The Executive Suite is considered one of the most challenging (and important) groups in an organization to sell to. It can be tough to get their attention, and once you do, giving a sales presentation to this experienced audience can also be tough.
So how do you make sure your sales presentation is what stands out amid their sea of competing priorities?
As a CMO, I usually receive over 80 calls or messages per day from people looking to sell something to my organization — meaning I’ve seen my fair share of ill-prepared sales presentations.
Over the last two decades, I have presented to boards of directors, pitched to executives, and given keynotes at conferences. Some have been received with great enthusiasm, while others have fallen completely flat, but all have provided lessons learned.
Here are my top sales presentation tips for selling to executives and, ultimately, closing more deals.
10 Sales Presentation Tips for Selling to Executives
- Be confident.
- Make sure your presentation fails the Airport Test.
- Look and sound the part.
- Don’t assume they know what you do.
- Don’t assume they care what you do.
- Leverage neuroscience.
- Write out your “clicks.”
- Break expectations.
- Own your presentation.
- Anticipate (and embrace) the unexpected.
1. Be Confident
The most effective sales presentation is one that you can deliver confidently. There’s nothing worse than sitting through a bland presentation, especially in sales, where low energy is often associated with low confidence.
For better or for worse, it’s better to be confident than competent when selling to executives, so make sure you’re really comfortable with the material you’re presenting.
A good confidence check is to try telling your story without slides. If you can’t tell the story without slides, then you can’t tell the story. Remember, your slide deck is there as a tool to enhance you, not vice versa.
2. Make Sure Your Presentation Fails “The Airport Test”
Let’s say you accidentally left a copy of your printed presentation at the gate in the airport. If I were to walk over, go through the deck and have no trouble interpreting what you’re trying to say, your presentation isn’t a presentation, it’s a report.
A sales presentation is meant to be seen and experienced through the lens of the presenter, not read like a report by the audience.
Sales presentations need a presenter, reports don’t. So, be mindful of how much content you’re putting on your slides and make your presence a necessary component of the presentation. For tips on creating a sales deck that doesn’t read like a report, read this article.
3. Look (and Sound) the Part
What are you wearing? How do you sound? What perceptions are you creating with your appearance and delivery? When selling to executives, it matters!
If you are selling medical devices in a highly technical field, is your audience expecting someone in a lab coat and using words that most people need to look up in a dictionary? Sales presentation success is all about meeting the expectations of the audience — from appearances to your voice and tone.
One way to overcome this is to partner with another presenter. Switching presenters not only allows you to leverage a subject matter expert to ensure you resonate with each person in the room, but it also helps to combat viewer fatigue and reinvigorate the audience.
Even better, create a conversation throughout your presentation, engaging your co-presenters and the room on a consistent basis.
4. Never Assume The Audience Knows What You Do
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed this, and it’s painful every single time. A salesperson will be part-way through a presentation when someone in the audience will interrupt and say, “Hold on a sec. This sounds great, but can you remind me what it is you do again?”
We tend to assume that the person we’re presenting to knows what we do. But here’s the thing: Your audience leaves your meeting and moves on with their lives.
I promise you that they’re not spending much time reflecting on what your company does or what you have said to them in the past. Besides, many of them will hear from other competitors in the space and it’s easy to forget who said what.
So, do yourself (and everyone else in the room) a favor and offer a quick overview of your company at the start.
5. Never Assume The Audience Cares What You Do
Building off of my previous point, the audience may not know what you do, and they often don’t care what you do. All they really care about is this: What’s the mutually agreed-upon problem? And how are you going to help them solve it?
When selling to executives (or anyone, for that matter), before you dive into the meat of your presentation, make sure you’ve been really clear about the agenda, goal, and topics you’re going to be covering.
Then stop talking and check-in.
Make sure everyone is on board with hearing what you’ve prepared. Throughout the presentation, pay close attention to audio and visual cues for audience engagement. It is especially important to regularly check in with executives because we will quickly disengage if we feel the meeting is no longer of value.
While being able to set the goals and read the room is important, the best reps by far do one thing better than the rest — pre-call prep.
They don’t treat every sales presentation the same. They know who is in the room, what they know, who is on their side, and what the goals are. And they know how to tailor their presentation and sell to the executives in the room. When selling to executives, this is vital.
6. Blind Them With Neuroscience
Want to become a better presenter? Do some research on neuroscience. Our understanding of the human brain has improved so much in recent years that some of the best presenters out there have developed formulas for how they connect with their audience.
Take Apple for example. No Apple presenter speaks for more than 10 minutes straight. They use minimal slides and pause frequently. All of this is designed to overcome the short attention spans of the audience and to ensure each portion of the presentation has the maximum impact possible.
How can you bring Apple’s presentation tips into your own presentations?
- Keep things changing.
- Don’t let the presentation get into a routine where your audience can zone out.
- And introduce other speakers early and often.
7. Write Out Your “Clicks”
The best sales presentations flow naturally. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is when a presenter treats every slide as a brand new adventure.
The Information Gap theory says that our mind always wants to fill the gap between existing knowledge and new information. I use verbal transitions as a way to make my slides flow and help an audience to understand how it’s all linked together.
To prepare for transitions between slides and ideas, I write out *CLICK* in the speaker’s notes of the presentation whenever I plan to advance a slide. It helps make the transitions really smooth.
I may pose a question on one slide, click, and have the answer populated on the next to create curiosity and hold attention. There’s no mystery to what’s coming or how I plan to get there.
8. Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Right To Left
Everyone has expectations of presentations. Break them. In doing so you can not only help drive engagement but also show that you are in control of the presentation and drive the slides.
For example, data points.
Most people expect them to go top to bottom, or left to right:
Change it. Talk about your middle point first and in doing so, the room’s attention will turn to you rather than reading the slides.
Another way to shake up a presentation is to simply step away from your slides.
One of my favorite things to witness is when a sales rep walks over to a whiteboard and begins to map out their story. They are not only able to control the room, but also show that they have the expertise and confidence to tell their story without slides.
9. Be The Owner Of Your Presentation
This seems obvious because you’re the one presenting, but make sure to take the lead and own what you’re delivering.
Here are a few specific sales presentation tips for owning your delivery:
Tell the audience what’s important and what to focus on. Don’t put things on your slides that you’re not prepared to discuss or that you’re not comfortable talking about. If it’s on the slide, it’s fair game for conversation, so be careful.
Stop apologizing. When you say “sorry” a lot, you convey the opposite of confidence. For example, instead of saying, “Sorry, we’re having tech issues,” try, “We’ll get started in a couple of minutes.”
Don’t think, know. Saying “I think” makes you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about. The person who “thinks” this software is a good fit for you doesn’t make you feel particularly reassured. Either know and be sure or tell the audience that you’ll find out and get back to them.
GTTFP, or get to the freaking point. Some background information can be helpful, but ultimately be very clear about the message you need to deliver — and then deliver it. Once you’ve made your point, move on.
10. Anticipate and Embrace the Unexpected
My final sales presentation tip is to fully embrace the room.
Sales presentations are meant to build engagement with the audience, and hopefully, get agreement to continue the conversation or make a decision. This means that things rarely go exactly as planned. You will have questions, objections, comments, and delays.
It should be a miracle if you make it through your slides. In fact, with executives, if you make it through your slides, it probably means the room was not fully engaged.
To make sure that I have time to address everything, I always try to anticipate responses and prepare for them ahead of time. If I know there is going to be a challenge, I confront it early on, sometimes even starting the presentation with it.
By the time you get to an executive, they typically have the final say and are looking at these meetings as an evaluation of risk. So confront and settle any risks or objections early. Be confident, don’t hide anything.
Your Turn: What Are Your Best Sales Presentation Tips?
After sharing what I’ve learned from giving countless presentations and selling to executives, I hope these tips keep cringe-worthy presentations out of your future and help you close more deals.
But we’d like to hear from you…
What are your best sales presentation tips? What are your best tips for selling to executives? Share your ideas in the comments.