Editor's note: Join us for part two of our live online chat with sales expert Grant Cardone, who will share his best strategies for closing a sale. Just log on to Entrepreneur.com on Weds., Dec. 14, at 3 p.m. EST and bring your questions.
We've all seen it--people listening to a sales presentation, eyes glazed over and their minds anywhere but on what the speaker is saying. As an entrepreneur, whether you're selling yourself or your products and services, it's critical to avoid the missteps that put prospects to sleep and kill the deal. Here are five must-follow rules to win over prospects and seal the deal.
1. Listen before pitching. One of the mistakes business owners make is talking too much about the wonders of their company, instead of asking questions and listening to a potential customer's needs. Your prospect probably did some research about you beforehand anyway, so don't waste precious minutes going on about your qualifications. "Nothing is more annoying than when someone is pitching you, and it's all about them, their products," says Jared Reitzin, founder of mobileStorm, a Los Angeles-based provider of Web-based email and mobile and social communication platforms.
Kyla O'Connell, vice president of business development and sales trainer for Washington, D.C.-based Asher Sales Strategies, suggests opening your presentation with a question like, "I'm prepared to discuss our solution for you, but has anything changed since we last spoke?" or "Is there anything else I need to know before diving into a solution?" Before long, Reitzen says, "The customer will give you the key to how you can win the deal. You just need to ask enough questions and then shut up."
Related: How to Make a Personal Connection with Customers
2. Put in more prep time. No matter how good you are at thinking on your feet, don't wing the presentation. You'll risk jumping all over the place without a logical flow, says Terri Sjodin, founder of Sjodin Communications, a sales training and consulting firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Take the time to prepare and to practice from an outline, making sure your presentation covers all your points clearly and concisely, suggests Sjodin, who is also the author of Small Message, Big Impact (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2011).
Reitzin says he always reviews a prospect's website to learn about what it sells, how it makes money and how he might be able to fix its problems. He also checks for any mutual connections on LinkedIn. "I will give them a call or shoot them an email asking more about the prospect's personality and what I could say that would make the meeting successful," he says. "Sometimes people will give you a heads up with how you should approach the prospect, and it can be invaluable."
3. Liven it up. Many professionals don't realize just how boring their presentations are--too many facts, a flat monotone, tired stories. "Sometimes professionals have been giving the same presentation for so long they just slip into autopilot," Sjodin says. "In today's competitive market, your presentations must be entertaining in order to obtain and maintain the attention of prospects."
Be creative and put some energy behind your presentation. Sjodin suggests practicing with a tape recorder to determine if your presentation falters and make improvements. "The tone you use and your vocal variation allow you to project your own personality and to create a positive response whether you are speaking to one person or a large group of people," she says.
Related: Top 10 Presentation Tools
4. Don't use visual aids as a crutch. If brochures, handouts or slides could sell a product or service on their own, companies would not need salespeople. "Depending too much on visual aids can give us a false sense of security," Siodin says. "We tend to think it isn't necessary to prepare thoroughly because our props will lead us right through the presentation. We let the visual aid become the star and virtually run the show."
Strategically place visual aids in your presentation to highlight major points, but remember that your style and personality will have much more impact. Most important, ask yourself whether a visual aid is for you or for them? "If it's for you to get you through your presentation, scrap it," Sjodin says. "If it's for them so they can visually understand your presentation, keep it."
5. Be ready to take the next step. Not every presentation is going to end with a sale, so it's up to you to establish the next step in the process. Zak Dabbas, cofounder and managing partner of Punchkick Interactive Inc., a Chicago-based mobile marketing firm, says one of his biggest mistakes early in his career was concluding meetings with a "we hope to talk again soon" mentality.
"The executives we speak with are incredibly busy," he says, "and we realized that we need to determine next steps right then and there–before life gets in the way." Be ready to schedule a subsequent meeting or follow-up phone call, which will show you're serious about working together. "You may not have the sale yet," O'Connell says, "but you at least have something set up so things can continue to move forward."