Four Steps to Better Customer Presentations

I recently had the opportunity to interview an executive at our client, a global software company, and one of his comments in particular got me thinking. We were discussing trends in the collaboration space and he mentioned “beyond the core communication with email, you have the production of content in PowerPoint. Those two things are what make business work. PowerPoint is the currency of our company”. We had a good laugh because we all know this is true at most companies, but we also discussed how inefficient this can be.

One of the benefits of being a consultant is that I get to work with a variety of companies and teams and as a result, I have learned a lot about best practices for telling your story with PowerPoint, especially for customer presentations. I combined a few successful styles I’ve seen into a short outline that I use to structure my customer presentations. I actually follow this outline for a variety of formats, including white papers, brochures and other types of marketing materials to create a story that resonates with customers.

Trends in the marketplace

Start with the relevant trends in the marketplace that are driving the need for your solution. Are regulations increasing for a particular industry? Is the explosive growth in mobile applications changing the way customers interact with a brand? Are social platforms like Facebook leading customers to expect a similar experience in business applications? Keep it high level, stick to just defining the trend and resist the urge to solve the trend or link it to your product features too soon.

Challenges

The story flows best if your next step is to link those trends in the marketplace to the specific challenges they create for your customers. Increased regulation creates a lot more work for compliance teams to set up controls to meet those requirements. The proliferation of mobile apps is driving marketing departments to find new ways to engage customers. The explosion of social networking has created security and privacy concerns as employees use unsanctioned applications for business use. This section is where you need to be sure you understand your customers pain points in their own language. You need them to engage and agree that they are experiencing these challenges before they will be interested in listening to how you can help solve them.

Ideal Solution

If you have done a good job on the first two sections, now you should have their attention. Give some brief examples of how best run companies have addressed these challenges. Again, this should be generic, and not about your specific product. Compliance teams are automating compliance activities to better manage the increase in regulation. Companies are moving to cloud-based solutions to consume business applications with minimal upfront cost. Business social networking companies like Jive and Chatter from Salesforce.com are capitalizing on the desire of employees to have a secure social networking experience at work. Obviously these examples should also be functionality that your solution happens to also offer. You have given them the criteria by which to evaluate potential solutions for their challenges and now . . .surprise your solution meets all those criteria.

Finally, introduce your solution.

Here is where you can finally talk about how your company can help solve these challenges in a unique and differentiated way. A good check on whether one of your capabilities is truly differentiated is to complete this sentence: “Only our company can do X”. Also, this is not your opportunity to churn out your laundry list of cool features, charts and product diagrams. Be consistent with the flow we’ve been following up to this point. Carefully match the specific benefit that your solution offers to each of the three or four trends and challenge areas you have introduced in the beginning. When creating this story, it may be helpful to start here and work backwards, as long as you work back to real challenges you know your customers have. Either way, telling a consistent story that holds the reader’s hand through the same four challenges and leads them to the matching solutions is the best way to keep their attention. Extra points if you can make the slide layouts match for each section to make it impossible for them to miss the connection. Oh and you should be able to cover all of this in four slides — one for each section.