Does your presentation deck advance the sale, or is it just pretty to look at?
October 20, 2016
When it comes to sales slide decks, a beautiful design looks professional and polished. A tactical design advances the sale. I’ve read that presentation decks haven’t advanced since the 90's. You know what really hasn’t advanced since the 90's? Advice on how to make a great sales deck. How many times have we been advised to avoid bullet points, too much text, and obvious template designs? Somewhere between I heard you the first time and I can’t act surprised anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. These tenets make good basic guidelines. They’re just not enough to move you toward the finish line.
Earlier this year, Marc Benioff, CEO and founder of tech powerhouse Salesforce, announced on an earnings call that the company had signed two nine-figure deals and more than 600 seven-figure deals, and was having their best quarter to date. Did these deals get to the finish line because the slide deck they used didn’t include bullet points? Of course not. (In reality, Benioff credits his mega-deals to targeting the right prospect. Apparently, all of these deals were sold to CEOs.)
A sales presentation deck is not a mandatory part of the sales process, and there are schools of thought on both sides. Some salespeople believe in them, others find them a nuisance. I don’t have a firm opinion either way, but I do wonder what kind of slide decks are being used by sales folks who find them to be a nuisance. Are the slide decks tactically designed? Do they take into account things like the salesperson’s specific goals for the meeting, the prospect’s unique needs and interests, and the salesperson’s favorite go-to one-liners?
Sales presentation decks aren’t like other marketing media. They’re designed to support a live, person-to-person, interactive exchange that changes every time. Other marketing media are static, designed for use when a company representative isn’t there in person, like brochures. Or social media posts. Or webinars, ads and trade show signage. Sales is a conversation (or at least should be). Its marketing materials should be designed to support and align with that conversation.
Wikipedia defines a sales presentation as “…a line of talk that attempts to persuade someone or something, with a planned sales presentation strategy of a product or service designed to initiate and close a sale of the product or service.” In presentations, visual aids are intended to help audience members better understand and remember the information being conveyed. They can also reinforce a message.
The purpose of visual aids in sales presentations is to advance the sale. If you just want to give prospects something pretty to look at, start giving out sterling silver desk clocks. That will probably advance the sale more than your pretty, non-bullet-pointed, not tactically designed PowerPoint.
If you want to create a sales presentation slide deck that moves the sales cycle forward, you first need a sales process that moves the sales cycle forward.
Once you have that set, you need to make sure that the person creating the slide deck (probably your marketing person) works hand-in-hand with someone who has intimate knowledge of that sales process (like a sales manager or salesperson). The salesperson should tell the marketer which parts of the sales conversation have proven to be the most powerful in terms of moving the process forward, and also go through the entire pitch, presenting to the marketer as if the marketer was a potential client. This will enable the marketer to identify the salient points that could benefit from a visual aid. Each presentation should be customized to fit the client, so keep the slide deck in an editable format.
This is a critical step that few, if any, mortgage industry marketers take. I understand. Earlier in my mortgage PR and marketing career, I was guilty of the same mistake. I’d create slide decks without understanding the specifics and nuances of the sales conversation. If I got any insight at all into the sales process, it was from the company’s current slide deck. My beautiful, well-designed slide decks followed all of the must-do recommendations, but even so, likely did nothing to move the sale forward. I couldn’t reinforce the most salient points of the sales conversation because I didn’t know what they were.
So what are the repercussions of a gaffe like this? If you’re listening to the old school advice I mentioned in the beginning of this article, nothing. If you’re living in the real world and trying to advance the sale, they’re big.
A few things happen when a marketer creates a sales presentation deck without in-depth knowledge of the sales process or the prospect. First, the sales presentation usually ends up focused on your company and your products, since that’s what marketer knows. It won't take into account the information that most interests your prospect, if your prospect is interested at all. The sequencing will likely lead to the features and benefits that the company has always promoted, even though the prospect may only be interested in one or two of those, or something else altogether.
If the marketer doesn’t know the specific values of the prospect, there’s no way to reinforce the points that coincide with them. While CEOs and executives at the presenting company love hearing about the high points they always tout, listing the usual features and benefits can come across as generic and impersonal to the prospect.
Imagine you’re the recipient of a sales presentation. The presenter starts in on a list of features and benefits, but they don’t matter to you. You sit through it. But that's not all. There’s a slide deck highlighting these points with slick, interesting graphics, beautifully highlighting points that you don't care about.
What happens? Maybe the graphic reminds you of that time you were in Hawaii five summers ago, or that you forgot to call someone back this morning. Maybe you simply start imagining illnesses you can fake to get this thing to end. I'll tell you what probably won’t happen. You probably won’t be seduced into caring about something you don’t care about because the graphics are high quality and there’s a well designed catch phrase on the slide.
The purpose of a visual aid is to illustrate or reinforce important points of the presentation. The important points of the presentation are the ones that advance the sale. When people are trapped and forced to listen to information that isn’t relevant to them, their eyes start glazing over and they start losing interest. Bottom line, you drift away from the sale. Even the most beautiful, well designed, perfectly branded slides won’t break the spell and turn that boat around.
Second, without real collaboration and exchange between the salesperson and the marketer, the sales process defaults into the hands of the marketer. The marketer chooses the sequence of the slides, the information that goes on those slides and the theme of the presentation. Imagine. Your salesperson has a way of doing things. Maybe the salesperson starts with a interesting story or anecdote that hooks the listener and creates a bond. Maybe he or she leads with the most mouthwatering benefit, according to what is known about the prospect. If your marketer isn't aware of these things, you'll end up with a slide deck that forces the salesperson follow a whole new sequence, and work with slides that could emphasize points that may not even be appropriate.
At best, the presentation will seem stilted at times. At worst, it’ll seem canned and disingenuous. And your salespeople will be trapped in the flow like hostages. Sure, they can rearrange the slides, but in which order? The slides don’t address the most important parts of their conversations. Your salespeople have no choice but to either follow the crafted path or not use the deck (which is fine, but then why create it in the first place?).
Presentation slides should support the sales conversation, not dictate it. Most marketers are not sales gurus. Unless your marketer is the next Zig Ziglar, I wouldn’t advise leaving this activity in the marketer's hands. Your sales conversations are too important. Sales Engine, a company that provides sales tools, cited a 2013 study by Forrester that identified a significant gap between what buyers want and what they get, stating that “sales reps often deliver slide decks instead of conversations, lead with products and not industry insights, and waste time in meetings because material hasn’t been customized for the buyer.”
More research from Forrester indicates that, where preparation is concerned, “salespeople grade themselves an A-minus on understanding customers' issues and where they can help, whereas buyers give salespeople a failing grade.”
When they are uninformed, even well-intentioned, talented marketers create sales presentation decks that interfere with sales success. Let’s say you’re taking the approach of Salesforce’s Benioff: you’re targeting the C-Suite. Getting in front of a CEO is no easy task. A presentation deck designed without knowledge of your company’s specific sales process or the prospect CEO’s values, will likely focus on the wrong points and lock the salesperson into what resembles a canned pitch. A presentation deck designed without knowledge of your company’s specific sales process or the prospect CEO’s values, will likely focus on the wrong points and lock the salesperson into what resembles a canned pitch. A chatbot that can't be clicked away. You'll have CEOs looking for a way to force quit your pitch—and you.
When creating presentation decks, forget that everyone else seems to be creating a sequential beginning-to-end show. Instead, create slides that reinforce the points that will advance the sale. The prospect took the appointment with the salesperson, not the slide deck. A sales presentation deck doesn’t need to explain everything visually. It is not a leave-behind.
As for deciding which points to highlight, that depends on the customer. Let’s say you’re selling to CEOs and although you’ve tried to find out specifics, you can’t find the CEO’s specific hot buttons. Broaden your view and focus on the values that are typical to that specific customer group. In an article in Harvard Business Review written by Frank V. Cespedes, Jay Galeota, and Michael Wong, called Salespeople Need a Strategy for Selling to CEOs, the authors talk about three dimensions salespeople need to master in order to win over buyers in the C-Suite. One of those dimensions is context, which they describe as “How you frame the issue, your data, and your point of view.”
The authors state that executives are mostly concerned with outcomes. And one of the things they’ll want to know is how your product or service stacks up against alternatives. If you feel this is a strength for you, show it off. Have some slides handy that reinforce your strength over the alternatives or illustrate it faster than you can explain it. For example, you can create a simple diagram titled “[Your Company] vs. the Alternatives.” Maybe it’s a series of bar graphs that show how much faster, more powerful or more reliable your product is compared to the alternatives. Maybe you could do a side-by-side checklist that demonstrates what they offer, versus what you offer.
This is a good place to use slides because the information is easier to grasp when presented visually. You can say, “We have more features than our top three competitors, for example, we have x, y and z, and they don’t have any of those.” But if, while you’re discussing this point, you open a slide that shows how well your company ranks against its competitors, you will get the point across immediately. People grasp visuals exponentially faster than verbal explanations.
A lot of traditional, old-school sales and market guidelines still hold true. There’s also a lot of new research that has revealed more effective ways to move the sales process forward. You just need to know which ones work, and which ones work for you.
Presentation decks are optional. But if use them, their effectiveness in advancing the sale is not.