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12 Biggest Mistakes Salespeople Make in Their Presentations

Aug 1, 2011

Posted by

Patricia Fripp

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, business presentation expert, sales presentation skills expert, and in-demand speech coach to executives and celebrity speakers. M Read more

Salespeople are incredible (and this includes real estate agents).  Like Hollywood actors, whenever they open their mouths, they are putting themselves and their company on the line, taking a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome.  Just like actors, even the best, most experienced sales agent can use some coaching and polishing now and then.

Here are the 12 most common mistakes that my sales agent clients are making at the beginning of our coaching sessions.  By the time we’re through, they’ve learned how to avoid these mistakes -- and you can, too.  Read on!

1.)  Unclear Thinking

If you can’t describe the objective of your interaction in one sentence, you may be guilty of “fuzzy focus” -- trying to say too much at once.  You’ll confuse your prospect, and that doesn’t make the sale.  Decide exactly what you need to accomplish in this contact.  What would be a positive outcome?  For example, imagine that a busy executive says, “You have exactly ten minutes of my time to tell me what you want me to know about your company.  In one sentence, tell me how I should describe your benefits when I talk to my managers tomorrow.”  At any stage of the sales process, you should know in advance why you are interacting, what benefits you are offering your prospect or client, and what you’d like the very next step to be.

2.)  No Clear Structure

Make it easy for your prospect to follow what you are saying, whether in a casual conversation or a formal presentation of information and ideas.  They’ll remember it better -- and you will, too.  Otherwise, you may forget to make a key point.  If you waffle or ramble, you lose your listeners.  Even for a conversation, mentally outline your objectives.  What key “Points of Wisdom” do you want the prospect to remember?  How will you illustrate each point?  What colorful examples will your prospect be able to repeat three days later?  What phrases or slogans do you want to guarantee they will repeat afterwards?  You speak so to be remembered and repeated.

3.)  Talking Too Much

Salespeople often talk too much about themselves and their service or product.  They make a speech rather than having an exchange or interaction, otherwise known as conversation.  The key to connecting with a client is conversation;  the secret of client conversation is to ask questions;  the quality of client information received depends on the quality of the questions asked -- and waiting for, and listening to, the answers!  In fact, a successful encounter early in the sales process should probably be mostly open-ended questions, the kind that require essay answers rather than just “yes” and “no.”  And don’t rush on with preprogrammed questions then pay no attention to the answer you’ve just received.  Learn to listen, even pausing to wait for further comments.  Silence draws prospects out.

4.)  No Memorable Stories

Sales prospects rarely remember your exact words.  Instead, they remember the mental images your words inspire.  Support your key points with vivid, relevant stories.  Help them “make a movie” in their minds by using memorable characters, exciting situations, intriguing dialogue, suspense, and humor.  Telling stories of satisfied clients and painting a picture of how this client’s situation will be improved with your services is appropriate.

5.)  No Third-Person Endorsements

There’s a limit to how many bold claims you can make about your company, but there is no limit to the words of praise you can put in the mouths of your satisfied clients.  Use case histories of your clients’ success stories due to your services.  When you are using their actual dialogue, you can say much more glowing things about yourself and your company than you could if the words were your own.  Your endorsement stories should use the same ingredients as a good Hollywood movie:  create memorable characters, use vivid dialogue, and provide a dramatic lesson learned.

6.)  No Emotional Connection

The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections.  Intellectual means appealing to educated self-interest with data and reasoned arguments.  Emotion comes from engaging the listeners’ imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories by frequent use of the word “you” and from answering their unspoken question, “What’s in this for me?”  Obviously, a prospect is going to justify doing business with you for specific analytical reasons.  What gives you the edge -- what I like to call the “unfair advantage” -- is creating an emotional connection, too.

My recommendation is that you make telephone appointments with your happiest clients.  Tell them you would like to use their stories about working with you as an endorsement, and ask permission to tape record your conversation.  Then just let them talk.  The more they say, encouraged now and then by a question from you, the better their stories and quotes will be.  Finally, select the best quotes from what they’ve said.

7.)  Wrong Level of Abstraction

Are you providing the big picture and generalities when your listeners are hungry for details, facts, and specific how-to’s?  Or are you drowning them in data when they only want to find out why they should care?  Get on the same wavelength with your prospects.  If you are dealing with IT professionals, use the lowest level of abstraction, lots of facts and figures.  Don’t discuss aspects or details of what you’re offering that your audience has no interest in.

8.)  Lack of Pauses

Few sales presentations have enough pauses.  Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace, pauses, and full rests.  This is when listeners think about important points you’ve just made.  If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much information as possible, chances are you’ve left your prospects back at the station.  Give them enough time to ask a question or even time to think over what has been said.  Pauses allow pondering and understanding.

9.)  Irritating Non-Words

Hmm -- ah -- er -- you know what I mean --.  One agent I heard began each new thought with “Now!” as he scanned his notes to figure out what came next.  This might be okay occasionally, but not every 30 seconds.  Practice in front of your broker, sales manager or colleagues, giving them permission to call out whenever you “hem” or “ah.”  Or video or audiotape yourself, and note any digressions.

10.)  Stepping on the Punch-Word

The most important word in a sentence is the punch-word.  Usually, this is the final word:  “Take my wife -- please.”  But if you drop your voice or add, “Right?” or “See?” or “You know?” or “Okay?” you’ve killed the impact of your message.  Another popular punch-line killer is the word “today.”  Avoid saying, “Let’s look at the recommendations we have for you today.”  Obviously, you’re talking “today.”  The punch-word in this sentence should be “recommendations.”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says, “I’ll spend an hour reducing an eight-word sentence to five words because the joke will be funnier.”  I train sales teams to do the same thing with their key phrases because their presentations will be more powerful.  We go through their sentences, looking for the “

$10 words.”  Not every word or phrase is, or should be, of equal importance.  Emphasize the action words and phrases or those that make an emotional connection.  “And” -- “it” -- “in” are “no-dollar” words.

11.)  Not Having a Strong Opening and Closing

Engage your audience immediately with a powerful, relevant opening that includes them.  Most salespeople start by talking about their own company.  If possible, do a little research and talk about your prospect instead.

To close, pick the one sentence that you absolutely want embedded in your prospects’ minds, even if you don’t get the appointment or the sale.  Leave them with a strong, positive message.  They might say, “We’re happy with our present situation.”  You reply, “I appreciate your loyalty [a $10 word].  If you ever need to do business with a company that will be around long-term [$10 word] please remember, we’ve been profitable [$10 word] for the last 167 quarters [$10 word]."

12.)  Overuse of Technology

Too many salespeople rely too much on their PowerPoint, flip charts and other technologies, and not enough on making an emotional connection.  My friend, Charles H. Green, co-author of The Trusted Advisor

, says “Whenever you’re being considered for a job, act as if you already have it.  Most people want to think that the quality of their work speaks for itself.  It doesn’t.  Beat your competition by getting to work for your prospect immediately.  Demonstrate how it will feel to be working together.”  Bottom line:  Make technology a support, not a crutch.

When you learn to avoid these 12 common traps, you’re on your way to being a “star” of the sales world, ready to accept an award for your dazzling performance.