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How to Process Customer Questions During a Sales Presentation

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This post is part of a series called Presentation Fundamentals.
Leverage Hands-On Demonstrations Within Your Sales Presentations
How to Use and Edit PowerPoint Master Slides

Questions from customers during sales presentations are an essential part of the closing process. A question from a customer indicates that the customer has interest in your product and opens the door to begin closing the sale. However, a barrage of questions throughout your sales presentation could be a recipe for disaster if you don’t know how to react.

The way in which customers ask questions throughout your presentation will let you know whether or not your presentation is interesting and if you have structured it properly. If the audience is riveted to your every word, then it will only ask questions when prompted. If the audience is bored and disinterested, then it will ask questions whenever it wants. 

A presentation that flows properly will open up naturally to question and answer periods throughout the presentation. It takes years to perfect that kind of proper flow, but it is well worth investing your time into improving your sales presentations. 

You can incrementally improve by using customer questions to make critical changes to the information you present. Questions are great feedback for improving your next presentation, but you should also know how to process questions on the spot, and turn that customer interest into a sales order. 

The ability to properly process and answer customer questions during a presentation is something that will become second nature to you after a while. Practice fielding questions during your presentations. By having a colleague or friend interrupt you with questions, you can learn how to evaluate each question and then answer it while still keeping the momentum of your presentation moving forward. 

Processing questions during your sales presentation is not an easy skill to develop, but it is a critical part of closing sales.

Setting Up the Presentation to Allow for Questions

Prior to starting your presentation, you should announce to the entire audience that there will be moments in the presentation where questions can be asked. You would appreciate it if all questions were held until those moments. If you are using a slideshow of any kind, then a slide that indicates that the floor is open to questions is always helpful.

Every sales professional should strive for a presentation that has natural question and answer periods built-in. The flow of the presentation should indicate to your audience when it is appropriate to ask questions and when it is not. Some of the most common reasons why audiences ask questions when they shouldn’t are:

  • You presented too much new information and the questions just build up like water behind a dam. At some point, the dam will break if the pressure is not released.
  • You put too much technical information in your presentation and now no one knows what you are talking about.
  • You changed topics without a transition that felt comfortable to the audience.
  • You ended an important segment of your presentation without allowing for questions.
  • You talked too fast.
  • You did not have enough visual material supporting your presentation.

Part of practicing and honing your presentation is developing a flow to the information that makes question and answer periods just feel like they belong in certain spots. When you feel it and your audience feels it, then your presentation will go a lot better and your audience will be more interested in what you have to say.

Encourage Customers to Take Notes

You cannot answer a customer’s question if you have no idea what the customer is talking about. Prior to getting started with your presentation, you should encourage customers to take notes and then ask questions at the appropriate times. This also helps audience members to have accurate information when they ask questions, which allows you to give a complete answer.

This is an excellent time to distribute promotional pens and pads of paper that your customers can take with them after the presentation is over. The more information you can give your customers about your product and your company, the more interested they will be in what you have to offer.

The Importance of Questions to a Sales Presentation

I once had a series of presentations I was giving to customers in a pretty tight geographic region. It was a schedule of six presentations over eight days, and I felt that I was ready for them. At the very first presentation, an audience member blurted out a question about something I had just said in regards to product functionality. I reminded the audience members that there will be time for questions throughout the presentation and then requested that they wait for the question period.

The next two presentations saw audiences blurt out almost the identical question at the same spot in the presentation. By the time the fourth presentation came around, I had adjusted my delivery to answer the question before it was asked. It worked and I wound up closing four of the six presentations.

Questions during presentations are critical to helping you develop your approach into something successful. You should consider questions during your presentation to be immediate feedback and you should use that feedback to create a presentation that flows smoother and moves the audience closer to buying.

The Proper Place for Questions in Your Presentation

It is hard to pick a definite place in each presentation where questions should be asked because each presentation and sales professional is different. Once you become really proficient at sales presentations, you should be able to pace your presentations in such a way that the audience will know when it's time to ask questions. But you cannot always rely on that, so you should have a plan in place.

The best place to allow for questions is after introducing each new feature or fact about your product or service. It can seem like a lot of stopping during the presentation, but it is extremely effective when done properly. Introduce the information in a smooth manner and then ask if there are any questions. After a while, your audience will start to understand when questions are appropriate and you will be able to maintain your pace while still fielding all questions.

Fielding Persistently Annoying Questions

In every single sales presentation I have ever given, there is always that one person who has to ask questions every time I say something. In some instances, this audience member really does want to learn more about your product. But there are those audience members that like to hear the sound of their own voices and persistently ask nonsensical questions.

So what do you do? My approach varies depending on the intent of the questions and how often I was interrupted. If I feel that the audience member is genuinely trying to learn more about my product, then I answer his questions quickly and move on. If the audience member is actually interested in learning, then answering his question will quiet him down and actually move the audience closer to buying my product.

But you will come across the audience members that want to argue about every little thing and take your presentation way off course. You cannot allow that to happen. I have found  in every instance  that these troublemakers generally get quieted by the audience. What I used to do with arguing audience members was stop my presentation, sit down next to the conference table, and then let the audience member know that I would continue when he is ready.

When you shine the spotlight on troublemakers, they tend to quiet down. However, I would not recommend that tactic to everyone. In some instances, I broke the flow of my presentation and probably lost the sale because of it. Often, the best approach to take is to indicate that you would like to finish what you are saying before you take any questions and let the audience quiet the troublemaker down.

I have had troublemakers removed from my presentations, but not at my request. If you have a solid presentation that the audience wants to hear, then they will remove any obstacles to a smooth presentation for you.

How to Avoid Going Off Topic

I would constantly get questions that could have steered my entire presentation way off course and lost me a sale. The simple way to avoid going off topic is to use this phrase every time an audience member asks a question that is not pertinent to your presentation: “That is a great question and I may have an answer for you. If you approach me after the presentation, I would be more than happy to discuss that question with you.”

It seems simple to say, but it always worked. If they insisted, I would just reiterate that I would be more than happy to discuss it with them after the presentation. Once again, the audience itself will police this situation if your presentation is compelling.

Processing and Answering Questions Quickly and Effectively

If you do not know your product inside and out, then you are not ready to give an effective sales presentation. When customers ask a question, they expect a quick and accurate answer. The best way to answer questions quickly and effectively is to make eye contact with the audience member who asked the question, answer the question, ask if that answer is acceptable, and then move on.

If the answer is not acceptable, then ask why. I have found, more often than not, that asking why an answer is unacceptable elicits the response that the answer is actually acceptable. Once again, some people just like to hear the sound of their own voice.

If you do not know the answer to a question, admit that you are not sure and then ask the audience member to speak with you after the presentation. When the presentation is over, write down the audience member’s question and his contact information. You then must get an answer back to him with 24 hours if you want to retain your credibility.

After you have presented on a topic often enough, audiences will run out of questions that you do not know the answer to because you will have used each question as a learning experience to improve each delivery. If you have two consecutive presentations where you have to admit that you do not know the answer to the same question, then you are failing as a sales professional.

Answering Questions Before They Are Asked

Your sales presentations are constantly evolving and developing based on your real world experiences. By the time you get to the fourth or fifth delivery of the same presentation, you pretty much know all of the questions you will be asked. Should you alter your presentation to answer those questions? Yes you should. But you should also alter your handout materials as well.

One of the most effective ways I found to answer questions before they are asked is to have a Frequently Asked Questions section of my presentation handouts. I found that, even though I said the information in the presentation, there will still be audience members who will ask the question. The best way to head them off is to point out the FAQ section in the handouts prior to starting the presentation and hope that they look there before raising their hands.

If a customer asks a question that is in the FAQ, do not embarrass the customer. Instead, answer the question and then refer the audience to the FAQ again. After a while, the questions will stop.

How Questions Can Improve Your Presentation

The questions that audience members ask during your presentation are critical to developing effective sales materials. If your presentation is not getting its point across, then you will be able to tell based on the questions you get. 

I used to write down every question I would get during a presentation and then revise my presentation based on the questions. Not only did my presentations become smoother and more successful, but I also learned a lot about my product as well. This made it easier for me to answer the more detailed questions I would get and avoid the “I don’t know” answers that kill a sales professional’s credibility.

Never look at audience questions as interruptions or invitations to an argument. In most cases, your audience members have legitimate questions that you need to answer before you can close the sale. But if you know how to process and use questions that come up during your sales presentation, then you can eliminate many of those questions in future presentations and pave the way to getting a signed purchase order.

Resources

Graphic Credit: Presentation designed by Alexander Bickov from the Noun ProjectQuestion designed by Martin Delin from the Noun Project.

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