There are only so many ways to communicate value during the typical sales cycle. One is to simply verbalize whatever points you want to make. Relying on words alone, however, means you run the risk of having your messages get diluted, as customers remember only some fraction of what was said. That’s why it’s important to use visuals, as a picture is worth a thousand words.
The most common visuals sellers use to deliver their value propositions are product brochures and PowerPoint slides—which ironically, aren’t the most productive ways to communicate value. Truth be told, the instant you put up a PowerPoint slide, the customer’s eyes go straight to the lower right corner of the image on the screen, and then work backward from the lower right to the upper left.
Why? Because skeptical customers have learned over the years that the meat of the messages being presented usually crescendoes toward the bottom of the slide. Meanwhile, most salespeople begin by reviewing points in the upper left of each slide, and then slowly (sometimes painstakingly) work their way down to the conclusions in the lower right.
Can you see the problem? The presentation audience spends much of their time focusing on something totally different than the salesperson is presenting.
If you really want to differentiate your solutions, then I suggest you set your company’s standard PowerPoint deck aside, grab a set of markers, and facilitate the discussion by drawing your own pictures.
Whenever I’m the customer, I can review sales propaganda on my own. What I really want is to get a sense for how competent a salesperson is, and whether I’m dealing with someone who can translate generic information into specific solutions that meet my needs.
To cite a practical example, have you ever headed off to the hardware store with a problem you didn’t know how to solve? When the first Mr. Fix-it person gives you a vague answer, what do you do? If you’re like me, you seek out a second opinion. Then, if the second person provides a verbose and convoluted explanation, it’s possible to feel more confused than helped. Finally, someone whips out a piece of paper and draws a simplistic diagram of the problem and the solution. Suddenly everything makes sense!
Even at informal meetings, sellers should always have a pen and paper on-hand to illustrate important concepts. In smaller, intimate settings, you can simply tear off a few flip chart pages and lay them flat on the conference table like placemats. This gives you an opportunity to lead the discussion (on paper) as opposed to delivering a formal stand-up presentation. Another idea is to hand the marker to the customer. Since people love to talk about themselves, you’d be amazed at how fast customers can fill up white board with important information—that is, if you’re willing to hand over the pen.
You might even use this concept to adjust the way you ask for appointments. Most sellers are just trying to get a meeting. Me, I would much rather get in front of the entire decision committee, and be allotted enough time to facilitate a discussion that marries their objectives to my solutions. Consequently, I don’t just ask for meetings. Instead, when it’s time to close for an appointment, I am more inclined to say, “Mr. Prospect, would it make sense to get the appropriate people together…in front of a white board…so we can map out your options, the impact to your business, and the associated costs?”
Asking to get in front of a white board (or a piece of paper) is extremely effective because it conveys a greater sense of value, gives you an opportunity to facilitate a more in-depth discussion, and ultimately, is perceived by decision makers to be a much better use of the customer’s time.
The ability to communicate value without having to rely on product brochures or PowerPoint slides that someone else in the marketing department created, is one of the best ways for sellers to demonstrate competence and show off their expertise to potential buyers. Since much of the sales process takes place outside the formal presentation environment anyway (i.e. on a notepad or bar napkin), the lesson is clear—learn to be a good chalk-talker and your credibility will soar. So will your sales results.