Sales: Hey Look! A Squirrel

April 29, 2016
Tips on staying focused during sales presentations

About the author: Kelly Thompson, MWS, CI, is president of Moti-Vitality LLC. Thompson can be reached at [email protected] or 810.560.2788.

During speech classes in college, my biggest struggle was coming up with an outline and trying to fit the speech into the allotted time period. What ended up helping me more than anything were my efforts as a stand-up comic. If I was given 10 minutes on stage, I did 10 minutes—no less and definitely no more, or I would never work at that club again.

Now when I am presenting at Water Quality Assn. events or doing training for a company, I still have a hard time staying on script. There is just so much to say, and when I am presenting, an hour seems to just fly by.

I am not so sure my audience always views the time the same way, though. For them it may really drag, especially if I happen to go off on a tangent, as I am prone to do. If you ever have stood in front of a dead silent room filled with yawning audience members who are constantly looking at their watches, you know the value of staying focused and on message even as you may make adjustments to your delivery style.

Last week, I was pretending to be a homeowner as part of training for a new sales professional. As he was doing his presentation, I found myself feeling sorry for the customers he had not yet presented to. He was so discombobulated in his presentation that my mind began to wander toward anything except what he was saying.

It made me completely understand the reasoning behind teaching sales representatives a script and requiring that they stay with it in every home without exception.

While there are advantages to using a scripted presentation, I contend there are problems with that method and it can do more harm than good. It may be more difficult to teach a sales professional a more customer-centric diagnostic approach to the presentation, but I believe doing so is better for our industry and customers.

There is so much information to share with customers about products and services, and I have seen sales presentations go on for two to three hours. I just do not believe customers have that kind of time in today’s culture. I believe we have to find a balance between doing a thorough presentation and keeping the presentation to the one- to one-and-a-half-hour vicinity.

If we are going to be both customer-centric and thorough, we have to understand that I like trucks ... big trucks. I saw a big truck once that was painted purple and had Yosemite Sam “back off” back flaps on the tires. I thought to myself, “Who would win if Barney and Sam got into a fight? Sam is armed ... but Barney is a dinosaur (from our imagination)” ... 


As someone who has a tendency to meander in strange and obscure directions, I have come to realize if I am to have any success in the home or, frankly, with any presentation, I have to stay focused. Here are a few tips that have worked for me.

Have a Plan

When I first enter a home, I like to tell a prospect exactly what I am going do. For example:

“Mr. and Mrs. Jones, I would like to thank you for your time this evening and I promise to use it as efficiently as I can. This is what I will strive to accomplish tonight: I would like to begin by doing a plumbing analysis. Then we will test your water. I will ask you some questions and demonstrate a couple of things for you, then, based on the results of the plumbing assessment, the water tests and your answers, I will recommend a couple of solutions and explain the differences between them.”

I say something like this for two reasons. First, it takes some of the mystery and fear out of the visit for the customer, and second, it gives me a road map I can follow to help keep me focused. Instead of having to memorize a long scripted presentation, I only have to memorize three sections of a process.

Diagnose & Recommend Customized Solutions

When a service technician visits a home, he has a van full of tools and parts. He generally does not completely unload his van at every service call. Instead, he looks at the equipment, speaks to the customer and determines which tools or parts he needs to take into the installation site. It is important to note that even if he does not use every tool at every job, he does know how to use them all.

Sales professionals should do the same thing. Spend time diagnosing the customers’ needs and build your presentation around their concerns. Do not be afraid to guide them. They may tell you they are not concerned with their drinking water, but the six cases of bottled water in the garage and the Brita pitcher on the counter may suggest otherwise. Ask questions in a manner that also informs.

Use a Presentation Book

Or, if you have embraced the 21st century, use an electronic presentation. Many manufacturers offer digital presentations for tablets, but even if you do not represent one of them, it is pretty easy to put a decent electronic presentation together. I do not recommend using the default page order for every presentation with a script that could be presented by a robot. Know your presentation book, whether it is electronic or paper, well enough that you can customize your presentation to your customer’s needs, but also use it to make sure you do not miss anything. Let it guide your format.

Do Not Over-Complicate It

The more we learn in our industry, the more we want to show everyone how much we have learned. Look around your house and see if you have a fifth grader lying around or borrow one from someone else. Regardless of where you find one, I would suggest doing your presentation in front of him or her. If you can hold a fifth grader’s interest and he or she understands what you are talking about, you probably have a good presentation. Again, know how to get more detailed if you need to, but in my experience, you hardly ever need to. I also would suggest recording your presentation on occasion and listening to yourself. You will either be impressed or embarrassed and both will help you improve.

Each of these suggestions could merit its own article, so if you want more detail on any of them, please visit We would love to help. Ooh, cows!

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About the Author

Kelly Thompson

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