Episode 55: Robert Koehler on Tips for Crafting Compelling Sales Presentations

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Robert Koehler join us from Compass. Robert, I’d love for you to just introduce yourself, your role, and your organization.

Robert Koehler: Thank you, Shawnna. A bit about myself – first, I have over 20 years of sales experience having worked in the financial publishing and high-tech industries all the way from a three-person startup to being employee number seven to big companies such as HP and IBM, and SaaS companies such as LinkedIn. I’ve delivered sales performance improvement programs in over 20 countries. I think the most challenging program I ever delivered included a sales training done with simultaneous translation in Seoul, South Korea to a hundred sales account managers.

Today, I’m currently the director of sales effectiveness of Compass, which is a high-tech real estate company and one of the highest growth companies in the market today with over 15,000 agents. Our mission in sales effectiveness is to accelerate and increase revenue and profitability. And the last thing I’ll note, Shawnna, is that our chief revenue officer gave me the option on what I wanted to call the team. And I intentionally chose sales effectiveness over sales enablement because I believe that we’re in the results business. And the literal definition of effectiveness is the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result. I wanted our team to be focused on achieving the results and the metrics that our CRO and our VP of sales care about.

SS: I love that. Now, I want to narrow in on a specific program, because you had actually written an article on LinkedIn about this, and it’s around presentation skills and how that can help increase sales effectiveness. So, I’d love to kind of understand from you some of the common mistakes that you see sellers make when giving presentations.

RK: Shawnna, I’ll throw out a few and we’ll see if they resonate with you and the audience. The first one is not starting with the customer or the buyer. How many presentations have you been a part of, whether you’ve developed them yourselves or you’ve been the recipient where a seller stands up and comes out with a slide deck. Slide one is where all our offices are located. Slide two is maybe a picture of all of our logos. Slide three is our wonderful senior leadership. They’re not starting with the customer.

The second common mistake I see in presentations is not having a conversation. There’s lots of conversational intelligence data, which backs up my own personal observations that sellers spend a lot of time in presentations speaking rather than focusing on getting the audience engaged, making it less of a presentation and more of a conversation.

A great example of that was a company that I was consulting for. They are an ERP company, and they said, “we have a performance problem, so we can’t figure out what it is.” And I got on the calls and I listened to the first two sales calls. On the first one, the seller opened up the meeting and ran his presentation and delivered his presentation for 27 minutes without asking a single question of the prospect. On the second call, I sat in on these, the other seller went 37 minutes before asking a single question or getting the buyer engaged. I thought, “aha, I think I have strong clues to what part of the issue is here.”

The third one, and probably the biggest one, Shawnna, is failing in your presentation to link your solution or solutions to the buyer’s top goals and roadblocks.

SS: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, and I see those quite frequently. I’d love to understand, from your opinion and also just to kind of to give our audience some actionable tips, what are some of the key factors that make a really effective sales presentation?

RK: The first one I’ll start with is counterintuitive. It’s that discovery is critical. Without effective discovery, it’s really hard to give a compelling presentation in most cases. I believe discovery is critical to presenting as well as advancing an opportunity.

Second, as I alluded to, it begins with the buyer. Recap their goals and roadblocks. Get them engaged early in a conversation and put them in the picture frame early on in the presentation.

Third is storytelling. For fans of Mad Men out there, you’ve seen Don Draper many times put a whole theme together when he was doing an advertising pitch. What I see top-performing account executives and sellers do, as well as executives, is that they have a theme. They have a thesis. And everything in the presentation supports that theme or thesis. They give great supporting stories and they’re compelling storytellers. People remember stories far more than they do facts.

Along the lines with the tip of “have a conversation”, one of my recommendations would be to throw out the presentation and use the whiteboard. That’s probably the most effective way that I’ve ever had personally engaging with prospective clients.

Two more tips are, one, focus on the headlines. What are the top headlines for each topic or slide that you’re covering? I worked on this a lot recently in our proposal delivery training with the Compass sales team where they were getting into too much detail and it was, keep it simple. For each topic or slide that you have, write down first, what are the two or three headlines? If you only had 20 seconds to speak to it, what are the three headlines that you need to get out? It helps with focusing condensing the talk track.

Last thing that I want to say is that for presentations, for those that use PowerPoint in particular, that PowerPoint was invented to support the oratory. And the graphics, whatever you’re showing, should only be there to support the oratory. The reality is that a lot of sellers have let PowerPoint become the star of the show rather than supporting what you have to say. So, less detail, more big graphics. Keep the slides clean. Use the rule of three. Bucket things into threes.

And lastly, follow the rule of six. Now, there’s a great TEDTalk on this, Shawnna, where it showed that when you list more than six bullet points or more than six of anything, it reduces cognitive processing by over 500%. At Compass, we call it laundry listing. Have you ever seen a slide that had so many bullet points on it that you just couldn’t get the key takeaway or the headline? I see sellers do that quite a lot. So, if you’re listing things out, no more than six and leverage the rule of three.

SS: I love those. Those are fantastic tips, Robert, as someone who is very keen on effective presentation building as well. So, I guess I want to anchor this last question back to sales enablement and sales effectiveness teams. How can sales enablement and sales effectiveness teams specifically help improve the presentation skills of their sales teams?

RK: A couple of ways. One, give them a framework for the presentation. We’re not trying to make them automatons or robots. We’re trying to give them the musical score or the notes so that they can ultimately improvise and create their own jazz, to use a metaphor.

Secondly, I’m a big believer, when it comes to things that we need to be able to do in the field, of the “learn, watch, do” model. One, give them some materials to read in advance to model it for them so they know what a good presentation looks like. Three, then have them practice and where appropriate, certify them. Or if you don’t do certification, evaluate them. So, pre-work, modeling, practice, and evaluation where possible. Sales effectiveness can give them customizable decks that are simple.

Next, I think sales effectiveness and enablement can really help sellers improve presentation skills by sharing best practices from other parts of the company or from other organizations or other industries. Sales enablement is typically in a unique position to see what’s happening across a country, countries, or a wide swath of account executives and sellers, and sharing those best practices back with the rest of the sales team is really effective.

The last thing I’ll say, to just plug the general concept of whiteboarding, is that the most successful presentation programs that I’ve seen have been based on whiteboarding in part because it’s so powerful to have a conversation with someone rather than talk or present at them.

SS: Well, thank you, Robert. I really do truly appreciate you sharing your own best practices for our sales enablement audience. Thank you so much for joining us today.

RK: Thank you, Shawnna.

SS: To our audience, thank you for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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