Tuesday 2¢: Start with the Sales Deck

This week my Tuesday 2 cents considers the sales deck, not just as part of the marketing messaging mix, but as the best place to start when developing your brand story.


I had a great conversation with a sales leader at a software business the other day, we discussed the importance of the sales deck as part of the marketing mix. It is the tip of the spear in enterprise B2B, in the kind of transactions that are not done with a credit card, that takes time to nurture and is a considered purchase for the company, requiring procurement and a buying team.

Yet, describing the sales deck as part of the “marketing mix” sounds odd to a lot of people. In many organizations, there is a wall between sales and marketing, on both sides where marketers don’t understand that they are in sales, forgetting that their function is to contribute revenue and sales guys that don’t realize they are marketers and think marketers should stick to the crayons and coloring in.

Take a random sales deck from a random enterprise sales guy and I would bet on good odds that it doesn’t reflect the story the CMO thinks is being told or maybe even the story on the website.

A game of corporate Chinese whispers

Messaging is often created top-down and appears in front of the customer as a result of a game of corporate Chinese whispers.

It transforms from the C suite mission statement to bullets on a slide by a process of osmosis as it is handed from marketing, product marketing, sales operations to our fearless field agent. And then, if the sales rep doesn’t relate to the deck, they will present what works for them. Probably hashed together in the hotel room the previous night and the result is that the corporate font seems to be Comic Sans.

A better approach, as a marketing leader, if you are looking to define your mission, messaging and brand story is to start with the sales deck.

It’s grounding

Firstly, successful sales guys own the story. They are like franchisees, fully vested in the value proposition and how it gets articulated. Experienced sales people understand the language of the marketplace, how the problem you are trying to solve is being expressed and the pain it creates.

Secondly, it’s easy for us marketers in a closed conference room to create the language, caught up in the heady mix of the lingua franca of marketing mealy words and insight from the goldfish bowl of marketing thought leadership. Much harder for the sales representative to stand up in front of a buyer and then repeat those words with a straight face. “Leading provider of agile synergy in the disrupted marketing ecosystem” – HUH? It’s embarrassing.

Thirdly, a sales presentation is often an unforgiving place, you don’t need to wait, analyze the data or do a survey, the feedback is instant. If the buyer is nodding, leaning in and invites you back, you are onto something. This is how entrepreneurs forge their businesses, an A/B test of trying something in a presentation, refining the story and trying again, based on the feedback of the most important people in any marketplace – the customers.

While it’s true, it’s hard to capture this “data”, it’s subjective and an individual sales performance has many factors, but a message forged on this crucible of customer feedback is going to resonate with other potential customers.

The result, we avoid the trap of a self-centered mission statement, which is super easy to publish on a website after a corporate off-site. Now imagine if you have to stand up in front of a crowd and say it. The story you tell better be about that audience, relatable and relevant to them or this is not going to go well. Thinking first about the sales deck avoids the main character of the story being you.

Not just Powerpoint

We all know as B2B marketers that a lot of the selling happens before the prospect meets a sales rep or contacts the vendor.

Creating the language that will work when we are “mano a mano” with the prospecting client enables the rest of our marketing copy to not only be consistent with what they will hear in a sales presentation, but it will be written with people in mind, it is more personable, more human. Let’s be honest, less marketing bullshit.

This approach isn’t about creating the perfect sales deck, think about social selling, LinkedIn, short videos, all that good stuff. The perfect sales deck is the script.

Approach

In an ideal world, this approach would be easy. The fact is, most organizations don’t quite have their sales and marketing ducks aligned, there is a disconnect. In this environment, how as marketers do we approach this?

My approach is simple and admittedly a little obvious:

  • Talk to recent customers – find out what they liked. I read a crazy stat about how few marketers talk to customers, you should.
  • Talk to the channel – unencumbered by being part of your corporate machine, partners are likely to be the most creative in how they tell your story, are usually client champions and will have no hesitation telling you how it is. A beer helps here.
  • Talk to sales – The obvious one, ask them to walk you through their presentation and what they need from marketing (aside from those hot leads).

I’d also recommend this effective exercise that I’ve done in the past, working with a wonderful Head of Sales during a joint sales and marketing kick-off. We split our people into mixed teams of sales and marketers who then had to collaborate on sales deck (for a fictitious prospective company for each team) and then present this back to the group.

The output can be great or it can be terrible – but, having marketers in that process and especially presenting, brings a sales awareness into the marketing team and the knowledge, stories, anecdotes that sales folks lean on when in front of a customer can be shared and codified.

Although, with my marketers’ union hat on – I’m not suggesting that every salesperson has all the right ideas about marketing, but, it’s enlightening for many marketers, stuck to their screens to walk in their shoes.

The model

I am hugely inspired by Andy Raskin and his perfect sales deck and using this structure when using a sales deck approach to developing the brand story and message:

  1. What’s the change in the world? That the prospective client is experiencing that is relevant to your product or service
  2. Show there will be losers (If the client fails to act -remembering that ‘no action’ is the biggest competitor in B2B sales, we need to create urgency) – and give examples of winners.
  3. Show what winning looks like – What’s their chocolate island?
  4. Show how your product or service can get them to the chocolate island. This is not the harbor tour, but a focused set of benefits statements, based on the client’s challenge
  5. Provide evidence that you can take them to the chocolate island – testimonials, case studies (etc)

This creates a really tight narrative for a sales deck, but also the resources that we can develop into the brand story and our content marketing.

That’s it, this week’s Tuesday 2¢ was a little over two pennies, so thanks for hanging in there.

Marketers, start with the sales deck.