Arrive with a prepared presentation?

You have a face to face meeting with a potential client. Do you arrive with a prepared presentation and structure the meeting around it?

In some industries, this is expected. The protocol requires that you show up with a researched presentation that relates to the specific purpose of the meeting. In investment banking, especially in Europe, the sales team is expected to present a detailed recommendation.

If it’s not the norm, is it useful to arrive with a prepared presentation?

A presentation can ensure key information about you, your organization, your team, or the industry gets communicated. If you’re new, until you can say it fluidly and naturally, a presentation is a good outline to make sure you make your key points. It also requires you to do some specific research on your client and make a prediction about what might be useful to them. Get it right and you’ve easily cleared the credibility threshold. And, if you’ve gotten it wrong, because you’ve invested time and effort in digging into their situation, your client is more willing to answer your questions; to explain what you got wrong about their situation.

On the other hand, I don’t want to arrive at a client meeting and wind up ‘presenting’, which is what is at risk of happening if I show up with a presentation. My main goal is to bring the meeting to a place where my potential client is comfortable, happy even, to answer my questions. And presenting can interfere with that goal.

Some sales people do arrive with a tailored presentation. They prepare, for example, a mock transaction to walk through with the client. When asked why they do this, this was a standard answer.

“The purpose of a presentation is to get the client talking about their situation. I don’t care of I get through the presentation, as long as a useful discussion is sparked. The presentation is a conversation stimulator. I watch the people in the room during the presentation, and when I see or hear a reaction, I ask about it.”

One investment banker, who is obliged to prepare a detailed presentation, noted that the presentation content must be detailed and correct, containing no mistakes or poor assumptions.

“Getting the details right is a hygiene factor, a credibility threshold,” he said, “but, the best meeting I ever had, we didn’t get halfway through the presentation. The presentation provoked a mutual Q and A session; a revealing dialog. From that day forward I started watching the client during the presentation, and as soon as I see a reaction, I ask a question.”

Don’t let the presentation drive the meeting. Presentations are useful as long as you don’t ‘present’ them. They are a tool to establish credibility, succinctly communicate key information, and to provoke reactions that invite your questions.

The most important moment in a sales presentation is when it’s interrupted, and a conversation breaks out.

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