Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Medium here.
Three months ago, Mike Latty, a sales executive at Uberflip, messaged me through Linkedin:
Hey Andy – thank you for publishing “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen.” It has transformed the way we identify pain for prospects and lead them to the Promised Land. The results, measured in second meetings and new business, have been incredible.
Mike later told me that, in the two quarters since introducing a sales narrative based on that post, Uberflip has met or exceeded revenue targets, which was not happening before.
I asked Mike if I could see “before” and “after” versions of Uberflip’s sales deck, and I’m happy to report that, after consulting with his team, he sent them over. Uberflip also gave me permission to share the decks – as well as my analysis of how the narrative improved.
(I have no connection to Uberflip outside of research for this article, and no stake in the company. However, since I’m presenting their confidential material below, I gave Uberflip the right to approve this article before publishing it. Aside from correcting a few facts, they requested no changes to my original draft).
Uberflip’s old sales presentation started with these two slides:
Next, the deck displayed the faces of Uberflip investors and the logos of its largest customers:
Then came a problem statement – more of an attack, really, on the way prospects do content marketing today…
…followed by how Uberflip advocated that content marketing should be done:
According to Mike, the intention was to position Uberflip as the leader in something called “content experience delivery,” but that wasn’t working. As Mike explained,
“We were trying to create a category. We were saying, ‘Hey, there’s this new thing you need to worry about and devote resources towards.’ Instead we just confused people. Prospects were like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’”
“Before” Version: The 5 Elements of a Great Sales Narrative
According to Mike, Uberflip’s leadership team began late last year to question how they told their story. In particular, Jay Hedges, Uberflip’s SVP of Revenue, had just joined the company, and he agreed with Mike and others that a new approach was needed to convey what Uberflip does and why it matters.
Around the same time, Mike discovered the “Greatest Sales Deck” post. So he, Jay and others crafted a new deck around the five elements of a great sales narrative that I outlined there. While the content here is specific to Uberflip, you can use the same structure to build a strategic narrative for anything you pitch to anyone:
1. Name a Big, Relevant Change in the World
In the Greatest Sales Deck post, I advised never kicking off a sales presentation by talking about your product, your headquarters locations, your investors, your clients, or anything about yourself.
In addition to violating that rule, Uberflip’s BEFORE deck labeled the prospect’s approach “flawed.” No surprise that, according to Mike, that put prospects on the defensive.
The AFTER deck takes a very different approach. First, Mike and his team engage in a “discovery” conversation, using this slide to ask questions about how prospects drive audiences to their content today:
Once discovery is complete, the new deck names the undeniable shift in the world that creates both (a) big stakes and (b) huge urgency for prospects.
Uberflip calls it the “engagement economy”:
Mike told me that he borrowed “engagement economy” from Marketo, the popular marketing automation platform (and Uberflip partner) that was already touting that shift.
(Many teams spend weeks or months trying to coin a unique change statement – along the lines of Zuora’s “subscription economy” – but there’s something to be said for choosing one that’s already out there and finding traction).
To explain what “engagement economy” means, the AFTER deck goes next to a shuttered Blockbuster Video store:
While this slide is up, Mike talks about how failed content distributors like Blockbuster placed the burden of finding relevant content on customers, forcing them to search for relevant items among a veritable warehouse of choices.
Today’s successful content distributors, of course, behave differently:
Netflix, Mike says, represents a new world in which content distributors (including marketers) must actively “engage” us with relevant material; when we’re done consuming one piece of content, we expect them to serve another relevant choice.
As Uberflip’s AFTER deck demonstrates, when you start with a change (rather than a “problem”), you build trust with prospects because they’re likely to see you as a partner in navigating the shift. Indeed, Mike reports that by the time he reaches this point in the narrative, prospects will frequently open up about the opportunities and challenges of crafting a Netflix-like experience for their audiences.
2. Show There Will Be Winners and Losers
All prospects suffer from what behavioral economists call “loss aversion.” That is, they tend to avoid a possible loss by sticking to the status quo, rather than risk a possible gain by opting for change.
To overcome loss aversion, you must show that the change you’ve cited gives rise to stakes that are too big to ignore – in other words, that the change will create winners (who adapt) and losers (who don’t).
Interestingly, this deck has already accomplished that to some degree, since Netflix is thriving and Blockbuster is gone. So the next slide works to drive home some costs of not adapting:
3. Tease the Promised Land
The BEFORE deck’s greatest weakness, in my opinion, was failing to articulate the happy future that Uberflip is committed to making real for its customers – what I call the “Promised Land.”
In contrast, the AFTER deck lays out the Promised Land in just seven words:
While B2B marketers probably understand right away that Uberflip is talking about the buyer journey, Mike clarifies that in his voiceover, just in case. (For more on the advantages of introducing your Promised Land as a question, read The Question that Improves Any Pitch).
Next, Mike fleshes out that vision, a future in which marketers actively engage with varied, relevant content that propels audiences forward through the pipeline:
4. Introduce Features as “Magic Gifts” for Overcoming Obstacles to the Promised Land
As I’ve said before, effective pitches follow the same narrative structure as epic films and fairy tales. Your prospect is Luke, and you’re Obi Wan, furnishing a lightsaber to help him defeat the Empire. Your prospect is Frodo, and you’re Gandalf, wielding wizardry to help him destroy the ring. Your prospect is Cinderella, and you’re the fairy godmother, casting spells to get her to the ball.
Similarly, when Uberflip’s AFTER deck introduces its product, it does so by positioning capabilities as “magic gifts” for helping a prospect overcome obstacles to the Promised Land.
First, the obstacles:
(As I told Mike, of all the slides in the AFTER deck, this one might benefit most from more clarity. Your obstacles slide[s] should explain why reaching the Promised Land is hard without you.)
Then come Uberflip’s “gifts.” If – and only if – you’ve clearly stated your Promised Land and the obstacles to it, prospects have the context they need to understand why your capabilities matter:
5. Offer Evidence that You Can Make the Story Come True
A well-designed Promised Land is both desirable (obviously) and difficult to achieve without your product/service. (Otherwise, why does your product/service exist?) As a result, your audience will be skeptical that you can deliver.
The BEFORE deck, as you may remember, attempted to establish credibility by showing investors and customer logos right off the bat. In contrast, the AFTER deck has been more successful, Mike says, by presenting examples of companies that Uberflip has already helped reach the Promised Land, as well as the benefits of doing so:
Mike says he typically shares details of these customer stories and then dives into a product demo (more evidence). If Uberflip still wanted to add back those customer logos and investor names, this might be a good place to do that.
A Clear Strategic Story Aligns Everyone in Your Company – and Creates Urgency
Delighted to learn that Uberflip had articulated its Promised Land, I was about to email Mike suggesting his marketing team adopt the same message on Uberflip’s home page. Turned out that there was no need, as they had already done so:
In fact, Mike told me that now everyone at Uberflip – from CEO Yoav Schwartz and CMO Randy Frisch on down through sales, marketing and customer success —talks about “owning the journey.” When I asked Mike to sum up the impact of that, he put it this way:
“There’s so much that goes into closing deals, but I attribute a lot of our recent success to this change in our messaging. We didn’t change our product. We changed the story that we’re all aligning around—especially the scale of it. Now it’s about a big shift in the world, and that’s driving urgency. It has taken us from being a nice-to-have to literally hearing prospects say, ‘Holy shit, I need this.’”