in Sales Presentation Tips

Knowing Your Prospect at the Back of Your Hand: Part 3 of 15 in Definitive Guide to Making Killer Sales Presentations


(This blog is a 3rd in a 15 part series titled ‘Definitive Guide to Making Killer Sales Presentations’. Sign-up now to be the first to receive the full-fledged guide.)


Most inexperienced salespeople would walk into a meeting and after a short banter would launch themselves into this scripted sales presentation without ever taking the time to really understand the prospect. More often than not, this sends the prospect into a powerpoint coma and they just mentally shut off to whatever the sales guy is saying.


Nobody likes being pitched to. Nobody wants your product or service. What they really want is a solution to their problem. They want someone who can listen to them. Good salespeople know this often ignored fact and use this to their advantage. They acknowledge a good sales call is not the one where they got the opportunity to speak all the time but instead the one where they let the prospect speak most of the time and they just helped the prospect reach their goals.


An ideal sales presentation should always begin by understanding the prospect as well as possible. This is not exactly rocket science but some common sense. We used to do that at Google sales all the time. Asking the customer how his business was doing, what were his current problems etc allowed them to open up to us and allowed us to customize our pitch for their specific problems. Before understanding the prospect, which can only happen if the prospect opens up and discusses their problems with us, it is important for the salesperson to build trust with the prospect. He/she can build trust/rapport by discussing common problems which both might be facing such as say the economy or the job landscape or the industry. Trust can also be built by asking the prospect the problems which are keeping them busy these days.


The entire idea of knowing the client is to be able to customize the pitch or presentation as per the client’s needs and let the client talk themselves into purchasing the product or service.


Let me illustrate that by an example:


For our example, we’ll take a typical conversation between a car salesman and his prospect.


Salesman: Hi! How can I help you?

Prospect: I’m interested to buy a car for my family.

Salesman: Fantastic! We have just the thing for you. Check out this classic Toyota Corolla Model S. Stylish, great boot space and gives thirty miles to a gallon. Your kids would love the comfort and the space at the backseat. Comes in a variety of colors.

What do you think?

Prospect: Sounds good! But I was really looking for something more?

Salesman: Have a look at our Toyota Model S Plus. It has a far better engine and the comfort is amazing.

Prospect: Let me get back to you after discussing with my wife.


And this is how a sales conversation looks like when you allow the client to talk more:


Salesman: Hi! How can I help you?

Prospect: I’m interested to buy a car for my family.

Salesman: Well that’s great! Tough to find good family cars these days. Found myself in your shoes 6 months back and took me a long time to finalize on the perfect car. You have kids?

Prospect: I know right! Yeah, I have a 5-year old daughter and a 1-year old son.

Salesman: Kids these days are so demanding about the color of the car. My teenage son only wanted a crimson red sedan. Anyways, what’re you looking for?

Prospect: I have not finalized anything but we as a family go for hiking trips to the country side and I also usually need a car to travel to my parents’ place once a month which is 300 miles one way.

Salesman: Ah! I see. Long rides are painful in most sedans. You just can’t have enough legroom and the seats don’t recline enough if you ought to take a rest mid-journey.

Prospect: Exactly!

Salesman: SUVs offer that comfort but are not the best when it comes to mileage. What do you think of that? Is that something you can manage?

Prospect: I understand that. We also have a hatchback which we mostly use for city commute and it gives us a great mileage. We needed this car really for our out of city travel and it happens once every 3 to 4 weeks, so mileage is a concern but not really the topmost concern for me.

Salesman: Absolutely! Do you take the highway when you go to your parents’ house?   

Prospect: Yes! We certainly do! It is the shortest route.

Salesman: Oh I know! But that route has heavy truck traffic transporting lumber outside the city. With such a traffic, we would need a very safe car.

Prospect: That’s exactly what I had in mind! A minimum NCAP rating of 4 and above. My family’s safety is my top priority.

Salesman: I wouldn’t trade anything for my family’s security and safety too. For the same reason, I ended up buying a higher version of the car I had initially decided upon, even though I had to cough up 20% more going outside my budget.

Prospect: That’s true! We’re okay with a higher upfront cost given I’m satisfied on the comfort and safety of the car.

Salesman: I guide about 20 family men wade through their car-buying decisions every month. So you can be sure of my guidance. Check out this Volvo XC60. Rated 4 by NCAP on the safety scale and gives about 20 miles to a gallon. And you have to sit and really experience the comfort to be convinced of its long ride quality. I can tell this to you for a fact as I own and drive it for more than 6 months now. No complaints.

Prospect: That definitely looks promising! I’d be interested to know more.


As we see, in the latter example the prospect talked himself into buying the car and went back happier as he thought he was in control the entire time during the sales discussion.

He wasn’t “sold” anything. He bought it as a conscious decision. The salesman was there just to facilitate the sale and the related paperwork. Smooth. Isn’t it?


Consider the case of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, a Fast Company customer service champion. Most luxury hotels take great care of every last detail their customers might face and strive great lengths to ensure the stay is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible btu Fairmont does something different. They early on realised that ‘empathy’ is the key differentiation in the luxury hospitality business. Any luxury hotel that provide top bedsheets and top bathroom experience but if they don’t really empathize with the end customer, they won’t be able to exceed their customer’s expectations. So, all their new employees get that same luxury treatment for free that Fairmont is famous for. They get the same penthouse champagne toast, valet parking when they arrive at the hotel and voucher for a free night’s stay. Experiencing exact same luxury treatment as any other Fairmont customer allows the entire staff to understand the parts which are the most enjoyable for the customer and pointing out improvements where the experience is sub-par or could be made better, something which is not possible without understanding the customer.


Another example of listening and understanding the customer is that of Walgreens, the pharmacy retail chain. They empathized with their customers’ hectic lives leading them to launch drive-through pharmacy, understood that many of their buyers are not native english speakers leading them to launch medical prescriptions in 14 different languages and finally understood that older patients found it too hard to read the small fonts leading them to launch prescriptions with larger fonts.


To wrap up:

  • Build rapport with the prospect
  • Ask questions to understand the prospect. Their business, their problems, their challenges. It has to be about them
  • Customize your pitch to their needs. Put emphasis on things which are more valuable to them
  • Ask poignant questions to make people think about what they really want. Let they say what the ideal solution would be. What exactly will make them happy?
  • If they say no, ask ‘why’ over and over again. Find out the real reason for their objection. Answer all their objections and fears with examples
  • Take feedback actively and frequently

On a related note,

Alongwith new and interesting information, if the information is not relevant, people will immediately lose focus. That’s why it is so important to know your audience in advance. Know what they like or dislike, know what are their goals and how can you help them achieve it, know what they want from your presentation, how is their business doing, major threats in their industry and how are they dealing with them. Understanding the audience and their business will help you face their objections in a much more informed and empathetic way which will improve your chances of closing the sale.


Human brain processes all incoming information and decides to go deep further into it or not based on the information. This aspect of the brain is also called the ‘investigate or ignore’ mode. If the incoming information is relevant, the brain will get into the investigate mode where it will spend time in hearing what is coming next. If the listener is presented with irrelevant information, it will just ignore.