A slide comes up. A sales rep reads. Click. Repeat.
Customers are so familiar with this sequence that it could almost put them to sleep. It’s advice reps hear over and over again -- “Don’t just read from the slides” -- but is sometimes difficult to heed in practice.
After all, a great slide deck is almost like the key arguments in an essay, honed over time to offer irrefutable proof of the author’s point. When sales reps put the time into creating a great slide deck, including making use of data from CRM like Sales Cloud to weave into it, why wouldn’t they want to make sure every word on the screen hits home?
The answers to this are actually pretty simple. Number one: Your customers and prospects know how to read. Number two: They’ll wind up paying far more attention to the slide than to you, the speaker. Most importantly, though, being chained to a slide deck defeats the purpose they were meant to serve.
A slide deck is there to guide the conversation and complement the speaker’s points, rather than competing with them for the audience’s line of sight. The value a sales rep brings is not in the slide deck but in who they are, what they’ve learned and how they’re prepared to help their audience.
By all means put in bullet points, summary information, pie charts and other visuals to make a slide deck compelling, but make sure you don’t give the impression that without it, you’d have nothing to say.
Instead, when the temptation to default into “reading mode” rears its head, try some of these tactics and turn the meeting back into a real conversation:
No one likes to be the first to purchase a product or service. Your pitch should make ample use of insights you’ve gained by working with other customers, even if you have to anonymize some of the details for reasons of confidentiality. Talk about the pain points they had and compare and contrast them with the audience to whom you’re making the pitch.
How is the selection criteria, product usage, or performance metrics different based on the size or vertical market of the customer in question? When customers feel a slide deck is too generic, they’ll be expecting the rep to fill in the blanks without having to ask all the questions on their own. Use Sales Cloud long before you walk in the room to have these answers at your fingertips.
Companies always do their best to ensure they have the right product-market fit, the right go-to-market strategy and a clear idea of how their products and services will be used. Then they enter the “real world” and things change. Maybe there were features added as an afterthought that have since become your customers’ most popular tools. Maybe they applied your product to solve a business challenge your firm had never envisioned. Perhaps the overall uptake was faster than expected in a specific market. Sharing this kind of insight shows you’re aware there will be unexpected developments, but that you and your firm are also able to roll with them.
The worst thing that could happen in a pitch meeting is having a customer or prospect raise their eyebrows because you clearly didn’t include information that reflects any initial phone conversations or e-mail exchanges you had in advance. Even if it’s obvious, reflect back the guidance or direction you were given about the business’s goals, and listen for any feedback that could refine how you position the rest of your pitch.
Some pitches are just warm-up exercises for a more in-depth walk-through of your product. If you want to reach that point, though, you may need to help them visualize the way it works without the benefit of an actual demo. Tell a story based on a recent case study, or simply use your hands and facial expressions to show what the “before” and “after” will look like if they’re willing to take that next step.
Many pitch decks will offer a look ahead to forthcoming versions of a product, which could either be major new releases or more incremental updates. Get personal about what you think will make the audience want to start their journey with you, even if it’s just a minor change that could make them more successful in achieving their objectives.
Yes, you’re trying to sell something, but how does the work you’re doing -- and the work you could be doing with your audience -- speak to the higher purpose of your brand? How does what you’ve done to date, and what your plans are, align with the vision and values of the organization? This can matter more to customers and prospects than you think.
The slide deck should be, by design, incomplete. That’s because you’re starting or continuing a longer-term buying conversation that could be fortified though additional information. This could include a white paper you think would help them address some technical concerns, an infographic that simplifies what they’ve just heard for the benefit of their boss, or an invite to a webinar where they’ll be able to hear first-hand from companies like their own. This is a great technique because it serves as an “action item” on your end, and also provides a reasonable excuse for following up afterwards.
There’s one bonus thing you can always do rather than read off slides, of course: ask your audience questions, check in with what resonates (or doesn’t) with what you’re presenting, or seeing whether you should jump ahead in your slides or back to something that might not have been understood the first time around.
Strike the right balance in this area, and customers will see that you’re not just a walking, talking add-on to a slide deck. You’re a sales rep with something to say, and the slides become just an extra reason to focus on the message.