Sales Presentation Skills: How to Think About Selling

I sat down with a client last week who was preparing for an interview to win new business along with several colleagues. This gentleman didn’t have the air of someone who thought of himself as a salesperson, so I asked him how he felt about the pending pitch, and he shrugged — not quite indifferently, but more like he didn’t want to think about it.

I asked him if he had any discomfort around interviews, and he acknowledged some. His body language suggested more than that to me, and I let his answer segue into a bit of a monologue about selling, and how his company likes to manage these sales pitches, and the expectations he needs to live up to that just don’t seem to jibe with who he thinks of himself to be.

I had him present a little part of what he expected to say at the interview, and I could see his discomfort in action. He was definitely trying to play a role that didn’t seem to fit him.

So I asked him how he wanted the interview to go, and he told me he wanted to have leadership presence, which he described as “confident stage presence.” As you might imagine, I really liked the sound of that.

I chatted with him a little more, and learned that in his normal role at work, he led a team through meetings literally every day, and had zero anxiety around those presentations. So I asked him to lead me through one of those meetings.

Suddenly he was like a different person. He was more animated, he had more personality, his words flowed, he smiled and enjoyed himself more. And his presence just skyrocketed.

Clearly, my job was to get him to present at the interview like he presented himself to his team.

So we chatted about his role in this pending interview. Just like with an actor approaching a fictional character, the way that you think about your role in a real-life challenge dictates how you play your part.

He clearly saw his role as being that of a salesperson. To him, that meant talking a lot about himself and his offering, and it defined success as the prospect saying, “Yes, I’ll buy.” The look on his face as he described this vision spoke volumes.

I asked him to put that vision of his role aside for a moment, and suggested that he consider a different role.

“What if you’re not there to sell? Let’s imagine a totally different scenario: Maybe this company that you’re going to be speaking to has a major project coming up, and they’re looking for advice on how to proceed with it. They know your company has a good reputation for taking care of projects like this, so they’ve asked you guys to come and talk with them about it. How would that be?”

He looked at me, imagining. A smile danced on the corners of his mouth.

“So,” I continued, “Maybe you’re not there as a salesperson at all. Maybe you’re there just to consult with them, and share your expertise in projects like this.”

I asked him to present to me again, and all of a sudden everything changed. He talked about the challenges that this project was facing, and he offered his recommendations. He spoke with a gleam in his eye and a smile that communicated that yes, this would be a hard project to achieve within the parameters laid out. It would be a challenge, but it would be fun to tackle the challenge.

He instantly vaulted to leadership presence, and with that presence came an undeniable sense of value that no prospect in their right mind could resist.

So, the next time you feel like you have to sell yourself, I want to suggest that you rethink your role.

  • Think of yourself not as selling, but as being there to help.
  • Think of yourself not as a salesperson, but as a consultant.
  • And recognize that when consultants are hired, they’re hired to consult. Your being there to consult means you’ve already won. You don’t have any further distance to go — You already got invited to offer your expertise.

And by the way, this works anywhere, whether you’re selling services for your company, selling yourself in a job interview, or selling your ideas to your boss.

If you like this post, share it through the social media links on the left, and share your thoughts with us below. We want to know what questions you have, what concerns might hold you back, and what happens for you when you put our method to the test!


  1. Carolyn Herfurth on November 8, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Great advice, Pete! I work with solo entrepreneurs who are selling their own services and there’s often a “story” around what they perceive selling to be. This is a terrific way to change the story.

    Keep up your great work!

    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 9:06 am

      Thanks, Carolyn — and you too! I love your videos and your approach to making a difference for entrepreneurs!

  2. Michele Aldape on November 8, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Well said, Pete,

    I’m definitely passing this one on!

    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 9:06 am

      Great to hear it, Michele! Let us know what happens!

  3. Jo on November 8, 2011 at 9:05 am

    I forwarded your earlier post “Sales Presentation Skills: How to Think About Selling” to my MN Food & Agriculture Group because was so clear and effective. I like the e-mail subject line for this one, “How to stop feeling gross about selling” because it injects humor into these trying times. Thank you for helping maintain balance and remind me what is intrinsically important.

    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 9:08 am

      Terrific, Jo! I have to say I was inspired to come up with that line by my own earlier experiences of selling. One of the great benefits of running this business is continually strengthening my own ability to play the right role the right way.

  4. Susan Goldstein on November 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I’m also considering how these ideas apply to fundraising. Some (academic) colleagues are raising funds for a special event, and it is definitely no one’s favorite activity! Maybe we could think about the fundraising as ‘awareness-raising’ and that might work better. Thoughts?

    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm

      Awareness-raising might be a great approach, Susan, if it turns out your prospective funders want their awareness raised. Another might be facilitating an experience of helping, if your prospective funders want to help your target community.

      If your fundraisers approach their prospective funders as being in the conversation to help, they’re going to want to start and lead a conversation about what the funders want and need so that they actually can help them.

      Does that make sense?

      • Susan on November 11, 2011 at 7:27 pm

        It does make good sense. Thank you for your thoughts.

  5. Cathy Paper on November 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    It’s so much easier to sell when you think of helping. I am for sure going to pass this along but I don’t see the social media buttons on the left. Is it because i found you through linked in?

    The other thought I have is when do you know when to ask for the order? It’s one I wrestle with and see others struggle to step into. (Maybe that’s why Carolyn is so good at what she does too!)

    Hope all is well. Rock On.


    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Dang, Cathy, I don’t know why you don’t see the social media buttons on the left.

      Great question about when to ask for the order. I’ll address that in a future post!

  6. Steve Thomson on November 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm


    Excellent stuff! I wholeheartedly endorse your approach. It’s taking the idea of roleplay and making it more about the individual and their own beliefs and perceptions about their abilities.

    Keep up the great work.


    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      That captures it beautifully, Steve — Thank you for your endorsement!

  7. Dean Hyers on November 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Pete, I remember when you helped me go from hating selling to realizing that SELLING IS HELPING! And suddenly I grasped the consultant’s role and freed myself from the excruciating personal resistance I had of selling. You really changed my life forever when you helped me see that in order to help someone, I have to sell them, so selling is helping them. In order to sell, I have to consult with them. It’s all just part of the job I do for them, which begins at the consultation, goes on to become a sale, the job is done, and the followup leads to more consulting, and so it goes.

    I think this whole post is really spot on, and I know I’m living proof that your perspective works, and it can convert people who hate selling into people who enjoy sales as part of the helping process!

    Thanks for that gift, Pete!

    • Pete Machalek on November 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      My pleasure, Dean. I was giving it the gift to you as I was giving it to me.

      • Dean Hyers on November 10, 2011 at 1:14 am

        Thanks Pete

  8. Suzanne Lyon on November 10, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Hi Pete,

    My Husband and I have both begun new roles after 18 years of running a company together.

    Networking & selling are new challenges for us. I am selling my self as a consultant to busy Entrepreneurs and my Husband has gone into selling Long Term Care insurance. We are both facing our challenges with selling but I am focusing on my husbands challenge today.

    My husbands role is difficult for him because he doesn’t like to “bother” or “sell” people. He does how ever believe in LTCi, through personal experience with our parents, and believes it is a good tool to help protect your assets. So he believes in the product but doesn’t embrace the method of “dialing for dollars”. He is trying to approach businesses to present the product to their team as a voluntary benefit, he is more comfortable in the business world than knocking on doors.

    Everyone cringes when they hear “insurance” or “I sell insurance” so my big question is what advice would you give to him? The brokerage he is selling for believes in the “get a pile of leads and make 50 calls a day” to hopefully sell 2 a week, which he feels is the ultimate in bothering people. The approach he is more comfortable with, working w/businesses, they refer to it as “elephant hunting” and would like him to spend most of his time “dialing for dollars”

    Sorry for the long post your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

    • Pete Machalek on November 11, 2011 at 11:47 am

      I’m no expert on which approach to selling long-term care insurance will work the best (mass-dialing prospective individual clients, or approaching companies for a bigger sale), but I can definitively say that if your husband feels better pursuing one track, then he should definitely try it.

      As he approaches company leaders, he’s going to want to get a sense in advance of how offering LTCi to team members will benefit the leaders. How will it solve a problem that the leaders are currently suffering with?

      Let me know what you and your think, Suzanne! And if you want to give us a call to discuss further, the phone number is 612/384-0763.

      • Suzanne Lyon on November 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm

        Thank you!

        Benefiting the leaders is a topic we haven’t discussed yet. Since he has been in the leadership role and providing benefits to team members this will make a lot of sense to him.

        I will pass your thoughts on!

  9. Fred Lewis on November 29, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Hi Pete 🙂
    I liked the points you made in the article. I will try them myself. Thank you

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