If you don’t like the first few episodes of a TV show, do you stick with it until the series finale?
Probably not. It’s unlikely you’ll suddenly start loving it, and there are plenty of other options out there.
Unlike a show, your prospect probably won’t stop the sales presentation if the beginning doesn’t go particularly well. But the first 10 minutes can determine whether the entire meeting is a success or a failure -- which means you need to nail the opening.
Read on to discover the crucial things you should do at the beginning of every presentation.
1) Confirm Your Audience
It’s easy to tell who you’re speaking to when you’re giving an in-person presentation -- after all, they're sitting right in front of you. But when you’re on the phone or sharing your screen, it could be just your prospect on the other end -- or it could be your prospect plus several other stakeholders.
Knowing your audience is essential, since it lets you tailor your message to each person’s specific needs, goals, and involvement in the buying process.
Ideally, your prospect will let you know in advance if other people are attending. But don't count on them to do the legwork for you.
At the beginning of the sales presentation, quickly clarify who you’re talking to by saying,
“Is it just you and me today, [prospect], or do we have others joining us?”
If there are more people on the call than you expected, ask everyone to introduce themselves -- and pay special attention to their titles, since those will help you figure out their role in the deal.
Not sure why someone is attending? After they introduce themselves, say:
"Great to meet you, [name]. So I can make this relevant to you, is there anything in particular you're hoping to learn today?"
If you think there's a stakeholder who should be on the line, but isn't, consider speaking up. Not only will including the right people help you avoid internal obstacles and speed up the deal, but it'll show your prospect that you're experienced and helpful.
Here's a soundbite:
"[Prospect], I'm wondering if the person who handles [project, responsibility, KPI] for you should hop on the call as well. I've found it's helpful for them to [hear about our tools for X, ask questions about Y, share the perspective on Z]. If they're busy right now, I could also send them the call recording."
2) Build Rapport
Next, before you get into the nuts and bolts of the presentation, build some rapport.
Setting a friendly, natural tone from the very beginning is important, as it’ll make the buyer more engaged and interested. Plus, getting them to open up early on means they’re more likely to ask questions during the actual presentation, which could allow you the chance to handle an objection or concern before it derails the deal.
Instead of asking how their day is going or what the weather is like in their town, compliment something about their website or business.
Here are a few lines you might use:
- "I saw you just launched a new product -- it looks awesome. What was the inspiration behind that?"
- "I love that you guys offer [X service]. Seems like not many companies in your space do."
- "I checked out your [reviews, case studies, testimonials]. You're killing it with [common theme]. Any tips I should pass on to my coworkers in [relevant department]?"
3) Set the Agenda
A presentation without an agenda usually feels like a string of unrelated facts rather than a tightly woven narrative.
Setting an agenda gives buyers a clear roadmap of where you are, where you’re going, and where you’ll end up by the end of the meeting. Not only will their level of comprehension skyrocket, but knowing the plan will make them feel more in control. Empowered prospects speak up -- so you'll get better insights into their mindset throughout the meeting.
Try the “Purpose, Benefit, Check” agenda:
- State the purpose of the meeting: What are the main things you’ll be discussing?
- Explain the benefit to the prospect: How will having this information help them?
- Check that you’re in alignment: Ask, “How does that sound to you?” or “Was there something else you’d like to cover as well?"
This approach lets you quickly and easily get everyone on the same page.
4) Say You're Open to Questions
Your demo or presentation should be interactive. Nothing makes prospects stop listening more quickly than when you throw an endless list of facts and numbers at them. Instead of lecturing your audience for 20 or 30 minutes straight, have a conversation with them. Make sure they know you're open to -- in fact, welcome -- questions. As an added benefit, encouraging them to ask questions makes you more likely to hear their objections while you still have time to resolve them.
A few good lines to use, ranging from funny to formal:
- "Ask any questions that come to mind. Seriously, I like the sound of my own voice as much as anyone else, but this will get boring fast if it's just me talking."
- "I'd much rather have a discussion than present for a half hour -- although I can do that too -- so please jump in with questions or comments throughout."
- "Please stop me at any time if you have a question. I'm happy to give you more information or simply explain things a different way if they're not clear."
5) Recap What You Know
Looking for the perfect segue into the actual presentation? In one to three sentences, summarize your prospect’s pain and/or your current understanding of their situation.
Outlining their biggest challenges has a couple benefits. First, it focuses the conversation. Second, it sets you up to discuss your product’s features specifically as they relate to your prospect’s challenges, which will boost their engagement.
Here’s an example:
"During our last conversation, you shared a few things you were frustrated with or hoping to improve -- specifically X, Y, and Z. Does that sound right to you?"
Once the buyer has confirmed your overview, you can smoothly transition into the presentation itself by saying, “Great -- let’s walk through how [product] can help with those challenges.”
Optional: Set an Upfront Contract
Many reps wait until the end of the presentation to discuss next steps. This sequence makes sense: Assuming the presentation goes well, buyers are more interested in moving forward at the end (or at least have a clearer idea of what they'd like to do next).
However, if you find that your expectations for the meeting’s outcome are frequently out-of-sync with your prospects', establishing an agreement at the very beginning may be a good idea.
Dave Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, suggests creating an "upfront contract" by stating your desired outcome right off the bat.
Here’s some sample wording:
“If you feel by the end of the demo that [product] will help you solve [X and Y business challenges], can we agree to [next step]?”
There are only two possible outcomes: the buyer will agree to your suggested next step, or they'll disagree. If it's the former, you know that you're completely aligned on what will happen after this meeting. If it's the latter, you'll have the opportunity to probe into their reservations and expectations -- and find a compromise.
Start off strong by including these elements in the beginning of your sales presentation. Your prospect will be hooked from the start -- making them more likely to stay engaged until the end.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.