By Jennifer Quail
It could be argued that we all make sales pitches every day, whether we earn our livings as salespeople or not. When we go on dates, buy or sell cars or homes, or even simply when we try to get our kids or partners to see things our way, we are making pitches. The difference is, we don’t always have a PowerPoint presentation to support our case.
The visuals we can create for a relationship building presentation are essential tools but it’s important to also remember they are support tools and that, unless you are a graphic design firm auditioning to create PowerPoint slides for the potential client, your audience is interested in a lot more than what is on the screen before them. The key, no matter what you are pitching, is to combine engaging, supportive visuals with immersive storytelling that together captivate and inspire an audience.
In the planning stage, it’s important to remember that by the time you receive the invitation to communicate a formal presentation, a certain level of interest already exists among your audience. Perhaps this potential client saw your design work or your product line in a magazine, in a hotel lobby or in a workplace environment, or simply by scanning your own website—the more important piece is not how they found you but instead the fact that, once they did find you, they wanted to know more.
You are there to give your presentation because they’ve surveyed the landscape, they’ve seen what’s available, narrowed down their choices, and invited a few select groups to tell them more. You are not starting from zero. They already like what they see, that’s why you’re there. They’ve seen what you do; now they want to see what you would do with them.
Following are a few additional strategies to keep in mind when preparing presentations for clients that will help build a relationship and inspire them with your creative vision.
Begin with Basics, but Don’t Waste Time
As we’ve discussed, you’re in the room because they know you but it’s still proper to begin with a brief introduction to your company, to your product or service, and to your team (who will also be their team). You want to introduce your company honestly, positively, quickly, and with an emphasis on the type of business relationship you are there to begin.
That brings you to a point you want to reach very early on and that is: What does your presentation aim to sell? Are you selling an individual product or product line? Are you selling a service of some sort—design, technology, project management, etc? Are you pitching your sustainability measures? Your in-house research and development? Whatever it is they’ve come to you for, get across to them quickly that the need in question is a specialty for you and one for which your company and your team has the solution this particular audience needs. And be certain from the beginning to be clear that they their needs have been heard.
With this approach, in just a few sentences, you’re letting them know you are not simply selling them a product or service, you are solving a very specific problem for them. This paves the way for you to dig into the variety and details of your assortment, consistently referencing how each piece answers a need for their project and will enhance the experience of those who utilize it.
Set the Big Picture, Tell a Good Story
Now, they’re listening. It’s only been a few minutes and, already, you’ve assured them you’ve investigated their current scenario, and you have what they need to get to where they want to be. Now comes the truly personal part: You get to break down for them just how you intend to do so. Details are important, but don’t get lost in them.
Talk to your audience about macro trends, bring in a few statistics, break down that there is the world, the design world, your company and their company, and then there’s this particular collaborative project you will work on together. How does each trickle down and effect the next? Walk your audience through current influences, like the pandemic, the work-from-home trend, the state of the economy, climate concerns, shipping schedules, and any other factors that could come into play.
You want the audience to be immediately aware of the fact that you don’t simply understand your own business, you are tracking the world beyond your doors, always conscious of how what you do leaves a lasting impression or footprint, as the case may be. You must demonstrate how your business and their businesses and the collaborative project in question relate to and can benefit the greater design world and the world at large. No project is small, particularly not theirs.
Be detailed but be concise. Narrow your content and discussion of project phases down into digestible chunks, and work to find the balance so that your presentation can be interesting and informative, without being overwhelming. Remember, you are telling a story. Consider pace and tone. Don’t rush. Relay the care and thought that you will bring to the project through your words and your presence.
Their Project + Your Brand
The overall goal of your presentation is, of course, to convey that your firm and your services are everything this audience needs. That said, you must also emphasize the fact that you will achieve this simply by being your best selves—read: You already are what they need. In order to convey such confidence, it’s vital to maintain your own brand identity while also tailoring your presentation to their specific goals. Your presentation allows you to both establish who you are and what your brand or company stands for and ensure them you have come to this point with like-minded agendas.
That’s a key point of differentiation: You aren’t selling anyone on the idea that you’re willing to change everything about yourself or your company to suit their needs. You are there to ensure them that who you already are and what you already stand for, will not just meet their needs but exceed them and thereby allow them—your new client—the freedom to focus on being the best at what they do. You are taking a burden off of them by providing the solution they require.
The Complete Package
An effective presentation should walk an audience through the pre-, during-, and after-stages of any project. This is yet another moment to establish interest in a long-term relationship, not simply a one-off transaction. Take your audience on a journey. Don’t just discuss what you will create but how and why you will get there, the actual work, and the follow through and lasting benefits.
What is the full scope of your work together on this particular project and how will its positive effects be felt long after the initial “work” phase is complete? And go beyond as well to the potential scope of a lasting relationship—this can be in terms of your own customer service capabilities once the initial project is complete to discounts for returning clients and more.
As with that first date, the goal of your presentation is to catapult you to the next stage. You want to move ahead to the project or the purchase, and you want that initial transaction to be the first of many. With all these factors for powerful storytelling and engagement in place, you can close your presentation—and the business it aimed to secure—confidently, and with an eye to the future of the beneficial long-term relationship you’ve just begun.
Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from a distance-learning CEU sponsored by SitOnIt seating, originally published in February 2022. To read the entire article and earn one hour of CEU credit, visit iands.design/ceu.