The sales deck: a tool for momentum

Four tips to create a strong, insightful, powerful, and effective sales deck.

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My first product marketing role could be politely described as a ‘PowerPoint monkey’.

In the office - wearing a suit and tie, until a new American CEO took us business casual - I sat down at my desk. My task? To churn out decks for sales reps and account managers to present to prospects and customers.

These decks often ran to 30 slides or more. We used the rule of six (no more than six bullets per slide, no more than six words per bullet). Sales reps would use the decks in good faith… only to go off piste, skip around, and cut most of it out. But sales leadership felt it was important for reps to have the material to hand, even if they didn’t use it.

Fast forward to today.

Has much really changed? Do we still build big bulky decks? Do sales reps still customize the deck? Do we dutifully update the deck every product launch, even though it doesn’t get used? Probably 🙄.

The sales deck is a tool for momentum

When built, trained, and used effectively, the sales deck is a powerful tool to:

  • Introduce your prospect to your company and product

  • Grab their interest and convert it to desire

  • Persuade the prospect that your product solves their problem

  • Stand out from (and drive away) alternative solutions

  • Galvanize the prospect into taking next steps

Sales decks generally fall somewhere on a scale.

  • Too much focus on features makes it hard to create differentiation and justify higher price-points

  • Too much fluffy visionary value messaging makes it less tangible, less actionable, and you’ll fight harder to close the deal

The mid-point is best: enough explanation of tangible features that combine to deliver value the customer desires (find out more in my post on value nuggets).

Four tips to rethink your sales deck

Here are four tips I’ve discovered to help you create a sales deck that is strong, insightful, powerful, and effective.

There is not ‘one’ sales deck

We normally use ‘sales deck’ to refer to multiple documents across the buyer journey:

  • Overview deck that we send before a call

  • Slides we run through in a first call

  • The deck that’s sent after an initial meeting to share internally

  • A presentation we run through in a second call for context

  • Slides used every quarter in customer success calls

  • …etc

Using one deck or one set of slides for all of these is a mistake.

The deck has to meet the needs identified as part of the buyer journey. Early in the process, it may be about generating interest and showing value. Later, the deck may require technical architecture and security credentials.

The story and narrative should have the same consistent building blocks. But the messaging will differ based on the context, the stakeholders involved, and the needs to be satisfied at each stage.

Less text, more conversation

We’ve all sat through a 30 minute sales presentation, before being asked “Any questions?” at the end. Dull. Unengaging. A poor experience.

Especially in meeting 1, your sales deck is a conversation tool. It is a prop.

For the rep, the meeting should be 50% active listening, 20% talking, and 30% reframing what’s being said.

Every slide is a discussion point: present some information, pose a question, and have a conversation.

Train reps on using SPIN questioning and framing in conversations.

  • Situation: "How are you doing this today?” / “So today, you’re doing…”

  • Problem: “What’s difficult about this?” / “When you’re doing [x], you struggle to…”

  • Implication: “What’s the impact of this?” / “And this means you can/can’t…”

  • Need-Payoff/Value: “If you could fix [problem], what would that achieve?” / “When you can [overcome problem], that would allow you to [value].”

You can capture really powerful insights to tailor the following conversations.

More than that, it offers the rep the chance to reframe the prospects thought process. For example, by challenging conventional wisdom, broadening their mindset, or reprogramming default cause-and-effect reasoning.

Write a consistent story with your customer

I recommend framing strategic narratives using Andy Raskin’s methodology. There are others, and it doesn’t always fit - but is a good place to aim for.

Namely, four elements that help unlock everything a good sales deck needs:

  • An undeniable world change that your prospect agrees is happening

  • The enemies that prevent them from keeping up with the change

  • A promised land, an end-state they want to achieve

  • Your product value, framed as magic capabilities

Some sales decks will follow these four elements in precise order, which feels forced and unnatural.

It has to feel authentic - your prospect has to be thinking “Wow… What we are doing isn’t working anymore, and won’t… How are we going to make change happen?”. They need to nod yes, and they need to jump to the right conclusion before you’ve mentioned it.

For the story to work, it has to resonate. It must be based on your Ideal Customer Profile, your customer development research, and you need to test your positioning in the market.

It can’t be built on your internal product vision alone, or what the founders see in the market. There is simply too much bias at play for positioning-by-assumption to work in the real world.

Galvanize the opportunity

When the conversation is flowing and you’re actively listening to the prospect, you’ll pick up on super valuable things to shape the opportunity.

One of the most effective ways to drive momentum in a sales deck meeting is with the last slide. Don't finish with questions or a credential slide. Instead, can you end with a question to discover information to galvanize the deal?

Here’s an example of a slide we used at Kayako as a conversation starter. This slide showed the basic steps involved, and we explained how customers could get up-and-running with the product, and what after-sales support would be like.

More importantly, it offered the chance to ask prospects about their process, with questions like:

  • “Where are you in trials with other competitors? What are your thoughts on them?”

  • “How quickly are you trying to get up-and-running?”

  • “What’s your selection criteria? What additional information can we provide?”

  • “Are there any steps not on here, that you would need to go through on your side?”

You can imagine how powerful this was to supercharge opportunities - or to de-prioritize them if needed.

Rethinking your sales deck: where to start?

It’s difficult to build a sales deck within your current limitations and worldview. Trying to manipulate your existing story into a new framework is hard.

It’s much easier to let go of the past.

Do the research, have the internal and external discussions. Focus.

Craft a unique narrative, understand the buyer journey. Build confidence.

And then form the decks and tools that you’ll use to build momentum.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought - find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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