Presentations: How To Compete When In Front Of A Prospect

Your last presentation was great and seemingly well-received. You addressed the prospect’s needs, positioned yourself and your product just right, used the right language and visuals to assure that you were a caring, smart, professional, and had a product that would obviously be the right solution. The price was right, and you clearly had a leg up on the competition in terms of fit. And, the prospect liked you a lot.

But you didn’t close the deal.

Later you heard lots of conflicting stories: they already had a preferred vendor, the CXO had a friend in one of the competing companies, their inside folks were going to handle it, they decided to do nothing, you were too expensive, the competition came in lower than cost just to get the deal….

How am I doing here? Did I miss any of the excuses as to why you didn’t close?

But do you know the Real Reason you didn’t close?


It wasn’t your product, or your presentation, or their need. Your prospect just didn’t know how to choose you. And – another devastating fact – they didn’t need all of the information you gave them in order to decide. Their decision had nothing much to do with your presentation. In fact, you might not even have needed to do one to get the business.

Now that we’ve got the bad news out of the way, let’s look at the good news: you can use your time in front of the prospect to help them decide to choose you – not in terms of either your product or their need, but through a decision making exercise that will help them make the decision to choose you over the competition. You’ll save yourself a heep of time and close the deal.

I was training one of the Big Five – oops. That’s now the Big, um, Three?? Whatever. The highly paid consultants that come from Harvard and wear expensive watches.

So I was training these senior partners – smart folks all, obviously – and was shown one of their presentations You’ve seen them; they are gorgeous. Big fat bound books of pictures and graphs, charts and projections that cost between $350,000 and $1,000,000. It takes teams of Senior Partners weeks and weeks of full time work to put them together, not to mention all of the human capital getting friends of friends of friends who know someone ‘inside’ to give them the ‘skinny’ on the ‘facts’ that would ‘focus’ the presentation properly.

‘How many of these do you close?’ I asked. They were embarrassed. Less than 20%. Several highly paid consultants were taken off of paid work in order to create million dollar presentations and they wasted over 80% of their time! And they kept doing this? Why? Because they didn’t know how to do it any other way. And the excuses they had for the prospect not closing were fabulous: John heard from Mary who had a cousin that worked there, that they were going with their old vendors because the new CEO used to work in that vendor’s company 3 years ago.

The basic belief they held, as do all sellers who use Presentations as a route to a closed sale, was that if they could prove to the buyer that they understood the Need, and could address it from every angle to ensure the value proposition was obviously cost effective, and could prove their worth as a prestigious company (Don’t all presentations include the yada yadas that explain the vendor company??), they would be the Chosen Ones.

Yes, with good data understood and presented, the buyer was obviously stupid if they didn’t buy. Right?


Here’s what happens. Let’s start with who is in the room.

Who are you presenting to? Always, in my history of working with my own clients around their presentations, always there is at least one person – sometimes more than one – who ‘shows up’ unexpectedly. And my clients never know the relationship this unknown person has to the recognized prospects.

It’s not about their job description or title, it’s about the weight this person’s voice has. If you don’t know one or two people in the room, you have no idea of the relevance of your presentation as you don’t know the filter this unknown person is seeing you through or how they influence the others. Are they in a different department and want to see what is possible for them when moving forward? Will they be moving in to the client’s department and working with you? Are they people with the PEN who sign the checks and give the final ok – and you weren’t aware of them? Are they consultants who help the buyer make decisions? Are they folks from a different department who use a different vendor that they like and want to challenge their colleagues to choose someone else?

And you have no idea of the political weight their opinions carry.

Next. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do you know that each person in the room needs the same information? Is your intent to throw it all at them – like throwing spaghetti on the wall – so something will stick?
  • Are you presenting just to position yourself and your product and have no idea how the buyer will hear it? Or how they will weight different aspects of your presentation….in relation to the other vendors who come in with great presentations and good suits?
  • How do you know that the prospect will take away what you want them to take away?
  • What if only one small bit of your presentation is relevant, and you’re boring them all to tears for an extra 45 minutes?
  • What if you have unwittingly omitted the specifics of the sort of buying decisions or unique implementation issues they face?
  • What if they haven’t reached internal consensus on what they actually need in order to resolve their Identified Problem, or whether or not to use familiar vendors?
  • What if they already made their decision and they are using your material to bring to their preferred vendor?
  • What if they are clueless how to move forward and will use your presentation to get them on the road to a solution and have no idea at this moment what that would look like, what it would take, or how long it would take?

If you can’t answer those questions in a way that directly leads to buyers making buying decisions, you must ask yourself why you are doing a presentation.


A client once returned a call days after my call in to him. It took so long because he had gotten an RFP from a big company who had always used a competitor before now, and his team was putting their heads together to figure out the best way to win the business.

“Why aren’t they using their old vendor this time?” I asked. My client had no idea.

Turned out that the prospect was actually planning on using their regular vendor, but needed a second bid! And my client would have wasted weeks of time.

For some reason, sales folks seem to believe that information will teach people how to decide. So you pitch, present, gather data, etc. But you still close an average of less than 10% of your prospects (from first call to close) and it takes about 50% longer than necessary. So all of your truly wonderful, informative, and professional presentations haven’t gotten you much more than frustrated.

If information doesn’t teach people how to decide, what does?

People decide when their criteria have been met. And until the full set of criteria are addressed, no decision to take action will happen. Remember how long it took you to decide to change your hairstyle? Or choose to replace your car? Or move? Or end a relationship? The time it takes to come up with your own answers, based on your own internal, unique, subconscious values and beliefs, is the length of the decision cycle. And until you know how your internal beliefs and choices will line up around a new answer, you will do nothing.

Note that as outsiders, sales folks will never understand the range of internal, unique criteria (outside of the factual problem that requires a solution) that people seek to meet when they make a decision. Would you make any personal purchase until you understood, and met, some sort of criteria? And, if you were a boss needing a solution, would you make a business decision without including the relevant members of the team and ensured their criteria were met? What if you all had different criteria? What if you as boss had one set of criteria that the team needed to buy-in to, and they hadn’t quite gotten there yet? How ready would you be to make a decision of they all weren’t on board?

The conventional sales model doesn’t manage the buyer’s internal, hidden, and unique criteria that hold their Identified Problem in place. After all, if there weren’t some sort of very powerful criteria – say longstanding relationship issues between teams, or incomplete initiatives, etc, the Identified Problem would either not be there, or would have been resolved before now.

Have you asked yourself what has stopped the buyer from resolving that problem until now? You’ll get some pretty interesting answers once you start asking that question – answers about historic failed initiatives, or beloved vendors who weren’t so quality-conscious but still loved by all, etc.

The point is, that behind each ‘problem’ that your product can resolve lie a long list of people, policies, initiatives, thoughts, feelings, history, relationships, that not only created the Identified Problem, but hold it in place. And giving them great product data doesn’t resolve the underlying systems/people/strategic issues that would need to be resolved before a decision can be taken to fix them.


You can use your time in front of clients in a far more significant way: you can actually lead them through their decision cycle – and then do a real-time, customized presentation that addresses their specific buying criteria (rather than offering your choice of data that may not be as relevant). So, first get them to decide how they will work together, how they will decide together, then how they will choose a vendor, and lastly the data they need presented to them before they decide.

Here is how it goes: start your presentations by asking the group what they’d like to get out of your time together. Once each of them has spoken, summarize what you’ve heard. It will not all be about fixing the Identified Problem. In fact, you will hear different ‘needs’ from each person in the room. One will want to hear how you’re different. One will want to hear how you price your product. One, a way to make sure you integrate your product with the current set up. Another will want you to prove to them that you can actually make a difference.

You first must get the group into agreement as to their end result:

  • What will their environment look like once a product fix is introduced into their environment? Once the Identified Problem has been resolved?
  • How will a vendor’s offering help manage the work-around that has been handling the issues that created the current need for resolution?
  • How will the folks in the room work together with a vendor once they’ve chosen a vendor? And what criteria do they ALL want a vendor to meet?

In addition, note that some of the important underlying criteria will be missing because some of it can’t be discussed with a stranger, and some of it is subconscious.

Next, ask:

  • How would you know that my offering could meet your needs?

Let them all come to an agreement as to how they would choose you. Do what you can to keep a conversation going until there is relative agreement in the room.

Your criteria here is to get them to reach some sort of mutual agreement as to how they want to move forward – with a vendor, with a solution, and, specifically, from their meeting with you (beyond just your product and services). And talk about their outcomes for a fix. If they are not all on the same page, they won’t be able to hear or discuss the information you do end up presenting. I have actually walked out of meetings without presenting anything until the prospects made collaborative decisions, and then I was hired without even doing a presentation just because of the strength of my opening questions.

Now it is time to actually present, and your presentation must conform with the needs they had specified. This means that your presentation materials must have one piece of data on each overhead – a clear representation of one element of your product or service. You will then present only the specific overheads that match the room’s criteria. In other words, your presentation will be customized for each situation and client-driven, not based on what you want to present.

As always, the question is: do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? When it comes to presentations, you have focused on what you want to sell. I’m suggesting that by using half of your time to help your prospects decide how to buy together, your presentation – and your sale – has a greater chance for success.

2 thoughts on “Presentations: How To Compete When In Front Of A Prospect”

    1. i have just received your kind comments. thanks a lot. i’ll send you stuff when i find out exactly what you are looking for. try going to my site – i’ve got a lot to read…

      would you mind emailing me so we can chat via email? my poor old eyes would prefer email 😉

      sharon drew….

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