Linear Tools for a Nonlinear Conversations

Many of the common tools we use in sales assume that the conversation is linear. Sales conversations, however, are rarely ever linear. Instead, they tend to wander, even if you do your best to nudge them in a certain direction. Because sales conversations are nonlinear, the tools should also be nonlinear.

The Linear Demo

A demonstration, especially one around software, often starts with the home screen and works through every function, every feature, and every benefit. It starts at the beginning, and shows every possible use case, leaving nothing out, and leaving no chance that the person being subjected to this form of torture felt like something was missing. But something was missing: engagement.

There isn’t a great reason to provide a demo in a linear fashion. Not every function or feature or use case matters to the person to whom you are presenting. If it’s a decision-maker, it’s unlikely that they care about anything more than the outcomes they’re trying to achieve, and possibly some function that is critically important to them in their role.

Instead of driving your prospect through the entire program, a better place to start is with an understanding of what they need, why it’s important to them, and how they are going to go about deciding to purchase whatever it is you sell. You can then engage in a nonlinear conversation around the things that will help you win their business (something you might describe as “a sales call”).

The Linear Slide Deck

No law requires a slide deck to start with a picture of your corporate office, followed by a list of your locations, followed by all the big company logos you’ve won, followed by your product and service offerings. There should be a law that prevents a slide deck from following this format. The design is about proving your credibility without you having to know anything about why your dream client should change, how they should change, and what they need to do to drive their business forward. Your client cares about their company and their clients and their offerings, and they hope you can help them with these things.

The challenge with a linear slide deck is that often the person delivering the presentation believes they need to start at the beginning with the first slide, discussing every slide until slide 108, the last slide in the deck. Sales conversations don’t transpire this way (thankfully). Instead, questions get asked and answered, ideas are pursued, concerns are surfaced, and new questions get asked, and more insight and ideas follow.

A slide deck with the menu as the first slide, and a logo at the bottom right corner of every other slide that acts as a link back to the menu, allows you to engage in a nonlinear conversation. If the client wants to know more about something, a single click takes you back to the menu so you can share the necessary images, graphics, ideas, and insights.

There isn’t a good reason to pretend that a nonlinear sales process is linear. There’s even less of a reason to use tools that lock in that linearity.

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