap up the programme, what you just mentioned about the sales leader having their salespeople, regardless of the situation, just regurgitate that presentation. As you said, they found out it's a trust issue. Maybe some of the other reps were not as skilled as this particular individual, but I have to be honest and just say, if I had been that rep, I would have just bagged doing the scripted presentation and told my boss I'd done it anyway, but maybe I'm a bad rep.

Simon:            
No, you would have sold a hell of a lot more than the fellow reps.

Barb:               
"Yes, boss. I gave the presentation, absolutely."

Simon:            
Yeah, this goes from sales leadership down. I feel like these are the oldest cliches in the world. Never assume that you know what your audience is going to want to discuss until you get into a conversation. Yeah, you and I, with a few years under our belts now, will have both been in situations where you go in thinking, "I know where this meeting is going to go," and then straight away it flips and you're heading off in another direction. The experience, the well-rehearsed, the well sort of thought through sales person will be able to turn on a dime and head down that different route, and ideally they're supported with sales materials, presentation materials that allow that conversational engagement to feel very natural. Sadly, what tends to happen is that they look like rabbits that are caught in the headlights and then they are hampered by their presentation tool, because they both don't know it well enough and it's not been designed to spark the conversation. So yeah, they're painted into this corner and then they do one of two things. They either crumble or they push against the audience and say, "Could we please keep questions until the end?" And then they'll just plough on with what they've been given from on high, which is a really polite way of saying to your audience, "Please be quiet. What you have to say is not important."

Barb:               
Yes. It may be polite, but the buyer, the prospect, the audience, they know exactly what's happening. It's funny that ... I feel like I do a fairly good job of presentations. It doesn't mean I can't do better, and one thing that I would say is that any time an organisation has hired me to do a presentation, typically Simon, when we're setting it up, I'll say, "Okay, this is going to be the topic. Here's what I'm kind of thinking about the direction. What are your thoughts based on what you just told me?" We're kind of framing this out and they say, 'Yeah, and we're thinking maybe it's 30 minutes of content and then 10 or 15 minutes of questions," and I always say, "If it's okay with you, I'm not really good with the whole talking head thing. I don't like to wait until the last 15 minutes with questions. I like to actually keep it interactive and let the audience ask questions as they come, and if they're not relevant, we'll park them off to the side and come back, but what are your thoughts on that?"

And they're like, "Oh, you would be willing to do that?" "Well, yeah," because for me as a presenter, that's the best way to do it, because then I can feel if I'm on point, but to what you just said, Simon, that also does take, I think, experience, a willingness to just be flexible, to be present, to really listen, and I feel like ... I mean, you're the expert here. I also feel like it's okay, if someone asks a question you don't know, it's okay to say, "You know, that is a great question and I don't know the answer. I make a commitment to you to get you an answer," and then you follow that through. I mean, what are your thoughts on that? Is it okay to let people know you just don't know?

Simon:            
100%. I could not agree with you more. There is not enough authenticity in sales presentations, and by that I mean not only does that authenticity come through when you stop talking at somebody and start conversing with them, because then suddenly your passion, your enthusiasm for not only the products that you're there to represent, but also the engagement with the audience and the prospects really comes through, and part of that is being honest, and like you say, if somebody comes at you completely sort of from out of nowhere with a question you've not come across before, then just being honest and saying, as you say, "I've not been asked that before, and frankly, I can give you half an answer, but I'd prefer to go back and make sure that when we come back with a response, it's a considered response," and that wins you so many brownie points. People want to work with people, not robots.

Barb:               
Absolutely. Well this is a great topic. There were actually elements of this topic I'd love to bring you back and interview you in more depth about, but unfortunately we're going to have to wrap up the programme today. So Simon, how can people learn more about the work that your company does it Eyeful Presentations, and then how can they also get connected with you personally?

Simon:            
Well, I'm on LinkedIn and we'd love to connect with people that share the same passion that we've got, about taking this really important topic and bringing it to the top of the agenda. I think presentations are seen as a kind of ... something that is done by somebody else, in the marketing team or maybe a sales admin support type person, and they need to be owned by sales. They need to be part of that. So anybody that shares that passion or just wants to rant, I'm very open to that via LinkedIn. There's a vast amount of information available on our website as well, which is eyefulpresentations.com, and Eyeful is not like the tower in Paris. It's Eyeful, but yeah, please do get in touch. We also do something that might be of interest to listeners, is something called a sales presentation health check. So if you're willing to share, and we'll obviously sign any confidentiality agreements that are required, we'll give you an impartial kind of review of your sales presentation as it currently stands, and we'll look at a whole heap of different areas, including some of the interactivity that we discussed today. So always happy to look at that for you as well.

Barb:               
Excellent. I think that is a wonderful offer. So I want to thank everybody for listening to another episode of the Top Sales World Sales Hardtalk series, and I'm your host Barb Giamanco. Today I've been talking with Simon Morton at Eyeful Presentations. You can find them at eyefulpresentations.com and do connect with Simon and take him up on his offer to have your presentations get a little bit of a checkup to see if they're going to be compelling and convincing, because at the end of the day, the goal is to get more of those sales opportunities flowing through the pipeline and closed into new customer business. So Simon, thank you so much for joining me today.

Simon:            
Thanks Barb, thoroughly enjoyed it.

More information on sales toolkit presentations, follow the link: https://eyefulpresentations.com/solutions/toolkit-presentations/