Most sales trainers – myself included – think of selling in terms of what happens between two people (one seller and one buyer). Hence, they don’t talk much about how to succeed in group sales presentations. Sometimes, we gang up on customers by bringing our managers, tech people, service people, or other internal resources to serve as “expert witnesses.” We’re pretty much okay with that.
But sometimes, the customer gangs up on us. Usually, the conversation works something like this: “Mr. Harrison, we’ve created a committee to evaluate this purchase, and we’d like you to present your program to them. Would Tuesday at 11 A.M. be all right?” Now, we’re into a new kind of challenge, with different rules and structure. If there’s ever an environment that removes all semblance of control from the salesperson, this is it. But are we totally at the customer’s mercy? Well…yeah. But there are some things you can do in this situation to help tip the scales in your favor. These are my top eight tips for how to succeed in group sales presentations:
Research. Hopefully, you’ve established enough of a relationship with your contact to ask for their help. Do so, and find out who will be attending the meeting, what their roles in the company are, and what their anticipated role on the committee is. If your contact suggests a hierarchy (“We’ve got Doug and John in the meeting, but they probably won’t affect the decision one way or another”), great – but take it with a grain of salt. Hard experience has demonstrated that in these situations, any member can kill your sale in the womb, regardless of “official” status. Try to anticipate the concerns of each member and speak to them in your presentation.
Know the decision making process. A question that I teach in my sales training, and that you should ask on every sale (group or not) is, “Could you please describe the decision making process for this purchase?” If you ask it right, you should understand both the players involved and the mechanics of the process. This information is golden.
Arrive early. If you get there before your appointed time, you may catch members wandering in ahead of time, or catch them on a break. Either way, it’s a good time to speak briefly one-on-one, and establish some rapport. You may even get clues as to what they are looking for in a presentation, if you’re a sharp observer. This is probably a good time to address the preferred order, too. Typical sales thought indicates that it’s best to be first or last in the order (First, you set the standard; last, you’re their last impression). While that’s probably true, don’t get too hung up on the order of presentations. I’ve won and lost sales from every possible spot in the order. My experience is that sharp committees generally pick the winner pretty accurately, regardless of where the best presentation comes from.
Merchandise the room. There’s one small way to regain a little control over the presentation, and that’s to create the atmosphere that, for the next block of time, it’s “your” room. That means bringing samples (and arranging them attractively), having a backdrop if possible, and branding your company throughout the speaking area. Make the room speak to them the same way you do.
Follow the rules of public speaking. When salespeople present to a group, they have a tendency to simply dive into features and benefits. Don’t do that. There is a specific order to a public speech, which is: Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), tell them (the body – features and benefits), and tell them what you told them (concerns). I like to recap key issues in the introduction, then preview my solutions. Make sure not to overload the body of your speech, particularly if you’re time limited. Most of the time, the decision is made on a few key issues, so don’t feel like you have to hit all 27 positives about your product. Hit a few and make them impactful.
Speak to everybody. You’re talking to a group of people, one of whom you know (your contact), and many of whom you don’t. Don’t focus your entire presentation on any one person, because you’ll offend the rest of them. Remember the research? Here’s when we use it. When we’re addressing how our product will speed production time, we talk directly to the production manager. When we refer to safety, we talk to the safety coordinator. When we hit the growth issues, we talk to the VP of sales and marketing. You get the idea. Spread your attention, eye contact, and enthusiasm around the room. I once did a group presentation where they put the CEO in coveralls and represented that he was the maintenance manager, so when you are doing one of these, remember that everyone in the room is important.
Save your literature for the end. We use sales literature to offer proof, establish credibility, and leave evidence behind of what we said. Great. Do that after your presentation, not during. If you hand out literature during your presentation, your audience will naturally look through it instead of listening to you. It’s not because they’re bad or inattentive people – it’s just a human tendency. Save it for the end.
Close the sale. Don’t forget – you’re there to close the sale. The closing of your speech should include you asking for the order. You can be assumptive (“I’m looking forward to getting started”) or direct (“After what I’ve told you, I hope you’ll agree with me that mine is the best solution for your company,”) but make sure to ask. In a one-on-one presentation, you’d never leave without asking for the sale. Make sure you ask the group for the business. On that note, always be prepared to get the business. On the 1% chance that your group will decide on the spot that you’re the solution, don’t be caught without a contract, order pad, or whatever paperwork you need to transact.
One other note: In group presentations, we often fall into the trap of “whoever has the most colored lights and brass bands wins.” This has become more prevalent in the era of light, portable laptops and projectors, portable video, and multimedia. That stuff is great, if it fits into your presentation. Many times it won’t, and if it won’t, don’t use it. Your customers can watch TV anytime. They’re in the room to hear how you will solve their problem, not to be dazzled by a computer. Make your presentation personal and impactful, and you will be far more effective than if you just rely on PowerPoint.
And THAT is how to succeed in group sales presentations. Good luck and good presenting!