Team versus Deck

Sales Strategy

by Guthrie Bunn

Most sales teams misuse presentation decks. Thus everyone involved, from reps to support staff to management to customers, hates them.

Shifting to a Functional View of decks will improve both job satisfaction and results; here are the details.

Default View

There’s a traditional view of a powerpoint deck as something which- in sales- does some of the selling. It’s more than an accompaniment; it’s a member of the team, and often leads the team in go-to-market efforts. Sometimes, it’s supposed to do more than some of the selling, and it becomes a focus point for strategic planning and tactical pitch prep.

And in this vein there are teams we all know who, whenever sales falter for a period, first go to the drawing board with their deck. They cut it up, change content, rearrange slides and debate subtitles repeatedly. They put better company or product info into this document (and a glorified document is all it is), expecting results to be different after the rework.

What they’re actually doing is sitting in a room, looking at a screen together, and then their own screens, and then the screen again and moving pixels and believing, really believing, that this is going to change the performance of their sales team in market. Does this make sense to you, intelligent reader? But have you also, like me, taken enthusiastic part in a process like this? This approach to decks is called the Traditional View, and is usually the one teams falls into while in a collective trance.

“A deck is, to a sales team, purely a functional accessory and no more.”

Functional View

I’m planting a flag in a different hill today. A deck is, to a sales team, purely a functional accessory and no more. It fulfills not a role, but a set of requirements, and has a place only in a carefully fenced part of the standard sales process. This is called the Functional View of deck treatment.

“The job of a sales team is to sell, and being interesting furthers this goal more than being boring.”

A deck provides huge value for a team using it properly, and even better value if it’s a great deck. How to make a great deck is a topic for later articles, but for now we’ll drill into the three aspects of a properly used deck for a sales team.

Required Structure

Structurally, a pitch deck must tell a story. It’s amazing how many large company decks- most of them, actually- do not have a recognizable storyline of any kind. Without this, a deck is essentially a boring lecture put into a worse format. No audience wants to be put through this. So, what most do in a situation where they are put through this is a combination of tuning out, disliking the presenter/sender, and ignoring the content.

However, with a good narrative arc, the most mundane of topics is brought to life. The job of a sales team is to sell, and being interesting helps with this goal more than being boring. So don’t be boring by building a dead-in-the-water deck of facts and information. Build a story that:

  • makes sense
  • creates interest
  • is relevant to the reader/listener

Once a deck satisfies the requirement of holding a human’s interest and being relevant to them, we’ll move to the second aspect of the Functional View.

“It’s important to use the deck for maximum impact. And ironically, the best way to do this is keep it out of the way of your people.”

Leverage is Key

Now it’s important to use the deck for maximum impact. And ironically, the best way to do this is keep it out of the way of your people. If you’ve hired or are a half-decent salesperson, you should be at least half-decent at closing. The signage is not closing, your collared shirt is not closing, the notebook you write in is not closing, the deck is not closing. Especially, the deck is not closing. Remember this. You are using the deck, steering it like a car to do your exact bidding where and when it is called upon, and then leaving it parked until next time it’s needed.

We don’t yet have full self-driving cars, and we don’t yet have self-selling decks. Prediction: autonomous cars will come first. So will autonomous planes and kitchen cleaning robots. Don’t let a bundle of code fool you into thinking it can outsell you in your field. Take ownership and profit!

A deck, instead, is leverage for a salesperson. It allows you to show up before you arrive, be in more places visually in a room, communicate via different media in the same meeting, and stay in front of a prospect after you leave. It augments what’s already happening and enhances that, prolongs that. Imagine wrapping a first conversation with a new prospect and they’re excited. You can’t close yet, so is there a way to carry their enthusiasm forward in time? Is there a way to periodically remind them of what made them excited initially? Is there a way to catch the core of your message and make it last longer than the telling? Yes there is! It’s a deck. Do your job and make the deck do its job.

Part of the Process

Now we get to the final aspect of the Functional View. This is that a sales team must absolutely, under every condition, make deck usage a clear part of their sales process. And the key is that the deck cannot be used outside process.

Building a sales process from scratch is a fun lesson and we’ll talk about this in the future. Rebuilding a sales process using existing components and organization is another fun lesson, and we’ll also talk about that in the future. Regardless of what your process looks like, it must have a clear place for deck usage, with clear instructions including if->then rules.

Examples: Customer requests deck before first meeting. Send? Customer interrupts eight seconds into a presentation and asks if you will be sending them this deck. Answer? Prospect’s colleague skips meeting and asks for a deck summary. Provide? Customer asks you to present report to internal group on upcoming phase of work. Use deck?

Figure out who on your team is allowed to use the deck, the exact leeway they have over content, and the specific times it will be used. And define the communication that’s allowed around the deck.

You’ll find with a clear process and rules, freedom and enablement to sell actually go up. Your team, and you, will sell more and more often. And across the team, salespeople will use more consistent messaging and narrative even when not using the deck.

Make It Matter

Take this away from my message: make your deck good, fence it in, then use it on your team for its expressed purpose: leveraging the people who are already there. Do this, and watch frustration drop while numbers jump.