Constructing More Persuasive Sales Presentations

Early in my sales career I was taught that the job of a salesperson was similar to that of a lawyer presenting his case. Just as an attorney presents proof in court, you provide your prospect with evidence to support your product or offer. As your jury, if your prospect is not moved by your argument or convinced by your supporting documentation, the verdict goes against you and your competitor makes the sale. If you present a more persuasive case and the decision is in your favor, you get the order.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Like it or not, neither juries nor sales prospects make decisions based on reason. Instead, most people make decisions emotionally and then support their decisions with facts. That’s why you must first identify the prospect’s most salient emotional needs and desires in your initial sales meetings and then construct a sales argument which not only appeals to those needs, but provides evidence and justification for the prospect to make a decision. 

One of the most important needs is the need for security. This need is especially important to purchasing managers, whose decisions are subject to the scrutiny of upper management. A purchasing manager may not lose his job if he makes a poor buying decision, but he could jeopardize his opportunity for advancement within his organization. For this reason, your presentation must assure the client that he is making the right choice in selecting you as a vendor.

Company owners and top executives are often swayed by much different needs. They often make decisions which appeal to their need to express themselves or which fuel their egos and desire to feel important. Many people in this category need the approval and acceptance of their community peers. Often these prospects drive luxury cars, own showcase homes and belong to exclusive country clubs. They may adorn the walls of their offices with pictures of themselves with celebrities or display their trophies and awards. Look for these signs on your sales calls as clues to the personality of your prospect.

In very few cases is a buying decision solely based on money. In selling graphics, dollar and cents rationale only comes into play, when you are dealing with someone with an analytical personality. These types of people usually include engineers, technicians and financial executives.

The Power of Storytelling

To help your prospect justify his or her decisions, your sales case must provide evidence. This evidence may take many different forms. Whether you are a lawyer or salesman, storytelling is one of the most effective techniques.

Storytelling is effective because:

● It provides factual cases, which support our assertions;

● The prospect can relate to events, which are similar to our own experiences;

● Who doesn’t love a good story? If your story contains an emotional element, it touches the heart of the listener and sticks in his memory.  (Remember, people usually make decisions emotionally; then justify their decisions through rationalization.)

In selling graphics programs, a testimonial provides extremely strong, persuasive support. 45 years ago, I began my career in advertising writing testimonial ads for an automotive test equipment company. These ads were structured using a problem/solution format. In telling the stories of car dealerships and service shops, I described how each of these businesses experienced a variety of problems in their service departments. The stories continued explaining how the shops revamped their operations, which included new test equipment, thereby changing the way they did business. The results were that the shops were more productive and their customers and employees were happier. What’s more, the service departments made money. Problems solved!

You should also structure your proposal using a problem/solution format. Early in your proposal, you must identify your prospect’s specific problems, goals and unmet needs. Subsequent sections of your proposal should explain how your graphics program solves those problems, satisfies your prospect’s business objectives and needs, and provides value.

Writing stories about the graphics programs that you have developed and have had an impact on your customers’ businesses can be extremely effective. You can use these stories in sales proposals, newsletters, on your website as well as in postings on your blog and social media channels. As a word of caution, make sure that all of your claims are truthful and that you have not exaggerated in telling your story, because some readers will contact your customers.

Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words

A similar form of evidence is to post photographs of your work. When I sold fleet graphics, my presentations always included slides of past programs. Many of these programs were award winners, which bolstered my credibility as a reliable supplier.

You can also use photographs as evidence to support your claims. For example, instead of telling a prospect that their corporate identification is inconsistently applied, take pictures that illustrate your assertion. In selling a municipal bus line a graphics program, I took photographs of the transit system buses in which the word “SYSTEM” was spelled: SISTOM, SISTEM, SYSTIM, SYSTOM. Until I incorporated those pictures in my sales proposal, no one had ever noticed the misspelling. Those pictures made an impression and help me close the sale.

Instead of explaining to a marketing manager that his graphics are chipping and peeling, provide the prospect with photographic evidence. In my experience, corporate executives rarely inspect their vehicles and are oblivious to any problem which is occurring. Even if an executive were to inspect his fleet, he may not recognize problems that are occurring. Here’s where a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

If pictures are worth a thousand words, video clips are worth millions. Rather than just talking about what your prospect’s competitors are doing in their vehicle or building graphics programs, show them using video.
In today’s digital world, presenting evidence in your sales presentations has never been easier. As you conduct a vehicle survey or site survey, you can take video clips of your findings, which you can narrate. As a form of testimonial, short video clips featuring satisfied customers speaking about their successful graphics programs has much more impact than either an article or photograph.

People Believe the Written Word

The final form of evidence is written documentation. This could include industry statistics, magazine articles and research reports. Prospects often will not believe what a salesperson says. They will, however, believe the written word. That’s why, people ask you to put your promises in writing.
As graphics professionals, sign makers often talk about the visibility of vehicles travelling in urban areas and over the open road. Many years ago, the 3M Company funded a study which quantified the effectiveness of truck advertising in traffic. That study documented the number of visual impressions that vehicles generated. I frequently used that study to justify the cost of graphics programs in terms that rang true for an advertising or marketing manager. I would compare the cost of thousand visual impressions for fleet advertising to the cost of impressions for radio, TV and print media. Statistics are hard to argue against.

You may question the value of a written proposal. If you are competing for a large program for a large or intermediate size corporation, you may not have access to the ultimate decision maker or all of the influencers within that organization. A written document makes your case for you, when you cannot make your case in person.

When I was a graphics salesman, I had my best success when I prepared written proposals which provided prospects with overwhelming evidence to support my case. That evidence included relevant testimonials, pictures, statistics and documentation.

While I still believe that hard copies of your proposals are effective, you may want to consider presenting your prospects with proposals as electronic documents, which provide links to many different forms of evidence including industry reports, video clips and news articles.

How long should your proposal should be? Long enough to cover your argument; short enough to maintain interest. I often wrote very long proposals that covered all of the specifications and details of design, manufacturing and installation. As best as you can, write your specifications in such a way that it will be very difficult for your competitors to reproduce.

For example, if your manufacturing process includes some unique process that sets you apart from other shops, include that in your specification. Working for one screen printer that clear coated and oven cured printed graphics, I always included that process in the specification along with an explanation of its importance to the durability of the graphics. Most of my smaller competitors did not have batch ovens.

When you meet with the prospect, review the document with him or her. In some rare cases, a prospect will challenge you about the necessity of reviewing a long document. If you face this challenge, explain that your proposal constitutes a legally binding contract; it outlines your obligations in fulfilling your agreement, as well as your personal commitment to the success of the program.

At the end of your review of the proposal, always conclude by asking for the order. If you are uncomfortable in closing a sale, try using the contingency close, an approach which worked for me. Just state: “Why don’t we proceed with the program making the order contingent upon your approval of full-size art? If you don’t approve the art, you are under no obligation to proceed further and the order is cancelled.”

Using this closing technique puts much less pressure on the prospect to make a decision to make a decision.  In my experience, I never had a customer cancel the order, although I frequently had to make changes to the full-size art. In most cases, the artwork for vehicle graphics often looks much smaller when taped to the side of a trailer. Generally, changes involved increasing the sizes of the graphic elements.

As these design elements increased in size, I also increased my profit margin in my revised pricing. If the customer has conducted an exhaustive analysis of prices, it is highly unlikely that he will send the job out for requote as he makes changes.  


As a visual communication and corporate identity professional, you need to prepare your proposal in a visually appealing manner.  Here are some suggestions when formatting your proposal:

● Use a typeface and font size, which is easily readable;

● Divide a long document into sections with subheadings. Your subheads should highlight key program benefits as well as making your proposal easier to read;

● Restrict the number of typefaces that you use to no more than two types;

● Use bulleted copy for your most important information and assertions. The bullets attract the attention of the reader and are easier to read. At the end of your proposal, provide a bulleted summary of your program features, benefits and advantages;

● Carefully edit your proposal. Have a coworker or wife read your proposal before you deliver it and have him or her give you their opinions. Is it logical? Is it easy to read? Does it have the impact to seal the deal?

● Finally, make sure that your writing is grammatically correct and that you haven’t misspelled any words. Mistakes make you look unprofessional and unreliable.