Updated: Sep 25, 2020
With so much of sales going virtual, my guess is that PowerPoint is being used more than ever for complex B2B IT sales presentations, especially to support Orals for bids.
Is It Time To Get Better At Using PowerPoint?
Right now, in this tough selling environment where your biggest competitor is the buyer reluctant to make any decisions about technology investments, you must be exceptional in everything you do to win and closeout deals.
That means your virtual oral pitch has to be very good.
When I say, very good, I mean your presentation has to be well-planned, almost to military precision where you make every message count.
To do that takes a structured approach where you spend more time and energy planning your presentation and less time putting it together. However, most vendors do it the other way around.
Here’s why I think you need to do more planning upfront today:
The Strange and Unsettling World Of Your Buyer
You’re dealing with buyers under extraordinary pressure whose roles are even more demanding for all sorts of reasons, like coping with fewer team members because of retrenchments. This is compounded by personal pressures impacting professional responsibilities like supervising their children’s education or being stuck in a home office.
All of this means your buyer’s attention span is less now than it’s ever been, while their emotional equilibrium is out of balance (whether they admit it or not).
So, every interaction, especially lengthy oral bid presentations must quickly and clearly show relevance and proof of the value you offer. Being succinct connecting your solution to their business drivers is vital.
Also, when you’re presenting in a completely virtual world, where your audience doesn’t see you, large and present, they will focus more on your PowerPoint, and if shabby and hastily put together they’ll notice it more and judge it more harshly. A hurriedly put together PowerPoint deck also means your presenters will not be as confident or clear in telling the story, so you have a double whammy of a poorly designed and poorly delivered sales presentation.
What About The Pressure You’re Under Right Now?
Mix in your situation, fewer resources, less time, more pressure to close deals, means the temptation to haphazardly throw stuff together is strong. Understandable, but not good for two reasons: first it could lose you the deal and second, if you’re not the favoured vendor, it might get in the way of you being considered for future opportunities.
Let Structure Guide Your Winning Argument
While there’s no getting around your challenges, you still want to think about one major thing when putting together an Orals pitch and that is STRUCTURE. You must ensure your story has a delineated introduction, body and conclusion that shows a logical flow of ideas throughout the presentation.
Focussing on story structure might seem fundamental, but it bears thinking about when you’re putting together a complex oral pitch that regularly involves multiple authors and presenters.
Because if you don’t focus on creating a logical structure and making sure everyone holds to it, your presentation will go off the rails in multiple ways – too long, too detailed, not specific enough, off-topic, vague or rambling. You don’t want to confuse, frustrate or bore your online audience in the current environment.
What’s worse, if you fail to create a well-integrated story structure, your buyer audience may conclude that because you’re incompetent in putting together a presentation, you might be an incompetent vendor. This thinking on the buyer’s part happens subconsciously by the way.
Before Putting A Structure In Place, Strategise Your Thinking
Let’s say you’re just about to put together some slides to present your proposal as a verbal pitch. I wouldn’t recommend opening PowerPoint and immediately developing a structure. Instead, first visit or revisit the following:
What is the purpose of this presentation? (possible answer: jump from third to first place, solidify first place, position our company as a player, challenge the client/disrupt?)
Who is my audience? (think about roles, personality types, attitude to us, business or personal objectives. Also, what is the result they want, and what possible objections and doubts about us might they have?)
What is the one over-riding value we offer? (if you provide 3 to 5 benefits, you must combine them into one unique value driver. Just don’t be trite like, “safe pair of hands.”)
The answers to these questions will guide your message strategy for Orals and fine-tune your value proposition or win themes.
Even if you answered these questions when putting together the written RFP, do it again to test assumptions, explore new ideas or consider fresh insights.
Note: If you know the answers to the above questions in your head but you’ve never written them down or typed them up, you should, because seeing your thoughts in black and white, helps you better assess and refine your critical thinking.
Once you answer the above questions to your satisfaction, you can share the answers with all of the authors and presenters, so they align their contribution to the right roles within the client organisation, and to your over-arching promise of value to the client.
Now you’re ready to start outlining ideas in your introduction, body and conclusion.
What Goes In The Introduction?
Most vendors start their introduction with an agenda slide – makes sense. However, I recommend if you want to stand out plus grab the attention of your audience fast, your first slide should be about them. It can be anything from painting a picture of a brighter future for your prospective client because of your solution, (without directly referring to your solution) presenting your point-of-view about their challenges and industry trends to asking an intriguing question.
Your second slide might touch on their challenges getting in the way of growth or being competitive, and it might include your understanding of the capabilities they’re looking for in a vendor, again without mentioning you.
Your third slide will then introduce the agenda and presenters. And when introducing the agenda, you can subtly speak to your value proposition.
An optional fourth slide: Use this to directly link capabilities the buyer is looking for with your capabilities. This is about getting the client to respect and trust you. Provide evidence of this via a compelling customer testimonial and/or a quote from your CEO, either written or via a live video feed.
What Goes In The Body?
The first slide of your body should introduce how your solution strategy is aligned to the client’s technical and business strategy.
The second slide should include proof points, number of clients, types of clients and some client testimonials, and analyst rankings.
In the third slide introduce your delivery leadership team and senior leaders sponsoring this project. The point of talking about your people before you talk about the solution is to instil confidence in you and minimise buyer’s fear about risk, especially if you can show how your delivery leaders have done this many times for similar clients.
The next few slides are about your product or service. Depending on your audience, C-suite versus procurement or a technical audience, you may need to be high level or more detailed. The point is someone needs to own the decision to decide how wide or deep you want to go in talking about THE WHAT. Make sure your technical team adheres to constraints you put on the level of detail you want.
The second part of your body is about THE HOW (implementation/transition timelines, schedules and org charts). Instil further confidence and lessen fear of risk by making sure schedules and project diagrams are simple and clear. If complicated, dense or hard to read due to small font size, your buyer audience will become irritated and may doubt the veracity of your assertions.
It’s up to you to decide how many slides to include for THE HOW. In my opinion, this section needs the most care as there is greater perceived risk from the client around implementation cost-over-runs, low user uptake, or disruption to business as usual.
What Goes In The Conclusion?
Usually by the time you get to the conclusion you’ve exhausted your audience with details of THE WHAT and THE HOW. It will be up to you to spark energy into them if you want to keep their interest going. Which is why the first slide of your conclusion must be compelling and exciting.
It needs to be in the form of offering your buyer some extra value, or you can show powerful financial results if they choose you. (Of course, you must be able to back-up your financial figures). Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to wake up your audience with an emotional story or a surprising added benefit.
The second slide of your conclusion summarises what’s in your body while homing in on the value that your solution or service offers at low risk.
The third slide is the wrap-up, and similar to the executive summary in your written proposal, it’s where you must prove that you’re committed to helping the client succeed in their goals. It’s not enough to say, “we’re committed”, you must demonstrate how. It might be via sharing risk, providing flexible payment terms, offering exclusivity in the form or executive roundtables and industry research or giving them free consulting and training.
Most people will then finish off with a final slide that says, “Thank You”. While you should verbally express thanks for your audience’s time, never have the last slide of your PowerPoint deck say, Thank You. That’s a wasted opportunity to use the power of repetition to convince your audience that you’re the right vendor. Turn the final slide into an amazing message. It could be a simple, short statement about the spirit of this joint venture with the client, a video of a current client providing a short testimonial, or an image showing your prospective client serving their customer differently in the future. Whatever the message, finish by focussing on your audience. It’s not about you; it’s about them.
Take Control Of The Mess Thrown At You
Now, even if you follow the above process and send contributors and presenters your high-level bullet points of the introduction, body and conclusion, and you include guidance on slide limitations, many people will ignore it and throw in whatever they think is best. Frequently, their slides are not customised to this bid, or it’s more slides than you need.
What I suggest is that you go back to the authors and ask them to pay attention to the structure and guidelines and trim their section to the required length. It’s more useful if they do it first as they are the best judge of the most relevant message relating to their area of expertise.
As the PowerPoint presentation goes through multiple iterations and drafts, it’s essential to keep an eagle eye on the structure and make sure there is no deviation to it. A sales presentation is a living thing, and sometimes the structure evolves somewhat, but this needs to be managed by one or two people (usually the sales and solution leads) who own the sales and solution strategy.
Of course, the story you tell in your oral presentation must align to and reiterate your messages in the written response of the RFP.
Also, you can put together a well-constructed argument, but what if it’s the wrong argument? Even when you’ve put together an excellent sales presentation, it might fall flat if you don’t have insight into the client, and if you don’t know their situation beyond what they’ve revealed in the RFP.
However, if you’re doing everything right up to this point, you will want to make sure your final presentation gets you over the finish line.
To help you with this, I’ve got a PowerPoint template you can use as a guide so you can structure your oral presentation in the best possible way. Download it here.
I also cover other PowerPoint tips like how to use visual themes and colour, how to effectively present diagrams or charts, plus more in this article.