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Commentary & Analysis

Why Most Sales Pitches/Presentations Suck

The number one best answer to any question posed by a prospect during the sales process is a clarifying question (hopefully several of them). The two best clarifying questions are, “what business challenge are you trying to solve?” and “how would you define wild success?”

By Jennifer Matt
Published: June 18, 2013

The standard sales pitch/presentation is one of the worst inventions of modern business practices. I don’t know what’s worse, the poorly designed slide-ware or the lack of content that it actually tries to hide. Here are my top eight frustrations of the modern sales pitch and what would be a more effective approach to selling.

1.     PowerPoint decks with branding/design on every slide

Do you really need to remind the prospect of your company’s brand on every slide? The worst is when the template design takes up a significant portion of the slide real estate, forcing the content (the stuff you actually want to communicate) into a confined area. A logo and design on every slide is distracting to what you’re trying to communicate, replace it with beautiful white space – give your content some room to breathe. The slide should support your story visually. If your story is only about your branding and design skills then a killer PowerPoint template might be relevant, but your story should be about the customer, not you. Kill the branding on every slide and focus on the content.

2.     The introductory slides about your company               

Most sales presentations begin with many slides about the people from your company who are pitching or about your company. The slides are almost always generic and re-used, they state facts about the company that are suppose to prove your credibility, e.g number of employees, number of offices, number of products, etc.. The pitch then makes you and your company the “star” of the story. Guess who wants to be and deserves to be the star? (the audience otherwise known as your prospect/future customer!) Nobody remembers these opening slides, and it sets a tone of “forgettable”. The alternative is to grab the audience’s attention by making it clear that they are the star of the show, its all about them (their jobs and their business). If you can’t give up the “About Us” slides tack them on at the end of the presentation as reference. Chances are the audience can find more information on either your LinkedIn profile or your company’s website anyways.

3.     Talking prevents listening and learning          

The best- selling author, Seth Godin said, “Don’t find customers for your products; find products for your customers.” This is a very powerful quote. I believe this idea should drive your sales efforts because it turns you from a talker to a listener and most importantly a master well-formed question asker. Your job in sales isn’t to force your products on your propects, your job is to seek understanding of your propect’s challenges and then analyze how those challenges may or MAY NOT map against your products and services. The “MAY NOT” is very important because most sales people are masters at rationalizing virtually every sale into a fit for their products. Forced fits might be a short term win for sales, it’s a disaster for all those involved in post-sales activities. If you’re talking the whole time in a sales pitch, how do you actually know what the customer is struggling with?

4.     Yes to everything    

The question and answer period of the sales pitch is actually an auto-response “yes” to every question about what your company/product can and can’t do. Sales people hate to say “no.” When you find a way to say yes to everything, you lose credibility. No product does everything, nor should it. The number one best answer to any question posed by a prospect/customer is a clarifying question (hopefully several of them).

For example, recently a customer asked, can you add a special instructions field in the e-commerce solution? The sales team came running back to the development team and everyone started scheming on how to do add this feature for this important customer. Nobody asked the pivotal clarifying question, “what business challenge are you trying to accomplish with that request?”

Turns out this customer had only static and inventoried products in their online catalog; they knew nothing about print but wanted a way to add personal information to print products ordered through the catalog. Their solution was to pass the personalized data through a special instructions field and then manually “compose” the products on the back end. What they were really trying to accomplish was variable data printing, they just didn’t know what that was so they proposed a solution that made sense to them.

Ask for the definition of the challenge and what the customer is trying to accomplish first, in fact ask it several different ways to confirm you’ve got it right THEN go and devise a solution. Never make assumptions, this is the number one waste of time in software – building stuff based on inaccurate communication between business/sales and technology/development.

5.     All Pitch, No Teaching

If you haven’t read the book, The Challenger Sale, yet please do. It is the best sales process book I’ve ever read. Challenger sales people teach their prospects/customers unique insights about their prospect’s job/business. When a sales person chooses to teach instead of pitch, they are memorable. The standard sales pitch is all about you (forgettable), teaching is all about the customer – which one do you think will be more memorable to the customer?


6.     Give your customer homework

I don’t know why we insist on forcing our customers to learn something in order to spend money with us. Companies create an inordinate amount of specialized lingo to describe their products and services and then they use the terms freely during the sales process and nobody knows what they are talking about. The guaranteed result of this complexity is to slow down the sales process and frustrate the customer. Some of this complexity is hard to unwind; it has built up like debris behind a damn. For example, there are twelve optional modules to each product and they all have different business models based on which distributor you buy them from (based on a true story).

About a decade ago a large company I was working for was deciding between Salesforce.com and SAP. The business model and price list for SAP’s sales automation solution was 24 pages long and required a decoder ring to translate it. The SalesForce.com price list and business model was a single number in a single sentence, $XX per Salesforce seat license per year. I think SalesForce.com’s early success was heavily influenced by a business model and price that could be understood by everyone immediately. How easy is it to do business with your company? How much homework are you assigning your prospects?

7.     A pitch without a pause button.

Have you ever been in a sales pitch where it seems like the sales person pressed play on a tape deck and was reciting a script without a pause button? The pauses are invitations for the audience to engage. Too many people giving sales pitches feel as if their job is to fill every available second in the room with words from their mouths. This prevents engagement with the audience. People are polite; they won’t interrupt if they have to shout you down from your script. A sale is a conversation, not a one-direction download. Don’t worry about covering everything, if the whole meeting becomes an engaged discussion between you and the prospect, you have a way better chance of learning more about them and they have a way better chance of learning more about you in the context of what they care about (their jobs, their business).

8.     The generic pitch, most of which is irrelevant to the audience

When sales people go into every interaction with the same story, same demo, same slide deck, a good portion of that story isn’t relevant to the specific audience. Potential prospects deserve to hear only about relevant benefits of your products and services. This is harder than you think because it requires you to actually prepare for each and every pitch by doing some discovery on whom you will be pitching to. I’ve asked for demonstrations of web to print solutions for my own industry research. The company/sales person just starts talking, never asks me one question about who I am and what I know about or what I might be interested in. This is a waste of everyone’s time.

The sales pitch needs to evolve. The online world has opened up the bi-directional engagement between customers and companies, the sales pitch should follow suite.


Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By allan rabil on Jun 18, 2013

couldn't have said it any better...this is a keeper and a good reminder!


By Jon Rasmussen on Jun 18, 2013

Great article Jennifer, thanks for the pointers.


By Robert Godwin on Jun 18, 2013

Points 5 and 6 are the most important of the items you list. Educating the client positions that salesperson as a resource rather than simply a vendor.

Pacing and a sense of what the audience is feeling are crucial to maintaining their interest and full attention.

However, I do wonder (re: #7) if your tape deck is 8-track or reel-to-reel???????


By Jim Drisler on Jun 18, 2013

You wrote a similar article years ago that I was looking for just the other day. Thanks for the update, Jennifer. Great advice.


By Jennifer Matt on Jun 19, 2013

Thanks for your feedback, I was traveling over the Atlantic when this published - sorry for the delay in responding. The tape deck reference dates me a bit but I was thinking tape deck b/c there were big physical buttons for pause ;-)

My team and I just conducted two RFP processes on behalf of our clients: one for a print program (curriculum binders) and one for web to print/composition engine.

I was so disappointed by the sales experience across the board.

Technology companies invest so much in their products and then they fail to actually train/rehearse or prepare their sales team to properly sell it. I think this is a huge opportunity, invest in your sales team's ability to demonstrate the product, spend some real time on a demo site that isn't broken or half configured. Create a guideline for what the sales people should know about the prospect BEFORE you do demo!

I could write a novel about technology product demonstrations - they ALL SUCK.


By Robert Godwin on Jun 19, 2013

Sometimes the innovators can't see the forest because all the trees obscure the value. Software can do anything, but the prospective client only is concerned with it can do for them. Determining that BEFORE the presentation is the fundamental job for any sales staff. Otherwise they are just throwing the proverbial spaghetti against the walls to see what sticks.

In a successful sales presentation with a team I was on, I learned one of the most important lessons ever. Of the three highly qualified presenters vying for the account, the other two assured the client they could do the job. We told them how we would do it.

If you can't address that most basic responsibility to the client, showing how you add value, then you are doomed to fail at every sales presentation.


By Jennifer Matt on Jun 20, 2013


I love this quote: "...the other two assured the client they could do the job. We told them how we would do it..."

I hate when people say, "you can do that in our product, our demo site just isn't configured to do that." So we're suppose to simply believe you AND accept that you didn't take the time to configure your sales demo site to show all the features of your product? Are prospects not worth the effort?



By Jim Rosenthal on Jun 20, 2013

A wise man (one of my business partners) has always preached that as salespeople we become professional listeners. I think that Jennifer's points above reinforce this. Also I've always liked the comment "Don't give someone a drink of water with a fire hose".


By Rick Falls on Aug 21, 2013

I'm glad that it isn't just me that's seeing this as a HUGE problem.

Maybe we all need to collaborate, and form a rebellious group of antagonists, to help set things straight with the uninformed "pitch happy people" !


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