Your sales presentation may be the opposite of what buyers want
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Your sales presentation may be the opposite of what buyers want

Question: Should salespeople be product-oriented, or customer-oriented? Well, duh. Every salesperson with more than 30 minutes of experience knows it’s the latter.

And yet research shows that salespeople regularly stumble headlong into a product-oriented approach when making presentations.

In a customer survey, the global consulting firm BTS found that buyers want only 22% of presentation time dedicated to the product, but sellers on average spend 56% of their presentation discussing their products.

If product talk is what buyers don’t want, what DO they want? The survey showed they’d like salespeople to spend 51% of their presentation time explaining how the proposed solution will drive the buyer’s business. And yet salespeople spend only 24% of the time doing that. (Full disclosure: BTS is the parent company of Rapid Learning, my employer. That said, it’s data that tells an important story.)

A study by marketing professors at three universities — North Alabama, Memphis and Mississippi — confirms these findings.

Attitude gap

The researchers examined seller and buyer attitudes toward sales presentations by interviewing separate groups of salespeople and B2B buyers. The questions focused on two areas: how knowledgeable salespeople appeared, and how well they tailored their presentations to their buyers.

After analyzing the responses, the researchers concluded that buyer and seller attitudes toward presentations differed radically.

One big disconnect was in the area of knowledge, and this is where sellers make Big Mistake No. 1.

According to the research, sellers felt they needed to be most knowledgeable about the features and benefits of their own products. But for buyers, product knowledge is a given. They said salespeople differentiate themselves by gaining knowledge about the buyer’s organization and products, and how the seller’s products would benefit the buyer.

Here’s how one buyer put it: “If I ask a salesperson how well their product will integrate with my current system and all they do is go back to talking about what a great product it is, then I have no use for them.”

‘Just the facts’

Sellers and buyers also disagreed on how sales presentations should be structured. This is where sellers make Big Mistake No. 2.

The research noted that sellers wanted their presentations to be highly interactive – an exchange of views between seller and buyer elicited by strategic questioning. But buyers said they preferred a “just the facts” approach in presentations. Several said they wanted straightforward expositions of a product or service’s strengths and weaknesses. They could then decide on their own whether to buy.

But shouldn’t buyers want salespeople to ask questions? Sure. But they want interactive Q&As to take place earlier in the sales process, in discovery, not during the presentation to whoever’s in charge of buying.

So here’s the $64,000 question: Why do salespeople fall back on the old product-centered paradigm despite themselves? Two possible reasons:

  • They get carried away by their enthusiasm for their product or service
  • They may not have done the research and discovery required to make the presentation about the customer

If you think about these errors and can see yourself making them, consider yourself warned!

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “Presentations: Two Killer Mistakes You Need to Avoid.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research study: Cicala, J., et al. (2012). What makes sales presentations effective – a buyer-seller perspective. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 27(2), 78-88.


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