Editor’s Note: This article was first posted on LinkedIn here.
Bellies full of beignets, my parents and I were exiting San Francisco’s Just for You Cafe when when a middle-aged man called my name.
“Andy, it’s Christoph!” he shouted. “Do you have time for a quick question about messaging?”
(Later, my mom asked, “People stalk you for messaging advice?”)
It was fun having my parents think I was some kind of messaging celebrity, but I recognized Christoph as the CEO of an early-stage tech company who had recently attended one of my workshops. He was waiting for a table, but didn’t wait to tell me what was going on.
“Listen,” he said, “I restructured our sales pitch using your Greatest Sales Deck framework and the results have been awesome. I’ve used it with a few prospects, and they engage at a deeper level, they get what we’re about faster, and they’re all moving to next steps.”
“That’s great,” I said. “What’s the question?”
“Well, it’s my VP of Sales. He won’t even look at the new deck. Says he already has a deck, and that buyers don’t have time for a story, they just want to know how we solve their problem.” Christoph was digging his heels into the pavement, one after the other, as a metaphor for his VP’s resistance. “How do I bring him on board?”
With so many B2B teams gearing up for next year’s sales kickoff events, I’m guessing Christoph isn’t the only one worried about his sales team embracing a new version of the pitch. So I’ll share an expanded version of my response to him here:
(These 5 points are particularly relevant to the Greatest Sales Deck framework, but should apply to any deck you’re “selling” to sales).
#1. Make sure your new deck facilitates discovery
Christoph’s VP’s complaint echoes the most common pushback I hear from salespeople about flashy new sales decks in general — they encourage salespeople to blabber on instead of listening to prospects. In other words, they inhibit what salespeople call discovery.
One of my biggest “aha” moments was when several sales teams I worked with began using their “change in the world” slides to get prospects talking and opening up. For example, Switzerland-based SpotMe, which delivers custom apps for events and training, begins pitches by sharing a change that we heard about from SpotMe’s customers — namely that they now see events not as self-contained shindigs, but as episodes in some greater journey:
When unveiling the new deck, SpotMe CEO Pierre Metrailler trained his sales team not just to present these slides, but to stop and ask, “How is this shift playing out for you and your team?” According to Pierre, the information his team gets from these exchanges is gold. As he told me:
Buyers open up and share what’s really going on, so much more than when we used to just ask direct questions about their challenges. Once, with a group of IT buyers, we decided not to show these “change” slides, thinking they would be irrelevant for a technical person, but the buyers were practically silent. Then we went back and showed those slides, and it was like magic — the IT buyers let down their guard and began sharing all kinds of valuable information.
#2. Nurture advocates for the new deck inside your sales team—before rolling it out
If your marketing team, or even your CEO, builds the new pitch without your sales team’s close cooperation, don’t be surprised when your salespeople shun it like a body rejecting foreign tissue. Besides, with salespeople being so close to buyers, why wouldn’t you involve them?
At Boston-based Zaius, which has raised over $50 million for its B2C marketing platform, CEO Mark Gally invited one of his sales leaders, Michael Angoff, to be part of the group that would build the new deck. When Mark asked Michael to rate the group’s first draft on a scale of 1 to 5, Michael gave it a 2. “That’s pretty good for him,” Mark said, but I knew we’d have to do better if we wanted Michael to evangelize the deck to the rest of his team.
One of Michael’s biggest objections was — surprise — he didn’t see how the new deck would facilitate discovery. So just like at SpotMe, we saw how the “change in the world” slide could be used for that. In Zaius’s case, it looked like this:
We also asked Michael and one of his colleagues to try out the deck on live calls for a couple of weeks, and we made modifications as they reported back on what worked and what didn’t. By the time Zaius rolled out the new deck to its entire sales team, Michael’s rating was up to 4.5, and he was actively evangelizing it. As Michael told me recently, it’s been especially valuable for getting new reps up to speed:
The last two reps that came on board used the deck…both ramped quicker and crushed their goals in their first quota-carrying month.
#3. Have customers speak at the unveiling
A critical part of strategic messaging, and certainly any sales deck, is what I call the “Promised Land message” — a simple articulation of the future you commit to making real for buyers. At SkySlope, a SaaS platform for real estate brokers and agents headquartered in Sacramento, when CEO Tyler Smith first shared the Promised Land message below, some folks on his leadership team felt it wasn’t emotional enough:
Of course, Tyler didn’t come up with that message out of nowhere; he had heard it — over and over — from the brokers and agents who were SkySlope’s customers.
Before unveiling the deck to the rest of his team, Tyler invited a respected broker (who’s also a SkySlope board member) to speak about how being a broker today means your relationships with home buyers and sellers are under constant attack by new players like Zillow, Rocket Homes, and Opendoor. After that, everyone understood why the Promised Land above was an emotional vision for SkySlope’s customers.
#4. Tell the new deck’s story everywhere
I’m on the record saying this:
What make Zuora’s sales deck truly great is not simply that it’s structured around a compelling “change in the world”…
…but the fact that everyone from CEO Tien Tzuo on down tells the same story of that change. Most recently, Tzuo told it in a book:
When you unveil a new deck, make sure you’re supporting it with other new assets that tell the same story — new website, new content, whatever — so that sales teams know you’re committed to providing the air cover they’ll need to sell on the ground. Like Zuora, treat the sales deck (in particular, the change in the world you’ve highlighted) not as something separate from other communications, but as a strategic blueprint for all of them.
#5. Ask what your sales team wants
I recently posted this question on Modern Sales Pros, a popular online forum for salespeople:
What’s the #1 thing that leadership (sales leadership, marketing, CEO, etc.) can do to more successfully gain sales team buy-in on a new deck?
Many of the responses reflected a deep cynicism of sales decks, born of years of having them thrown over the fence from marketing. As Damian Wisniewski, Head of Sales at Got It, told me:
In my experience, the default scenario is (1) marketing unveils a 50-slide deck with great fanfare; (2) the worst reps struggle through it, while the best ones take the six useful slides; (3) everyone moves on with their lives.
Still, don’t let that healthy skepticism stop you from asking what your team wants out of a deck unveiling. From Damian and other Modern Sales Pro members, I heard the following:
- Train us on how to use the new deck, including video of an ideal call (I would add: Even if reps loathe decks and never show one to buyers, train them on how memorizing the deck’s story flow can help them with discovery, guide conversations to their advantage, etc.)
- Make sure the story your deck tells is based on what’s really happening in the customer’s world, not just pulled out of marketing’s ass. As one Modern Sales Pro commented, make sure it’s “real.” (Having customers speak to it, as I mentioned above, can help.)
- Keep the deck as short as possible
If you try any of these, let me know how it goes — either in a comment below, or the next time we run into each other in a restaurant.
About Andy Raskin:
I help CEOs align their leadership teams around a strategic story — to power success in sales, marketing, fundraising, product, and recruiting. Clients include teams backed by Andreessen Horowitz, KPCB, GV, and other top venture firms. I’ve also led strategic storytelling training at Salesforce, Square, Uber, Yelp, VMware and General Assembly. To learn more or get in touch, visit http://andyraskin.com.