How to Deliver the Perfect Virtual Presentation – Part 2: Controlling the Stage


As explored in Part 1, the first step to delivering a killer presentation is understanding the right framework. Here I want to explore another critical element of the perfect performance – controlling the stage. 


Remember, it’s your performance, but way too often sellers allow the customer to determine the stage, the “sound system,” and what “songs” are performed. 


A few years ago, I was part of the decision-making team organized to choose between two solution providers. They each were given 45 minutes to make their virtual presentation. Sounds simple enough. Sounds equitable. So, what would you do?


The first seller did what most sellers do. They say, “yes sir” or, “yes ma’am” and do what they’re told. She knew her stuff and competently presented the solution. But she never had a chance. 


It was as though she was asked to sing in front of 5,000 people with no microphone, while her competition had a full band and killer sound system. Talent didn’t matter, skill didn’t matter, and preparation didn’t help. She needed to control the stage or not play at all.   


Here’s the back story: one firm was highly recommended by an existing vendor and, due to their sponsorship, had multiple meetings with the ultimate decision-maker; while the other firm, found through a Google search, came in cold.  


The second presenter knew exactly what to communicate about their solution. Given the rules of the game, as defined by the decision-maker, the first presenter never got off the ground. In a 45-minute presentation to complete strangers, it was impossible for anyone to unseat the firm that had the inside track. Let me repeat that. Impossible. In other words, she may have had an amazing voice, but no one really ever saw her perform. 


To change beliefs, to win the deal, you need to control the performance. In more simple terms, you need to determine: the information needed so that you can cull what to share, the time required to demonstrate the value of your solution, and who should be there.  


Determine Info Required


Way too often, sellers are asked to present to an audience they don’t know or, due to little information on the problem to be solved or decision drivers, deliver a generic presentation. This is not just a recipe for disaster, but also a complete waste of time.


Early in the sales process a generic presentation of “here’s what we offer” can definitely help the customer get a clearer picture of who you are and is very reasonable. But, if the goal of the presentation is to determine who wins the deal, unless you are the only game in town, blindly throwing darts at a board, you will fail most of the time.


To make the most effective presentation, you need to know 4 things:

  1. What problem needs solving? 
  2. Why is that problem on the list of priorities? Or how does that problem impact the business? 
  3. What criteria will be used to determine who will solve the problem (i.e., formal and informal decision drivers)?
  4. And who created those drivers (i.e., the decision-maker or makers)?


If you can answer those 4 questions, you most likely have a good shot at building the right presentation. If not, don’t perform if you don’t know the purpose of the performance, what kind of “music they like,” or if the person who chooses the “talent” isn’t in the room. 


Determine Time Required


Surprisingly, most decision-makers don’t have the experience to build the perfect process for vetting a solution. Therefore, if they lead, you are following someone who doesn’t know where they are going. It’s the blind leading the blind – and way too often, this results in a lose/lose. 


Based on the decision drivers, determine how much time is required to ensure the prospect can adequately assess the solution. If they need to see it to believe it, how much time is required for the decision-making team or decision-maker to “see” it?


For example, if they need to meet the key members of your team or demo a product, determine how much time is required to do just that. Don’t start with the question:


“How much time can I have to present my solution?” 

Ask yourself, “What do they really need to see, experience, understand, in order to make the best decision?” Let that determine how you set the “stage.”


As Stephen Covey says, “begin with the end in mind” and then determine the time required to meet the customer’s objective. 


If the customer is unclear due to lack of experience, then it’s your responsibility to communicate and influence the customer to follow your recommended process – which may require adding steps to their decision-making process. If you are unsure of the right process or time required, that’s your first homework assignment. 


Determine Who Is Required


As mentioned earlier, if the right person or persons aren’t in the room, what is the purpose of the presentation? To equip the attendees to sell your solution? Would you trust the outcome of a deal to someone you just met, whose only knowledge of your solution is based on a 1.5-hour presentation? No. 


Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions like:


  • Who is driving and involved in the decision-making process?
  • Who is the person who had the most influence over determining the decision drivers?
  • What will happen after the presentation? Do you need to meet with anyone else?
  • How will this project get funded? Will he/she (the Economic Buyer) be in the room?
  • Who could kill this deal?


Most sellers are tentative for a good reason: they fear damaging the relationship with their main contact, who is most likely the Evaluator – the person who makes it happen but not the person who determines what happens. I get it. It’s a relationship that’s critically important. 


The key is to spend enough time with the Evaluator to ensure they shift from evaluating your solution to becoming an advocate. Simply put, sell them first. Once sold, you can begin working together on how to sell the solution to the rest of the decision-making team. 


If you are a late arrival to the “party” and don’t have the opportunity to build an alliance, you are already in a very weak position. Now it becomes imperative that you shake things up a bit and take some risk to win the deal. If not, you are most likely just practicing your presentation skills for the next opportunity. 


Position the Why 


The key to accomplishing all the above boils down to answering the “Why” question. Why is it in the customer’s best interest to provide additional information, give you their time, add a step to the process, or access to the right people? 


If you can’t position your request as a way to help the customer make the best decision, it’s just seen as a manipulation tactic at worst, or at best, groveling. So spend some time nailing down how to position your request. 


“If you can provide more information about ___, I will be able to make a recommendation, not just a presentation. And I can focus my time on only what is most important to you.”


“We have found that if the right people aren’t in the room, we often struggle to ensure the solution will be backed by the executive team, which, a high percentage of the time, greatly diminishes ROI.”


“For you to really assess our solution, or any solution designed to solve ____, you need to see how it works. We have found that the time required to ____ is about 2 hours. Again, my goal is to eliminate risk and for you to know exactly what you are buying – from us or anyone else. There is too much at stake to shortcut the process.” 


If you’re passionate about helping versus selling, your enthusiasm and conviction will be compelling, and the right words fill flow. The key is to check your motive – is it to help the customer make the best decision or just win a deal? Remember, your motive will ultimately be transparent


Determine When to Say No 


I can already hear you saying, “Yeah Tom, in a perfect world I would know everything I need to know, I would get the time I need to demonstrate my solution, and I would have the right people in the room. But my world is far from perfect.” 


Believe me, I get it. Especially when you are invited in late, it’s common to be somewhat in the dark. If you have a competitive advantage and the odds are in your favor, it’s wise not to fight the process. But sometimes you need to hit the brakes.  


There are situations where you need to say, “No, I’m not ‘singing’ unless ____.”  Remember:


You cannot be in two places at once. Therefore, it’s up to you to determine if giving up your most valuable resource, time, is worth it. 


Knowing when to say “no” is based on 2 questions: 


  1. If you don’t have the information described above or aren’t able to meet with the ultimate decision maker, will you lose? 
  2. Will the process defined by the decision-making team lead to a decision that will most likely result in a complete failure to solve their problem?


If you are going to lose anyway or the decision-making process is so flawed that they will ultimately choose the wrong provider or flawed solution, it becomes easy to draw a hard line in the sand and say, “no.”


“50% of the success of an initiative like this is based on _____. And without understanding more about ____ and having the opportunity to demonstrate _____, I’m just not sure how I can help you make the best decision. Are you open to changing your process?”


Here’s the good news: in the few times I’ve created a fork in the road and boldly but graciously stated my requirements to participate, the customer changed their process and I won a 100% of those deals. Why? 


Again, I think it primarily comes down to motive. My genuine goal wasn’t to manipulate, but rather to serve. I knew either I couldn’t help them with the information available to me, or the process was so flawed they were headed off a cliff, and it was my responsibility to make that clear.


The simple truth is this: if you are the expert in solving the customer’s problem, you should lead. If you aren’t or act like you aren’t, they will probably choose someone else. 


Next Steps


Stay tuned for Part 3, where I’ll offer some pro tips on actually delivering your presentation.  In the meantime, take a listen to our sALES with ASLAN podcast episode,  Top Things You Must Do to Prepare For the Big Presentation.


Module 4 of our new Virtual Selling Program also covers this topic in depth. For more information on all the challenges of Virtual Selling, check out this brand new program built on ASLAN’s 25 years of Inside Sales experience.


As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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