Great Beginnings

By Heather Baldwin

Sometimes the hardest part of a presentation can be figuring out how you’re going to start it. Do you tell a joke? Share a startling statistic? Tell a story? Next time, make it easy on yourself and relax your audience by starting with a review of their needs, says Carol Super, author of Selling Without Selling (AMACOM, 2004). Super, who has consistently been the top sales producer at Media Networks (now owned by AOL/Time Warner), says every sales presentation should begin with these three steps.

Pre-presentation review. Start your presentation by reviewing the pertinent information your prospects have revealed so far. You might begin by saying something such as: Here’s what you’ve told me so far. Then go on to list the needs your prospects have identified that you know your product or service will meet. As you list the needs, ask review questions such as: Is that right? This first step is critical, says Super, because it puts the focus on prospects’ needs as they have stated them, versus you telling them what they need. “If you skip over this step, your presentation of the solution will lose most of its impact simply because of its distance from the statement of need,” explains Super.

Initial benefit statement. After reviewing prospects’ lists of needs, give a short statement about the primary benefit they’ll receive from your product or service. Make sure the benefit is connected to a primary need. For example, you might say: Today I’m going to show you how my product can boost employee morale and motivation, leading to a decrease in turnover. Or: I’m going to show you how my product can reduce your sales cycle and save your company more than $2 million a year. The initial benefit statement is not a list of features such as size, speed or options, it’s an underscoring of how you’ll fulfill one of the major needs the prospect has identified.

Take their temperature. Make sure you’re on the right track and that your audience is content with the presentation by assessing how they’re doing, both after these initial presentation steps and during the main part of your presentation. To take the audience’s temperature, ask questions such as: Does this sound right to you? Do you agree? Is this what you meant by…? Have I missed anything? Do you have any questions so far? “By asking how prospects are doing, you’re keeping tabs on how you’re doing – and you’re building a solid bridge to the close,” says Super.

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