Writing a sales presentation: Persuasive structure
There’s no single way to structure a sales meeting or a sales presentation – as you move through the sales cycle, different things are required. At the very first meeting, you are likely to be fact-finding, exploring whether your company’s solutions are a good fit for the prospect, and discovering what challenges they feel most urgently. At a best-and-final pitch presentation, you may be responding to an entirely prescriptive meeting agenda, with scoring on how well you answer certain questions.
Here are a few good starting points to make sure, at whatever point you are in the sales cycle, your content is always structured in a compelling way.
How not to structure: Did you ever notice how a journey seems to take longer when you don’t know how far you have to go? Sales presentations are the same.
Those sales presentations that do make the structure visible – by using agendas – usually make the mistake of using headings that mean more to the presenter than the audience, or that are so dry that they do absolutely nothing to help sell.
Focus on the benefits: One way to make an audience-centred agenda is to think in terms of benefits: what’s in it for your audience. Don’t make the mistake of only talking about benefits in a summary slide right at the end of your presentation. The benefit slide can be used as an agenda that appears as a segue between sections.
This benefit slide ought to be written to answer the key question around which the sales presentation revolves – Why Change? or Why Us? We call this the value proposition – for more great insights on writing value propositions, take a look at this article. Value propositions help us in three ways:
- The advantages or benefits are stated early enough to be noticed
- The agenda is now audience-focused, not product-focused
- By showing a slide with the benefits multiple times during your presentation, you help your audience to remember your key points
Now that’s a powerful and persuasive presentation structure!
How to write your value proposition: Though it may seem like a dark art, writing a value proposition is something anyone can do. There’s quite a simple formula that you can use:
- Decide whether you are answering ‘Why change?’ or ‘Why us?’
- List the three to five best answers to the question
- Create a slide that shows these answers
- Use that slide as an agenda to help structure your sales presentation, and show it each time you segue from one section to the next
- Arrange your content into sections according to the benefits or advantages they support. Typically, you might want a few slides in each section.
- Use the agenda slide to close the presentation
How many points should a value proposition have: Value propositions should be comprised of 3-5 statements about what your solution or type of solution offers. Any more becomes harder to remember. Any less can fail to structure the presentation content effectively and memorably.
In this fascinating article reporting on research by Weaver et al in the Journal of Consumer Research, Heidi Halvorson points out that adding additional arguments doesn’t always help. If a value proposition has three very strong sections, adding an additional section that’s weaker (but still valid) actually dilutes the overall strength of the argument.
How to write a value proposition statement: Value proposition statements work best if they are of similar length and format. If one item is a single word (‘flexible’) and another is a long phrase (‘standards compliant for SIA accreditation’), it often looks and sounds awkward.
The best way to get the phrasing right is to note a question that the value proposition answers, and format all items to work with that question. So, for example:
- Why change? ‘You should change in this way because you will get ___’
- Why us? ‘Choose us because we offer ___’
Category vs. solution: When selling the category, the key messages of your sales presentation will typically be made up of benefits, and focus on what your prospects will get if they try a new approach – ‘increase turnover’, ‘reduce risk’, or ‘improve efficiency’.
When selling your solution, the key messages (or value proposition) will typically be made up of advantages that your product or service has over competing alternatives. If you used benefits here, there’s a risk that competing solutions would all just say the same thing, and you wouldn’t be able to differentiate.
Ordering your value proposition: Once you know your value proposition, you need to decide on the right order for your sections. Many presenters fail to look at structure from the audience’s point of view, and, as such, they make incorrect assumptions about what should go where. Stop and imagine you’re seeing this content for the very first time. What do you need to know first? What is the logical order to approach and take in these points? Opt for logic and simplicity and you won’t go far wrong.
Interactive presentations – let your audience choose: One way to structure a sales presentation is to do something interactive – non-linear. That means you can have a conversation without any pre-determined flow, and show things in response to the way in which the sales conversation develops.
Break your content up into smaller chunks – a few minutes of material at a time. Switch between topics of conversation based on what your audience says to you. So, instead of a single presentation with 30 slides, think more in terms of six topics with five slides in each. You might use some of them, or all of them. You might present them in a different order each time. The point is that you have a conversation and respond to what you are hearing.