Sell With Your Gut and Get Out of a Rut

The most effective sales presentations result from an understanding of the customer and how to reach them emotionally

Mike Parkinson, a communication and presentation consultant, tells the story about the time a pest controller rang his doorbell to tell him that since he was in the neighborhood, he could offer him an excellent deal on spraying for bugs. Mike declined (at least three times) despite the salesman’s insistence about the great price he was able to offer and the concern that, since he had sprayed the neighbors’ lawns, the bugs would migrate to Mike’s yard.

The road to any sale has two gates, Parkinson explains, and the salesperson at his door failed to pass through either one of them.

Catalyst and Choice

The first gate is catalyst, and it consists of three components, at least one of which must be present for a sale to be made:

  • Pain – Pain triggers many buying decisions, and thepain of change cannot exceed the pain of maintaining the status quo.
  • Gain – Simply put, what’s in it for the buyer?
  • Fear – The fear of loss is up to 2.5 times more powerful as a motivator than pain or gain, yet it’s a negative motivator that Parkinson avoids.

The second gate is choice. It, too, has three components:

  • Trust – Any transaction requires the seller to develop
  • Ego – You can go down a deep Freudian hole when researching how ego is tied to buying decisions; suffice to say that buyers hopefully make B2B buying decisions with confidence that they are helping their
  • Value – Buyers want a good product or service at a price that is fair.

What’s more, Parkinson adds, the pest controller leapt directly into his sales pitch before fully understanding Parkinson’s situation. If he had started with a question or two, he would have quickly discovered that Parkinson had an existing contract with a different pest controller company that he was satisfied with. There was no pain point — and nothing to be gained.

A thorough understanding of a prospect allows a sales rep to develop what Parkinson calls an “HFB Mind Map” — hopes, fears and biases. “It makes it easier to empathize with a prospect and understand what will motivate them to move forward,” he said.

Emotions Close Deals

Parkinson points out that of the six bullet points under his two gates to a sale, five weigh entirely on emotions. Value is the only component in which the manual part of the brain gets involved. Successful marketing strategies — and the sales presentations they hatch — appeal to the emotional side of the brain as much if not more than the rational side.

In a blog about the emotional aspect of B2B sales, Rob Mitchell, CEO of FT Longitude, a marketing services division of the Financial Times, says the characteristics of complex B2B sales — buying teams, long sales cycles and substantial price points — suggest that B2B buying decisions are more rational than B2C. The reality is that emotions and the subconscious play significant roles in B2B sales, Mitchell states.

“More subjective elements, such as reducing anxiety or providing hope and inspiration for the future, really matter most to B2B buyers — not the features and benefits of the product,” Mitchell states. He emphasizes that marketers and sales reps need to think about how they can form an emotional connection with their audience. “In the B2B context, this means focusing on factors such as reassurance, optimism, confidence, vision for the future and empathy for the buyer’s business problems.” (See sidebar on page 5.)

Don’t Bury the Lead

Those sentiments are echoed by Robert J. Weese, managing partner with B2B Sales Connections, an executive leadership consultancy. “Salespeople need to follow the same rule as reporters: Don’t bury the lead,” he told SMM in an email exchange.

Prospects anchor their thoughts on the first piece of information that resonates with them. Weese warns that if a sales rep spends 10 or even five minutes reviewing non-critical information that does not directly relate to the outcome the customer can expect from a product or service, they risk losing their interest. (You may be proud of your company’s history, but how important is it to your prospects?)

“Too many sales presentations start with the salesperson telling the customer about their business and themselves. They fail to capture the buyer’s attention in the first few seconds,” Weese said. “Salespeople tend to present a shopping list of features of the product/service with the hope the customer will put up their hand and say, ‘I’m interested in that.’ ”

Weese recalls a client whose reps started every sales presentation with a 10-minute tale about the history of the company hoping to engender trust. “I changed their presentation intro to a question: ‘How important would it be if you could increase your net revenue by $10 million to $12 million in the next year?’ This opening statement immediately got the audience to sit up and not only listen but actually engage in the presentation. Their close rate almost doubled.”

Have a Big Finish

How a rep opens a presentation is important, but how a presentation ends is equally vital, says Patricia Fripp, a business presentation coach.

“You need to have last words linger, and it’s never a new idea, it’s [reiterating] why you would be better than status quo or the competition,” Fripp told SMM in a telephone interview. “The walkaway line is the No. 1 reason they want to do business with you.” (See story on page 7.)

“A brilliant presentation is worth nothing if you don’t bring it home with a powerful close,” says Aja Frost, an SEO specialist at HubSpot. She offers these tips for finishing strong:

  • Revisit an opening anecdote or idea – Starting a presentation with a case study or anecdote that the prospect can relate to captures attention immediately; returning to it as a summary tactic adds a compelling element of cohesion to your presentation.
  • End with a challenge – “Are you going to continue to let your company’s communication issues cripple your effectiveness?” A challenge can keep you top-of-mind after a presentation is over. However, read the room first. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Crossing it can leave a prospect with a negative impression.
  • Inspire – Understand that change is difficult for A well-chosen quote of reassurance can put things in a new light.
  • Surface objections – “If you decide not to buy, what would be the reasons?” Addressing objections so directly can be frightening, but admitting they exist and offering resolutions can be powerfully positive.
  • Don’t shy away from emotion – There it is If it feels appropriate, a personal story or joke can add memorability and increase trust.

Practice Makes Perfect Pitches

Strong sales presentations don’t happen by accident. Like anything done well, practice is essential. Today’s tech stacks include multipurpose sales enablement platforms that organize marketing content, making it easier to customize presentations, feature AI-powered training programs, and foster sales management interactions and peer-to-peer coaching

Deniz Olcay, senior director of product marketing at Allego, says the customization capability that sales enablement software like the platform they provide is essential to allowing reps to speak not only to each individual prospect’s interests, but to the unique interests of several members of a buying team.

“You can’t just have one pitch and be done with it,” Olcay said in an interview with SMM. “You need variations of your story for each persona. There’s a person who holds the purse strings who cares about a certain set of things; a person who is the user of a product; a department head… Different things will resonate for different members of the buying team. Sellers need to manage that complexity and create variations of the story, and that’s where technology can help.”

Olcay says too many sales presentations are created in a marketing ivory tower and handed to sales teams without sales reps’ input. “It’s too easy for people who are in a siloed environment to think, ‘Hey, this is the best version of the story.’ Rarely do I see a partnership with sales. Rarely do I see an agile approach. You’re not trying to create a silver bullet in a silo. Presentations should always be evolving.

“In reality, nobody really knows until you go into the field and pitch it to a buyer whether they will get a positive reaction,” he adds. “It, by nature, creates a partnership between marketing and sales to create the story. It’s not owned by one person. That helps it feel like it’s a person presenting and not a robot reading from a script.”


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