Every Word Matters

Every single word matters.

Words are never neutral. Every word that does not help sell or market your product, hurts.

A media executive I know spent 45 exasperating minutes trying to explain his product to me. Rarely did he pause to see if the idea made any sense (it didn't). I finally figured out that his entire concept could be described in two very simple sentences.

All of us have sat through at least one awful sales presentation, and most of us have also delivered one at some point, too. It is obvious to the audience that they are watching a bad presentation, yet every day, presenters continue to deliver presentations that do not resonate with their customers and prospects.

The reason is simple. It is deceptively hard to imagine yourself on the other side of the table.

As we exit 2008 and enter a prolonged period of economic challenges, it will become increasingly important to deliver a concise message that connects with our audience. We are all going to have to become better presenters, and can start by avoiding the five biggest mistakes that presenters make:

Stop reading: We have all listened to a sales guy read word for word through his entire presentation. How boring. Unless your audience is a nursery school class, they can read too. Your slides are for the benefit of the audience, not speaking notes for you. They should support what you say, not repeat it.

Kill ‘em with content: For some reason, salespeople have this instinctive belief that if a few words are good, more must be great. It is what you leave out, not in, that counts.

Barney meetings: The lovable purple dinosaur is the symbol of all useless meetings. "I love you, you love me," but nothing ever happens. These are the meetings where we listen for an hour, nod in agreement, and then never see each other again.  Every meeting needs a purpose, and more importantly, it needs clear next steps. If you want your customer to do something, ask them for it.

Product diarrhea: Nobody cares about your product. Sorry, but they don't care about your technology either. I come from the software business, where it is common to have a 45-slide deck that is 43 slides of technological garbage. Customers do not buy technology or products, they buy benefits and solutions to their problems. Take the number of technology slides in your current pitch and cut it in half. Then cut it in half again. Use those slides instead to tell them why they should care.

It is YOUR fault: You never want to be the one telling the classic salesperson sob story where you are selling an "amazing" product, but the customer was just too "stupid" to get it. It is never the job of the customer to understand your message. Every customer buys things for a reason. Your job is to understand those motivations, and present ideas that will help their business.  It is always your fault if your message does not work.

So what should you do? Here are four easy ways to make your presentations much better:

10 slides or less. Guy Kawasaki, the original Apple evangelist, has a rule he calls 10/20/30. Which means you should have no more than 10 slides, no longer than a 20-minute presentation, and no font smaller than 30 points. You should work continually to deliver fewer slides, less bullet points, and simpler language.

When in doubt, take it out. If there is any question as to whether a given slide will benefit the audience, yank it. You can always verbalize something not in a presentation, but everything you leave in creates a more complicated story. In business, simplicity sells.

Ask for the business. The last slide on EVERY sales presentation should be clear, tangible next steps. You will never get what you do not ask for. So ask for the business, but make sure you can articulate how everything benefits the customer.

No surprises. Suspenseful movies are great, but nobody likes presentations like this. Provide a clear overview on the first slide. Tell them exactly what you are going to talk about and why it matters to them in the first 60 seconds. Demonstrate that you respect their time, and understand their needs.

Sales can be both the hardest and the most rewarding job in the world. It chews up and spits out those that do not take the time to understand and present from their customer's perspective. It is merciless to those who waste their customer's time.

Next time you fire up PowerPoint, make every word count.



9 comments about "Every Word Matters".
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  1. Cindy Alvarez, December 18, 2008 at noon

    Another thing to add - tailor your presentation to your audience. If you're pitching to the CTO and his technical team, then yes, they DO care about the technology. (At least a little bit.)

    What your customers "hear" (remember, act upon) is highly dependent on who they are.

  2. Peter Gimber from CBS4Boston, December 18, 2008 at 12:18 p.m.

    This is excellent advice-well written.

  3. Mark allen Roberts from Out of the Box Solutions, LLC, December 18, 2008 at 12:34 p.m.

    Great content and the four ways to make your presentation much better were excellent.

    I have been a “sales guy” for close to 24 years now in a variety of capacities and many different titles (but always a sales guy at heart). One recommendation I would like to add is a pre presentation call to better understand the buyer’s unresolved problems.

    Sales are not difficult if given the right tools. It’s actually very easy if you have a product or service that perfectly solves your client’s unresolved problem. In this case you are serving the client not selling them. I hate to break it to those marketing folks out there, but based on a recent survey I did, salespeople use about 20-30% of what you produce. Why? Because 70% of what we receive SUCKS! So if you are a marketing person, how can you know if your tools suck?

    1. In the sale process do you need your salesperson to “translate” your features and benefits and company self promotion into how you solve the client’s problems?

    2. If sales people are making up their own slide deck and tools

    3. If your team creates products in development then asks you to “ create a need in the mind of our market for this”

    4. If you watch sales verbally vomit everything you have produced because they are not sure what is good and what is fluff so they present everything.

    Sales people take the path of least resistance to sell. Watch what they use and do not use.Ask them the spin cycles that interupt a sale. How easy is it to sell what you produce?

    As we drive into 2009, everything is different, everything! It will not be like 911, it will not be like 2002…. All the rules have changed. The traditional sales funnel now more resembles a spaghetti noodle strainer. Leads are not only coming in the top and taking a linear path to close. Leads are coming in at various points in the old sales cycle, and often leaking out because they do not quickly understand the problems you solve for them.

    Marketing must get out into the market and understand the buying process of today and buyer personas. From this understanding build tools to help serve your market’s problems. Map the buying process, sales process, and create the right tools to help your team win in today’s paradigm.

    Or, keep making tools that talk about features and benefits and how great you are and trust your sales guys to be great translators….problem is, what do you do when someone does not understand you , is speaking in a foreign language you do not understand? We speak LOUDER.
    Your call
    Mark Allen Roberts

  4. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, December 18, 2008 at 1:10 p.m.

    The admonitions and advice are right on point. But I think one correction is in order. Mr. Koretz keeps referring to this person who has yet to buy and pay for the product or service as the customer. Salespeople should remember that until the person buys and PAYS FOR the product or service, (s)he is not a customer, but a PROSPECT who has not committed to an affirmative decision.

    Henry Blaufox, Senior Account Executive
    Oxclove Workshop

  5. Bob Kiger from Videography Lab, December 18, 2008 at 2:08 p.m.

    For two years Videography Lab has been distilling our core concept so that "truck drivers" around the world could understand it. The marketing concept behind this idea is
    "if truck drivers don't get it . . . people get AIDS".

    Think about it?
    Videogaphy Lab - Oceanside CA -

  6. Stevan Phillips from ATW Corp., December 18, 2008 at 2:15 p.m.

    While this article is right on target, it sounds like that media executive had done nothing to understand the prospect's unique needs and pain points...and customize accordingly. Nothing worse than a canned / generic presentation!

    One thing I would add to Mr. Koretz's piece is the old adage: "Tell them what you're going to tell them...Tell them...Tell them what you told them." Along the way, get real-time, verbal feedback (some trial closes too), instead of useless nods, and indeed, ask for the order!

  7. Wendy Hidenrick from AwesomenessTV, December 18, 2008 at 4:09 p.m.

    Nothing is worse than watching agency people's eye glaze over as you deliver a canned presentation. Be human! Think about what might be going thru the other person's head, and know when it is appropriate to stray from the prepared material. Use personable intelligence.

  8. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., December 18, 2008 at 7:01 p.m.


    You are correct. I often make the mistake of jumping the gun to assume that my prospects will all become customers :)

  9. Philip Lenoble, ph.d. from Executive Decision Systems, Inc, December 20, 2008 at 6:19 p.m.

    Chris...Great piece. I have added it to LeNoble's Media Business Insights as many in media need to improve their commmunications skils with their clients. Kep up the great work. We'd love to share your mind with TV, radio, cable newspapers and agencies. Best and Happy Holidays

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