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Ditch the pitch: Why your sales deck needs to tell a story

When building your next sales deck, keep one thing in mind: Prospects don’t care about your product.

It’s often tempting to craft your sales deck around what you know about your product. Perhaps, you have an impressive list of marquee customers or an advanced set of features that your competition doesn’t have.

But, what big names and cool features can’t do is answer the question of why. And, if you can’t tell prospects why your product matters, then you haven’t convinced them to pick you.

The “secret” to sales content that does close more deals? A powerful story. And that’s a lesson we learned first-hand when we decided to overhaul our own sales deck.

Hey now, your sales deck (might not) be an all-star

Earlier this year, we decided to take stock of our sales collateral by doing a quarterly content audit. After evaluating the content we’d created over the past few months, we noticed something curious: We had over eight different sales decks.

Like many sales teams, ours had spent a lot of time creating different versions of our core deck. With each new variation, our goal had been to sell more effectively to specific target markets and personas.

Instead, we ended up with feature-heavy decks that were only superficially different.

The result? All eight versions felt like the Smash Mouth version of “The Product Overview.” Eager and enthusiastic but not particularly revelatory:

Old DocSend sales deck - Slide ten - Modify links

During the crucial discovery call, the last thing you want to do is take prospects through an in-depth examination of your product, yet that’s exactly what we did.

We were throwing our prospects into decks with 16, 18, 20 slides and asking them to study our product’s features.

And the evidence of our mistake was in the data:

Old DocSend sales deck - dropoff report

Less than 40% of people that opened our most frequently shared deck, DocSend for Sellers, made it halfway. And only 17.5% stuck around to see what was on the last page.

The purpose of any sales deck is to educate prospects about why your product matters, and our data told us that our prospects were disengaging early and often.

That meant only one thing: It was time for us to rethink our approach.

A new day, a new dawn for your sales deck

People love stories. That’s because stories seize and hold our attention and even change how we behave.

When it came time to revisit our sales deck, we focused on developing a strong narrative in which our product could live.

We turned to Andy Raskin’s now famous Medium post, “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen,” and we asked ourselves, what’s our product’s story?

Using Raskin’s framework as a guide, we ditched our pitch for a sales story worth sharing.

And here’s how we did it.

Step 1: What’s your big, relevant change?

All powerful stories begin with context, and the same goes for the stories we tell as B2B marketers and sellers.

We started building our new sales deck by thinking broadly about the rise of sales enablement as a function. And we dedicated the first half of our new deck to defining the shift in the world that makes DocSend so relevant for modern sales teams.

We focused our attention on a “big, relevant change,” as Raskin advises, rather than on one specific problem. While addressing “the problem” certainly has its place, putting it at the very beginning can shut down the conversation prematurely.

The first slide of our new deck teases the shift in the world we’re about to unpack:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide one -Setting context

Then, we introduce the key variable that fundamentally altered the way we sell:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide four - The internet

Buyers now have access to more information than ever in the form of websites, blogs, case studies, eBooks, white papers, and more.

We connect this explosion in content to an even bigger change in buyer behavior:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide five - Buyer's journey

Today, buyers define their own journey to buying a product, and it’s up to marketers and sellers to figure out what matters most to them.

We point out that one of the ways businesses influence this new sales process is by creating their own content. Businesses use content to attract, convert, and nurture prospects:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide six - Content and the sales process

By telling this story about how sales has changed, we set ourselves up to have meaningful conversations with our prospects. Sharing stories about change creates a common perspective between you and your prospects and invites prospects to imagine how that big, relevant change impacts them.

But here’s the thing: Simply identifying the shift isn’t enough. You still have to establish the business problem brought on by this shift, and the potential outcomes it has for your prospect.

Step 2: How do prospects win or lose in this new world?

B2B prospects like all buyers calculate potential losses and gains before purchasing. As marketers and sellers, we can tip the scales in our favor by defining what it means to win or lose in this new world.

We accomplish this in our new sales deck by outlining the business problem created by the shift in the sales process. We spell out the consequences of this “glut information economy” for high-performing sales teams.

The challenge, according to Raskin, is one of scale. In order to incentivize prospects to buck the status quo, you need to show how the change you described earlier will result in big winners and big losers.

We introduce our business problem as one systemic to marketing and sales teams. While the volume of content has increased exponentially, neither marketers nor sellers have insight into what’s working and what’s not:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide seven - no insight into sales content

Those who don’t adapt face what Raskin calls an “unacceptably negative future.” That is, they risk having an unpredictable sales process that’ll cost them both time and money:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide ten - sales inefficiency

By connecting our story of change to specific outcomes, we create the opportunity we plan on seizing. We establish a business problem tied to key objectives that requires prospects to respond in one of two ways: Action or inaction.

While some prospects walk in the door ready to purchase, the rest will need you to grab their attention and tell them exactly what’s at stake.

Step 3: What “Promised Land” awaits your prospects who win?

Now that your prospects understand the business problem, they’re likely wondering, what does “winning” actually entail?

We use this opportunity to describe what our product enables prospects to achieve. Rather than describing our product outright, we outline our vision for high-performing sales teams equipped with our product.

Our “Promised Land,” as coined by Raskin, is a future state in which sales content is actionable, measurable, and outcome-driven. And our product is the vehicle for reaching that future state.

We present our Promised Land as the two steps required to win in this new world:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide fifteen - tracking sales content

Your Promised Land should solve the business problem you defined earlier. In order for prospects to want the solution you’re going to offer, you need to connect the dots between the shift in the world, the business problem it creates, and the criteria for winning.

Step 4: What “magic gifts” does your product offer?

The arc of our sales deck has so far mirrored the classic dramatic arc. We’ve used tension, conflict, and the prospect of resolution to capture our prospects’ attention.

We’ve intentionally positioned our prospects as the hero of this particular journey.

As with our initial story of change, we invite prospects to imagine how they might reach the Promised Land now that they know what it means to win.

While Raskin uses the analogy of epic films and fairy tales, we prefer to think of storytelling as a set of techniques that can be applied to any sales presentation. Framing your product and its features as “magic gifts,” to use Raskin’s terminology, is just one way of spurring prospects to purchase.

In our last slide, we highlight how DocSend enables sales teams to win. Rather than examining any particular “magic gift,” we provide a holistic overview of our product:

New DocSend sales deck - Slide seventeen - DocSend in 3 steps

The purpose of using a dramatic arc in your sales deck is to give your product meaning and value it wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s more important that prospects remember the story you’ve told and how your product fits into that story than they recall the details of any specific features.

Step 5: What proof do you have to support your story?

All prospects want proof that you can actually help them win in this new world — and the best evidence is customer testimonials. After all, your existing customers have already won.

It’s important to note that, contrary to Raskin’s advice, we’ve chosen not to include customer testimonials in our new sales deck. Instead, we’ve made our customer testimonials available as separate resources for our team to send to prospects.

During the discovery call, we want prospects to focus on our product’s story. That means we’ve only included the information necessary for prospects to understand why our product matters.

One of the resources we share after the discovery call is a summary of customer testimonials:

DocSend_testimonials_sales deck

We’ve curated customer testimonials that align with the story we tell in our sales deck. The testimonials reflect how customers have used DocSend to turn the Promised Land into reality.

Just as you need to elevate the stakes for winner and losers early on in your deck, you need to illustrate the tremendous success achieved by your customers. Doing so helps prospects understand how you will help them.

The evidence is always in the data

Once we started sending out our new sales deck, the first question our sales leaders and reps asked was, how is the new deck performing relative to the old deck?

We started with the very metric that led us to revisit our sales deck: The dropoff rate.

The results surprised even us. You can see the dropoff report from our old sales deck on the left, the same one we shared earlier, and the dropoff report from our new deck on the right:
Old DocSend sales deck - dropoff report

With our old sales deck, only 17.5% of all viewers made it to the last slide, and you can see the steep dropoff after viewers open the deck.

Now, 65.4% of all prospects who open our deck click through to the last slide, and, what’s more, our new deck is actually two slides longer.

Great news, right? Yes and no. While we were certainly excited to see such dramatic results, we still needed to dig deeper into the performance of our new sales collateral.

The question we really wanted to answer was, what’s the ROI of our new sales deck?

To be continued…

In part 2 of this blog series, we share the additional metrics we used to measure the performance of our sales deck. For example, how did our new deck impact our opportunity creation rate? Short answer: We saw a pretty significant lift.

In part 3, we’ll share our top five tips for creating your own “greatest sales deck.” We’ll include examples of sales decks we admire and explain how to build a sales narrative that converts.

Check out our old deck, compare it to our new deck, and let us know what you think!