The complete guide to sales

While the sales pipeline used to begin with a discovery call, today, sales interacts with prospects throughout the buyer journey. Whether your account executives are running an outbound sales push or you’re working with customer success to host product-led demos, a good pitch deck is one of your company’s most important strategic assets. So how do you effectively adapt your sales pitch for new customers, markets, and opportunities to drive product adoption and skyrocket growth rates? To answer this sales challenge, we’ve put together the essential guide to building and scaling high-converting sales presentations.

How to find ideas worth selling

How sales presentations meet buyer expectations today

The nature of sales is changing. Like anything, successful sales processes must constantly evolve to meet changing buyer profiles and needs. The most successful companies have found a new way of going to market with product-led growth (PLG). 

Traditional enterprise sales tactics aren’t enough for modern-day buyers, who are not only more informed than ever, but have likely done their research and perhaps even tried your product. Too often, they’ve lost interest in your sales pitch before you’ve even started.

To engage prospects effectively, your sales presentation needs to meet buyer expectations and demonstrate product knowledge. How? By understanding where your team's first interaction with a prospect lands in the buyer journey and engaging them from the first call with contextualized, story-driven pitches. Sales presentations that succeed center prospects as heroes in their buyer journey — on a mission to improve their own company by investing in your company’s solutions.

The buyer journey is completely different today from 20 years ago. Now, sales reps need to fit into a product-led growth (PLG) world. When you talk to a potential buyer, it’s often not their first interaction with your company, so the value that sales needs to provide has fundamentally changed.

Curtis Townshend, Senior Director of Growth

By the time an account executive reaches out, it’s likely that prospective buyers will have already encountered your company. They may have seen omnichannel ads, viewed a product demo at an event, or experienced a free trial of your product.

We use the challenger sales model because prospects come in with research and lots of knowledge. They may already be halfway through the sales cycle, and our role is to answer their top-of-mind questions.

Jordan Goodwin, Director of Sales, North America

What does this mean? Sales needs to know about your product in detail and quickly understand how features can deliver value for a specific prospect. An AE also needs to leverage product usage data, and its context, to offer demos that feel bespoke to the audience — something that only a human interaction can provide. 

Most PLG businesses don’t just allow self-serve for enterprise plans. You typically have to go down the contact sales path. Almost 58% of respondents in our benchmark survey require you to contact sales for an enterprise plan.

Alexa Grabell, Co-Founder & CEO

In this chapter, you’ll learn how to leverage prospect context and transform it into a piece of buyer-centric storytelling that effortlessly wins more customers.

5 research steps for building solid sales presentations

1. Start with the why

Before you build your slides, you need to be clear on the why for the person you’re selling to. Why does your prospect have a problem, and how does it impact their work or business? Why are they talking to you now?

Part of the why may be answered by how prospects come into your sales funnel. For example, is your team picking up marketing qualified leads (MQLs) based on a pricing page visit or guide download? Their interaction is a first indication of their top-of-mind considerations. 

You may also get insights about the customer profile from other departments, such as user research or lifecycle marketing. An effective sales pitch must be informed by learning — not assuming — why a prospect is looking for solutions.

2. Map your buyer’s journey

Next, you need to identify where your prospect is in the buyer journey. Are they at the awareness, consideration, or decision stage? Sales teams often engage a prospect or lead at these stages:

  • Discovery: When an AE actively reaches out to a prospect to learn about their needs
  • Book a demo: When a prospect actively reaches out to an AE to find out more about the product
  • Activated user: When an AE’s role is to build contract value from an existing user or account

The best sales teams help a prospect along their journey. A Harvard Business Review study found that suppliers who make buying easy are 62% more likely than others to win a high-quality sale (when a customer pays for a premium offering). This means that sales professionals need to think beyond deal size and factor in both customer experience and customer success.

Everything that you do to make your presentation more polished, more structured and organized, gives your audience a feel for what your company can deliver in a partnership.

Megan Loveridge, Vice President of Global Sales

When your sales team is clear on how their first interaction with a prospect fits in the whole buyer journey, they can tailor their sales presentations accordingly. Now, it's time to figure out who to focus on.

3. Segment your buyers from your leads 

Distinguishing between cooler leads and immediate prospective buyers will convert wasted calls into fruitful meetings. Identifying who is ready, willing, and able to pay for a solution is key to building an effective, scalable, and replicable sales process. At a basic level, you need to distinguish between these two types of prospects: 

  • Lead: Fits the ideal customer profile (ICP), but there is no obvious intent to buy
  • Prospective buyer: Knows they have a problem, wants to solve it, and is willing to pay for a solution

Some sales teams may qualify a prospect during a discovery call. Others may instead wait for a trigger event, such as a user inviting a team member. Once your team can confidently identify prospective buyers, you can create relevant sales pitches that speak to those customer profiles. Next, it’s time to think through how to develop your buyer story.

The big difference between a lead or prospect and an actual buyer is intent — a willingness to change, a clear problem you want to fix, and some idea of the impact fixing that problem will lead to.

Belal Batrawy, Head of GTM

4. Find your buyer story

The difference between a mediocre and great sales pitch is relevance. According to a Harvard Business School study, 95% of purchasing decisions take place in the subconscious mind, meaning they’re driven by feelings, not rational decisions. By the end of your sales presentation, does your prospect feel heard? By presenting a buyer's story that resonates, sales teams build trust with prospects.

We’ll outline some ways you can understand your buyers better in the next section of this chapter. After you’ve understood where your prospects are coming from, the next step is to drill down on their pain points and how they can be solved.

5. Identify customer pain points and resolutions

An effective sales presentation builds a narrative around a prospect’s pain point. It’s what drives them on this quest for a solution — turns them into a protagonist. 

Your buyer has a job-to-be-done. Their resolution is getting that job done. A great sales presentation identifies the quest and what success looks like. 

Ideally, the paid version of your product or feature helps a prospect get to where they need to go. But don’t force-fit a solution. A compelling pitch uses an authentic story about how a prospect can achieve success with the tools you’re offering.

Before diving into building your deck, let's look at some ways you can understand your buyers better.

Understanding your buyers better: looking internally

Some of the best sales presentation ideas come from people outside of sales. Successful sales teams today are effectively embedded in and aligned with a wider organization. This section shows how other departments in your company can provide presentation ideas and supporting material for the whole sales cycle.

Customer experience

Customer experience teams always have an ear to the ground. They can provide valuable qualitative customer insights, such as favorite features or common frustrations.

Product

Product teams can provide sales with new features to sell and the background on why the product was developed the way it was.

Marketing

Marketing and sales should work closely together to tighten the sales cycle and attract better leads. Since marketers work on language, tone, and personas, they’re poised to help sales craft a consistent message that stays on-brand. Marketers can also develop or co-develop sales materials.

Leadership

Company leadership is usually immersed in the company’s vision. Borrowing their language and positioning can help your sales team align sales deck materials. 

Revenue

Your revenue team may also be a source of insights. They can tell you whether any customers have made a self-serve upgrade or how payments are processed.

Reaching out to internal teams can provide you with game-changing data and yield inspired sales presentation ideas. Use the information as the basis for your product storytelling, and you’ll be on your way to a winning sales presentation.

How to understand your buyers better: looking externally

Don't be shy about getting inspiration from existing customers. After all, they're the ones using and paying for your product all the time — they know it best! They’ve already lived the success story you want to share with prospects, and they hold the raw material you can use to build a story that sells.

Identify where you can reach customers. To do this, leverage user research, marketing, and customer success teams. Here are a few ways to get started.

Pulse surveys 

Quick questions help validate a hypothesis on customer sentiment around your overall product, new feature, or particular interaction. This provides your sales decks with data.

Open-ended surveys 

Open-ended surveys are more qualitative, but they can provide details that help give your story a human touch. For example, you might get a testimonial or extract common words that happy customers use to describe their product experience.

Email

Email is another survey distribution channel. Try running an NPS survey with an option for customers to share more feedback.

Focus groups 

Get customers on a video call, or even meet in person. Use structured talking points to gather qualitative input. 

Customer success and community managers

Your customer success teams or community managers are usually in direct communication with your biggest clients. Enlist their help to book individual interviews or quick feedback via community channels such as customer Slack groups.

SaaS platform review sites 

Third-party review platforms like Capterra or G2 are great for researching customer pain points and product frustrations. Reflecting customer language from reviews can help you frame your sales storyline.

Working with other departments is the best way to gather the necessary information for your sales decks, and it ensures you’re not duplicating work. Now that you’ve shaped your customer story with concrete examples from real people, it’s time to put all the material you’ve gathered into a storytelling framework that sells.

5 steps to rewriting the hero's journey for sales

Your sales deck presents the most important story your team will tell. The best way to approach making a deck is to use a storytelling structure with timeless appeal: the hero's journey.

The storytelling for your sales pitch can be broken down into five stages that follow the hero’s journey. These stages provide a clear structure for your slides.

1. Departing from the status quo

The story begins when the hero (your prospect) realizes they’re unhappy with the status quo. Use this section to acknowledge your prospect’s pain points and explain how their current way of doing the job no longer serves them. The goal is to highlight what’s not working — and convince your prospect that they need to make a change. 

2. Battling the refusal of the call 

Next, describe the challenge a buyer faces in creating the desired change. This section is not about addressing sales objections. Fight the urge to dive into your product’s benefits, and instead address your audience’s hesitations to make a change. These hurdles may include their own doubts as well as challenges in convincing their company stakeholders.

3. Showing the supernatural aid

This is where you introduce your product and talk about how it can help a prospect accomplish their goals. Be careful not to focus on your product’s features here. Instead, give your audience a sense of what the features will achieve for them — the everyday value. 

4. Crossing the threshold

This section overlaps with the previous section. Show your audience how they can navigate toward their desired goal, and provide them a personalized roadmap to success.

5. Unveiling the path to success

Add depth to your story by addressing the twists and turns. Once your prospect crosses the point of no return (deciding to switch to your product), what challenges might they encounter? Draw a clear path toward success with initial onboarding tips and a timeline that includes your premium or enterprise features down the road.

Data sources to support key points

Many sales presentations transform into impactful stories thanks to data. 

A good sales pitch uses data to substantiate its claims. The data could be your performance benchmarks compared with other companies in the same industry. It could also be social proof. Some presentations use bullet points to list stats or key findings. Other stories are best told with charts and graphs. 

As with the other parts of your storytelling, focus only on data points that help prospects understand your product’s real-world applications and business impact.

How should a sales presentation story end?

For sales, a great presentation does not end with the final slide — it should resonate with your target audience long after it has been delivered.

Of course, contact information right at the end is an essential reference. However, a successful pitch culminates by building sales momentum. A potential customer should understand the exact steps needed to convince decision makers and stakeholders in their company. 

Free sales presentation templates

Now that you have a good understanding of how to gather information and structure your sales presentation, it’s time to build your story. With professionally designed templates, you can add your brand assets and visuals to create a tailored sales deck in minutes. When you’re ready, you can share your slides with a link, invite collaborators into your workspace, and assign individuals to slides.

Interview: Curtis Townshend from OpenView

How should someone in sales think about their role today as opposed to 20 years ago?

Curtis: You're there more as a customer success person rather than a traditional sales rep. Take developers or millennials — they generally don't want to have to talk to somebody to get what they need. Make sure you're to the point, and help them in a way that enables them to continue their journey.

What are key parts of the buyer journey that sales today should think about?

Curtis: Traditional enterprise sales had multiple stages before a prospect could touch the product. Both sides used to do all this work to figure out if something was a good fit. In a product-led growth (PLG) business — purely from the user’s perspective — they discover the product, try it, and begin to understand the value of the product (often called activation) before their first conversation with sales. 

Even in a PLG world, sales has an important role to play. Today, sales teams often begin to add value when multiple users at a company have started to adopt the product. At this point, sales reps can help by showing customers who have already adopted the product how they can get more value out of it.

What should a sales presentation include?

Curtis: The first thing is to remove traditional sales approaches and slides — the ones trying to understand your prospect's timeline, their budget, and the decision makers. Those aren’t the types of conversation that you should be having at first. Replace those slides with in-depth ones that show a prospect how they’re using the product well and where they can get more value.

What’s a common pitfall in product-led sales and a mindset shift for sales teams to convert?

Curtis: One of them is thinking that product-led growth and sales do not mix. That’s not necessarily the case, but the role has shifted. Sales teams today also have so much context on the customer, and they need to leverage it. Often this can require a true cross-functional effort to expose the right data at the right time to sales. But at the end of the day, great sales reps are the ones leveraging that information.

Another common pitfall for sales teams is trying to force a conversation. Instead, sales teams should focus on making it easy for prospects to reach out. Allow people to reach out on their own schedules.

What makes a good sales presentation?

Curtis: Every company playbook is different. When you should reach out to customers changes based on the company and the product you’re selling. A great sales presentation begins with knowing what each specific customer needs and when they need it. 

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