sales techniques and storytelling in sales presentations: the antagonist

What are sales techniques for, and what’s the most important part of a sales presentation? Sales people tend to think that sales techniques are for convincing clients of the advantages of our product or solution, and that the most important part of the sales presentation is the part where we present our product or solution. That, after all, is why we’re meeting with the clients in the first place. 

Wrong. The most important part is the problem!

In sales techniques, the most important thing is the problem, not the solution!

No matter what sales technique you use, if you don’t take the time to outline the problem that your product or service solves, you risk losing your client’s attention before you even get to the solution. By defining the problem, you reveal two opposing forces, the problem and the solution. This is what makes your sales pitch interesting. Regardless of the sales technique, defining the problem is the fundamental ingredient of the sales presentation. Opposing forces is what makes a story interesting. All the more so for sales techniques: it is the very reason for your sales presentation. No conflict means no story, and no sale.

Sales techniques for framing the problem: the antagonist technique

Sales techniques & antagonistOne of my favorite sales techniques is called “the antagonist technique.” It stems from storytelling techniques: storytelling is based on the conflict that arises from the opposition of two (or more) antagonistic forces that create tension and evoke a response. The conflict between the hero and the villain pushes the listener to eliminate the villain – or at least, to want to. All human beings like to see conflict arise. And the more uncertain the outcome, the greater the suspense, and the more exciting the story. I don’t know of any stories without conflict. Even Walt Disney’s children’s stories pit a hero – often a prince or princess – against a villain – usually a witch.

In sales techniques, Steve Jobs was the master of the antagonist technique

Steve Jobs was the master of this sales technique, which involves introducing antagonism into the sales presentation. From the early days of Apple’s history, he evoked antagonism between IBM, the villain who wanted it all and would control the distributors, and Apple, the rebel who was faster at launching products that were more in line with customers’ needs. He was then quick to create opposition with the approaches of his competitors, who he named, and whose products he compared to his own. 

Can sales techniques work without antagonism?

A question often asked is: “Is it possible to make a sales presentation without this type of opposition and conflict, just with factual arguments on the advantages of a product or solution?” The problem is that human beings are incredibly poor at digesting facts, so the presentation will be boring, difficult to follow, and in the end, not very effective. The question therefore becomes: “When can a boring, ineffective presentation sell?” No doubt when the client has already decided to buy your product before you even start the presentation! In which case the question is: “Is my presentation really useful?” (More on sales presentations without antagonism: coming soon). 

In sales techniques, then, always ask yourself: What problem am I solving?

That’s right, I said always. For every presentation, ask yourself: “What problem am I solving?” “Where’s the conflict?” “What’s at stake?”  Sales techniques can’t sell a product or service that will solve a problem if the problem doesn’t exist, isn’t important and doesn’t urgently need solving. Make sure the problem you identify is significant enough for the client to invest in solving it. As they say, no-one will pay you to solve a non-problem. The answer to the question “What happens if the problem remains unsolved?” should be disturbing enough to justify an investment in your product or service.


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