“We don’t use a sales deck. We just do demos.”
The demo-only approach doesn’t work anymore. With an average of 6.8 people involved in each B2B deal, you need a deck if you want your message to travel from the champion you met to the buyer you didn’t. If you rely on your one champion to carry the message, you’ve essentially turned your sales process into a game of telephone.
Sales decks are critical to accelerating your sales process, and yet most end up in critical condition.
Here’s how we get them wrong:
(1) Listing out product features rather than telling a story
(2) Overloading slides with too much information
(3) Presenting a document live that was meant to be read, or vice versa.
That’s why we built this guide — to help you build a more compelling sales deck in three key steps:
(1) Building out your Storyline,
(2) Customizing and Visualizing Content
(3) Flexing the Format based on your Delivery Method.
We’ll illustrate this advice from industry experts with tactical examples, so you can put it into practice immediately.
Part 1. How to Build Out Your Storyline
“When you’re building your next sales deck, keep one thing in mind: Prospects don’t care about your product.” – Courtney Chuang, DocSend
“Story” is a buzzword in sales today, but for good reason. While prospects remember 5-10% of statistics and 25% of images, retention increases to 60-70% when stories are used to convey the information. In this age of information overload, stories – not feature lists – are the best way to make your message stick.
To prove it, DocSend recently overhauled their sales deck: “Once we overhauled the DocSend discovery deck, we saw our completion rate triple. This meant prospects were actually finding our story compelling enough to complete the entire deck. This was crucial because it meant prospects were ready to convert to the next stage of the sales process.”
How do you know which type of story to tell? It depends on the size of the company and with whom you are meeting. In general, if you are speaking with a:
C-level executive, tell a high-level strategic story like the now-famous Zuora deck and use Andy Raskin’s framework as your guide.
Budget Holder (VP/Director level), make your case with the pragmatic framework laid out by Pete Kazanjy in Founding Sales.
Practitioners (or a technical buyer), rely on defining your category and executing a well-framed demo.
You can flex this depending on the size of your prospect, as well:
1A. The CXO Deck. Your goal here is to get high-level buy-in so that an executive believes not only in your product, but also in your vision. Once they share this belief, they can offer tops-down pressure to accelerate your deal.
What goes into the CXO deck? Andy Raskin popularized this narrative framework in his now-famous post about Zuora’s deck entitled “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen” (a staple for any enterprise sales team). To give a quick overview of his work, here are the core elements you’ll need:
The most important piece of this narrative is your opening: What’s the big change in the world that made your company not only nice, but necessary?
How do you know what that big change is? The best resources are your happiest customers. Pick 4-6 customers most passionate about your product and ask them:
- What has fundamentally changed in your business in the past year?
- If your business fails, what will be the cause?
- What companies do you align yourself with, and why?
- Finally, how has [Product X] impacted your company?
From here, you will start to see patterns to show you how to position your story from the perspective of the buyer, not the seller.
1B. The Budget Holder Proposal. This is the “brass tacks” deck for the budget holder who actually makes the purchase. Your goal here is to give this person confidence in the ROI of your solution by de-risking the decision to accelerate the purchase.
A solid resource here is Peter Kazanjy’s Founding Sales work outlined in First Round Review. To share the highlights, here are the core elements of this type of sales narrative:
In this logical sell, you need to nail your ROI argument. Whereas the CXO deck is propped up on a “Big Change” in environment or culture, this narrative is founded on cost of the problem today:
Starting with cost of the problem tees you up to position your solution as a true creator of value, enabling your buyer to make the price of your solution a no-brainer.
1C. The Practitioner’s Demo. Your goal is to drive adoption from the day-to-day future users of your product. Diving straight into a demo misses an opportunity to build rapport and let these users know that you understand their day to day. By framing a story-driven demo well, you jump start bottoms-up adoption of your product in the organization. Here’s what it looks like:
Start by framing your demo with the problem they are looking to solve as the question, and your solution as the answer. Then, prioritize the demo accordingly.
Orchestrate your demo as a series of moments that directly address the problems they have highlighted. If your product has 6 features you want to show, instead choose the 3 that most directly address your the problem they are looking to solve.
Part 2. How to Customize and Visualize Content
Even if you haven’t seen the latest MarTech 5000 slide, you’ve undoubtedly felt the overload first hand. With more companies than ever competing for your customer’s attention, this is what you are up against:
How do you break through?
Customization. Personalized emails earn 26% higher click-through rates, and deliver up to 6X higher transaction rates per email. Imagine the impact of personalizing your sales decks, too.
Visuals. Over 65% of people learn best visually, and visual presentations are 43% more persuasive than bullet-point ones. If you don’t believe the statistics, look at behavior of your coworkers: Moments before a meeting, they are scrolling through Instagram, Slacking GIFs, and texting Emojis. Afterwards, they are checking Snap stories, liking Facebook photos, and commenting on Linkedin videos.
How are do you expect your bullet point slides to compete?
2A. Customizing your Content. Regardless of which storyline you are using, you have opportunities to customize your deck periodically throughout. The most important slide to do this is your opening.
“Your first slide needs to be about what you’ve learned from YOUR CUSTOMERS. Use the voice of your customers to give you credibility.” – Doug Landis
To really stand out, you can customize your deck to your prospect’s brand as well. Standard practice is dragging and dropping in logos, but you can take it a step further and use your prospect’s brand colors as a theme throughout.
2B. Visualizing Content. By turning your product and company ideas into simple visuals, your conversation becomes more engaging and your message actually sticks with your audience.
Using Visual Metaphors. Before customers buy anything, they have to understand what it is. Sounds simple, but so many companies (particularly highly technical products) mess this up. Metaphors enable your prospect to instantly grasp what you’re trying to do.
Drift’s CEO David Cancel does this well when he describes Drift as the sales attendant in your store (your website). This metaphor – and the visual to go with it – elicits an emotional response that sticks with you far longer than a feature list could.
Simple Visual Diagrams. As sales people, we aren’t trained in art, because art is not our job. However, communication is our job. Visuals are the most efficient way to do that job because our brains process visual information 60,000x faster than text, and retain 4X more information they see vs. read.
Even without an art training, here are some examples of simple visual layouts that work particularly well for sales slides:
Visualizing your Case Studies. The purpose of case studies is to provide credibility and proof your solution works. Nothing accomplishes this better than a visual case study:
In other parts of your presentation, iconography can be powerful tools to build the shared story. Because icons are conceptual, your customer has to do some of the “work” to imagine the new future with your product.
When it comes to the case study, though, you want to make the examples as concrete – and credible – as possible.
Use photographs and videography to demonstrate that these other customers aren’t just ideas, but they are real, relatable people, too.
Part 3. How to Flex Format based on Delivery Method
“Maybe your marketing team made you a beautiful one but they’re ONLY meant for explaining live, not showing to a decision maker offline.” – Cole Fox, LeadIQ
You just gave a compelling presentation to the end users of your product, using your new Practitioner’s framework. As you’re wrapping up the call, your prospect asks, “Can you send me something I can send my boss?”
If you forward the document you just presented, your prospect’s boss (your buyer) is going to be completely confused. If you send them a text document, they won’t read it.
What do you do?
One Deck, Two Versions. Your goal is to limit your text to 20 words per slide for a deck to present, and 60 words per slide for a deck to read. If a prospect spends 5 minutes flipping through your 10 page deck, that’s only 30 seconds a slide. Given average reading speeds, that’s time for 60-100 words, max.
Further, the less knowledge you type on the slide, the more you as the presenter can establish your expertise and captivate your audience.
Here’s what this looks like in practice. Split your content into two text boxes in the original deck design for your 60-word version:
Then, when it’s time to present, just remove the body text boxes for your 20-word version:
Finally, more and more buyers are viewing content on mobile devices (up to 42% are using mobile devices during the purchase process), which should further limit the text density of your content. If this is the case, your targets should be at least half the aforementioned limits (30 words instead of 60 for a read-ahead), as reading speeds slow significantly when moving from a full screen to a mobile device.
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