Presentation skills and the ability to deliver a "sales pitch" determine sales success. Whether it's through a cold call, product demo, or client meeting, we all need to know how to present our product and deliver a compelling message that resonates with a potential customer.

Sales organizations invest thousands of dollars and countless hours to help sales reps deliver presentations more effectively. They work with reps to build their product knowledge so they sound like experts in their field. They teach them how to ask good questions so they can make a connection and identify business challenges. And they have the sales rep practice their pitch and rhythm to make them sound more confident.

Only when we are present can we effectively harness our presentation skills and deliver a compelling message. Most sales reps can struggle with this because cold calling a stranger or making a presentation to a potential buyer is an extremely vulnerable experience. These situations are fraught with uncertainty, and risk of failure, and expose us to potentially harmful emotions.

Sales anxiety and egos

In response to these situations, our anxiety senses that we are in danger and our ego goes into self-protection mode. It begins by imagining future scenarios and making up failure stories filled with shame, pain, and fear. Our stomachs churn, our breathing quickens, and our mouths go dry just as we're about to start pitching.

During these times, our presentation skills will barely matter. It is in these moments that our success in sales depends on being able to find our way back to the present. Only then can we execute a perfect sales pitch using all the product knowledge and training that has been given to us.

Setting up the perfect sales pitch

Like a basketball player standing at the foul line with the game on the line or a golfer teeing off on the 18th hole; every athlete has a routine that they follow during stressful situations to stay focused in the present moment.

Salespeople are corporate athletes, and they also require a pre-meeting routine to prepare them for your sales pitch. Below are seven strategies we can use to create our own routine, stay mentally present, and manage anxiety.

1 – Altruistic mentality

I've written about the power of adopting an altruistic mindset, but it bears repeating here. The Dalai Lama has stated that one of the best cures for anxiety is altruism. When anxiety, fear of failure, and doubt have us entangled in a web, we must remember:

Right now, we are only focused on serving ourselves.

When we adopt an altruistic mindset, we become selfless and put the well-being of others before our own. Before a sales pitch, we need to make sure our focus is on the well-being of the buyer and the experience we're trying to create for them.

When we do this, the web disappears and we can find peace, calm, and joy in the present. This happens because we stop focusing on serving our ego and instead focus on serving our buyer.

2 – Visualization

Sales coaches sometimes tell their sales reps to visualize their perfect sales pitch before the meeting or call. They ask their reps to create a mental image and visualize what they are thinking, feeling, and saying to the customer. Although this method can be effective, it puts the focus back on YOU, the sales rep, which can trigger our anxiety.

Instead of visualizing ourselves, we need to visualize a day in the life of our buyer. Imagine yourself in the buyer's shoes and then reflect on these questions:

  • How are you spending the day?
  • What challenges do they face without our product?
  • When you encounter these challenges, what emotions do you feel?

The more detail, the better. Try to fill your visualization with as many sounds, colors, and emotions to make it as real as possible.

This exercise will also help us flex the muscles of empathy that

3 – Actually, be “empathic”

Too often, "empathic" is used loosely to describe how salespeople should approach their prospects. Unfortunately, it's never been properly defined for salespeople, which means a lot of fake empathy is used in sales.

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another person's perspective and see things from their point of view. Salespeople with high cognitive empathy would agree with statements like:

  • I can identify the challenges my buyer may face before they tell me
  • I know when a potential buyer is upset before he says why
  • I am able to easily see things from a buyer's perspective

Most of the "empathy" in sales stops here and doesn't get to what it means to be "empathic." If we are simply exploiting a buyer's weaknesses to benefit our sales, then we are being manipulative.

Many of us need to work on our affective empathy: the ability to feel what a buyer is feeling and live through their emotional experience. Salespeople with a lot of affective empathy would agree with statements like:

  • I am able to feel the pain of the buyer when he tells me about challenge X
  • I would be disappointed if my product disappointed the buyer after the purchase
  • I would feel upset if the buyer bought the wrong solution

If we are not feeling the emotions of our buyers, we are not being empathetic. We need to make sure that both cognitive and affective empathy are involved as part of our visualization exercise.

4 – You must believe in your product

In its simplest form, sales are the transfer of emotions and beliefs about our product to the buyer. If we don't believe our product offers any value, chances are our buyer feels the same way.

This transfer of emotions occurs due to a phenomenon called emotional contagion. It occurs when we unconsciously begin to imitate the emotions and expressions of those around us.

Recent research in neuroscience shows that mirror neurons in our brains help us share emotional experiences, generate empathy, and connect with others. That is why we feel joyful and happy when a friend shares good news like getting a new job. Mirror neurons allow us to share our friends' experiences and positive emotions together.

Unfortunately, mirror neurons can also transfer negative emotions. You've likely felt this phenomenon with COVID spreading panic through your team, community, and home. During our sales pitch, if we feel distrust in our product, our emotions will easily transfer to a potential buyer.

Fake it until you make the sale?

You may be thinking, "I don't believe in my product, but I can fake it."

Although this might be possible with smaller clients, it will be much more difficult to "fake" it during a sales pitch with a large client. Larger clients generally raise the "stakes" because working with them means you have more to gain and more to lose.

This is relevant because psychologist Paul Ekman discovered that humans can create more than 10,000 different facial expressions; 3,000 of which are related to emotion. Pretending means that we are trying to control these facial expressions and hide how we feel from the buyer.

This can be extremely difficult. According to Ekman, we all have microexpressions, which are involuntary facial expressions that reveal how we really feel. Since they are involuntary, they become much more difficult to hide in high-pressure situations, such as an "ad" in poker.

Similar to a poker player having a "warning" that reveals their bluff, we most likely have a "warning" that reveals when we are faking. Especially when the pressure is high during a sales pitch with an important client.

Believe in our product

We can make sure that our micro-expressions convey the right emotions and beliefs simply by believing in our product. An easy way to do this is to reflect on a customer who benefited from using our product before our sales pitch.

During this reflection, we want to feel the relief, confidence, happiness, and other positive emotions that our product created for our customers. The better we can visualize and feel their emotions, the easier it will be to believe in our product and carry this belief into our presentation.

Key takeaways for the perfect sales pitch

This has been a longer post than usual. To summarize the 7 ways to stay calm and make a perfect sales pitch, I'll walk you through my process using the strategies above.

Before every Sales Health Alliance presentation or sales pitch, I follow these steps:

  1. Get my ego, wants, and needs out of the picture. Think about who I'm serving and focus on giving them an amazing experience. Typically, this is a group of salespeople and sales leaders.
  2. Visualize a salesperson struggling with his mental health. Visualize them not sleeping, feeling disconnected from work, and afraid to talk about their struggles. Think of them getting rejected, starting at "0" every month, or being micromanaged by your manager.
  3. Empathize and feel the anxiety, anger, tiredness, frustration, loneliness, fear, and unhappiness that each situation generates. Reconnect with these emotions through similar experiences I've had during my own sales career.
  4. Strengthen my beliefs about the importance of the Sales Health Alliance. Reflect on the stories salespeople have shared about the positive impact a presentation, blog post, or workshop has had on their mental health.
  5. Calm my nerves and activate the parasympathetic nervous system by doing box breathing for 3-5 minutes.

    Fill me with joy, gratitude, and confidence listening to Bring It On Home to Me and The Chain.
  6. Get out my script so I have a plan that makes me feel in control of any obstacles I may face in the future.

This is your moment.

This entire routine takes about 15 minutes to run, but it's well worth it. It ensures that I can stay present, find calm, and provide a meaningful experience to whomever I am speaking to. It allows me to control what I can control, and in doing so, it prepares me to be the best I can be.