In this article about sales techniques, I am only referring to the templates used to create sales presentations for sales meetings, not templates for written presentations, which for the most part are suitable enough.
With the growing use of computers, iPads and other tablets in sales, corporate communications departments felt compelled to impose the use of PowerPoint and Keynote templates, which were often very similar, if not identical, to the templates used for written presentations:
- This provided comfort to everyone in the company: thanks to templates, sales reps wouldn’t even need to think, they could simply use the templates and thus be sure of complying with the company’s graphic standards
- Templates were therefore an easy way to ensure proper branding.
How do sales presentation templates kill sales techniques efficiency?
It is not, in fact, the templates that are to blame. Instead, it is a poor understanding of what “branding” is all about that leads to the design of templates that are generally unsuitable for face-to-face sales.
The goal of branding is to ensure that clients associate a needed product or solution with the company that can provide it. But it is a mistake to think that by bombarding clients with a logo and lines in the company colors on every slide, we can imprint the company’s image in their brains and make sure they memorize the message.
What causes a message to be memorized is first and foremost its relevance, plus the fact that it is communicated in an efficient manner. But templates are often designed not with these two goals in mind, but a third goal that equally important but entirely different: promotion of a visual identity.
- Because of this third goal, every slide shown to the client ends up repeating a whole slew of information that has nothing to do with the message, like company logo, date, company name, client logo, meeting place, meeting subject, page number and colored lines
- All this information is necessary on a written proposal that will be read in the sales rep’s absence
- But it makes no sense at the sales meeting, showing up on every slide as though we were afraid the client might be suddenly struck by Alzheimer’s and forget it from one minute to the next.
In the end, this third goal of promoting a visual identity runs counter to the first two goals, which aim to win the client over. Having too many goals ends up killing the goal.
Most sales presentation templates just add noise to sales techniques
In audio communication, noise is all those unwanted, meaningless messages that add nothing to the main message, but that drown it out and make it less audible. There is also noise in visual communication: it is all those visual messages that templates automatically put on every slide, and that dilute and drown out the main message. All those colored lines, logos, bullet-point bullets and meeting dates that everyone knows, but that are nevertheless repeated on every slide.
Everyone knows it but no-one says anything. Because in fact, sales presentation templates have served everyone well for the past 20 years, reassuring companies and saving time for sales reps.
Sales presentation templates that worked for everyone
This all worked well for sales reps, who use templates to save time at a number of key moments:
- When they learn PowerPoint: you can learn how to make PowerPoint work quickly using the basic model: all you need to do is enter text beside the bullet points.
- For every presentation: sales reps in general start their presentations by opening PowerPoint or Keynote: it’s so easy, all you need to do is enter text beside the bullet points
- Throughout the year: Cut-and-paste is fast, so fast that sales reps often copy the pages of their sale presentations to use for a new client, and forget to change the client logo.
In fact, templates have worked for everyone for the past 20 years, because they eliminate the need to think. Why use your brain (or make it work?): all you need to do is follow the template! Everyone expected to save time by staying within the limits of the software. But what they forgot was that they wasted much more time preparing a losing sales pitch than they saved by using a template.
Improving the efficiency of sales presentations
Start by paying less attention to templates, or dropping them altogether.
Instead, let sales reps and product managers explore and understand design techniques in general, and sales presentation design in particular, before even turning on the computer. What counts –more than ever in this day and age – is better content, more tailored and compelling arguments, greater creativity, and the ability to understand and apply visual communication best practices. PowerPoint and Keynote should only be used to reinforce messages and communication, when, and only when, they are the right tools for the job. Which is not necessarily all the time.
Templates cannot help with this. Instead of developing templates, we need to develop sales presentation design skills. Yes, it means more thinking, but thinking will only make the lives of sales reps and product managers more exciting and ultimately improve the company’s results.
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