Initial Presentations Lead to Bulls-Eye Solutions

By Heather Baldwin

When you’re asked to present a solution to a prospect’s problem, there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. After all, if your solution doesn’t hit the proverbial nail on the head, chances are you won’t close the deal. So rather than constructing a solution from scratch and crossing all your fingers and toes on presentation day, ask to give an initial presentation in which you offer a solution as a work in progress, suggests Josh Gordon, president of Brooklyn, New York-based Gordon Communication Strategies and author of Presentations That Change Minds: Strategies to Persuade, Convince and Get Results (McGraw-Hill, 2006). By starting with an initial presentation, you can see how your audience reacts, gather information about what they like and don’t like, and adjust the solution from there, so that you can be confident your final presentation is a winner.

In preparing and delivering an initial presentation, one of three scenarios will occur. Here are the scenarios and how you should handle them:

Scenario #1: A single solution seems obvious. If this happens, present the obvious solution. But do it in a way that makes your prospect part of the solution. Douglas Leeds, president of the Tori Group, accomplishes this feat by taking his audience step-by-step through the same process of discovery that led him to the solution he is presenting. He says that sharing his thought process gives prospects ownership in what Leeds has concluded. It is, he says, much more powerful than just making a recommendation. Moreover, by sharing your thought process in the first person, you build credibility while showing yourself to be professional and thoughtful.

Scenario #2: Several solutions have merit. In this case, do a very quick overview of each solution and let the client pick the one they like best. Here’s an example: Michael Clinton, executive vice president and publishing director at Hearst Magazines, was challenged by the Milk Producers Association for a solution to a competitive situation. After determining what the client needed, what problem they were trying to solve and what solution they needed to realize, his team worked up three approaches to the problem. Clinton says he quickly presented all three solutions at the start of his presentation to get a reaction on each one. When the audience said they liked one of them best, he put away the other two and focused on the preferred solution. He went on to discuss with the audience in detail how the idea could be implemented, element-by-element. “Presenting several solutions is a great way to go when there are several approaches that might work,” says Gordon. “Not only do you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, but it also helps get your audience involved as they react to different elements in each one.”

Scenario #3: Not enough feedback to pick a solution. When you can’t get enough direction to know what solution to present, you need to turn part of your initial presentation into a probing session. Try one of these two approaches:

a. Focus on the client’s situation or context. When Gordon uses this approach, he starts by saying, “I am familiar with your organization and situation. Your situation as I understand it is…” Then he describes his audience’s situation in detail, working in questions to complete his understanding of the problem. The key here, says Gordon, is to “scrupulously avoid” saying anything about your own products or services. If you focus on the audience’s particulars, they will start to pipe up and you’ll begin to see opportunities emerge. “If you come up with a solution in real time, that solves a problem for the first time, there is great magic and theater in it,” says Gordon. “Your audience will find instant ownership of a solution that emerges from these conversations.”

b. Share a number of solutions in summary form. If you’re like most salespeople, you have a laptop full of presentations that describe different solutions your clients have used. Gordon uses his presentations in this way: He picks the five solutions he anticipates a particular audience will like best. Then he tells his audience he has five presentations of a solution and will give them a quick summary of each. Gordon has used this approach dozens of times without ever showing any of the presentations on his laptop. The reason: audiences like part of one solution and mix it with parts of others to create custom solutions that are unique to their needs. In short, they sell themselves.

To reach Gordon directly, visit