9 Strategies for Building an Amazing Sales Deck

Keep it simple and focused on the customer.
Brian Nordli
August 31, 2020
Updated: September 2, 2020
Brian Nordli
August 31, 2020
Updated: September 2, 2020

When Mintel Americas President Ben Dietz prepares a sales pitch deck for customers today, he knows he has about five slides to get his message across. Any longer than that, and he’s lost the buyer’s attention — and their business.

It’s an adjustment Dietz has had to make as more buyers work from home due to COVID-19, and the patience for a lengthy virtual presentation has dwindled.

But the days of lengthy, detailed pitch decks have long been over, he said. The pandemic has simply accelerated the trend.

“All we want is a next step out of that conversation.”

Most companies incorporate four or five stakeholders before making a purchasing decision. The goal is to elicit a fear of missing out for the customer and set the stage for another meeting.

Dietz sales deck
Ben dietz, Mintel.

“All we want is a next step out of that conversation,” Dietz said. “We want that person to agree there’s something here, let’s bring in a bigger group meeting.”

An effective pitch deck today should still include visuals, key data points and customer use cases, but it should serve primarily as a backdrop to the salesperson’s pitch.

We spoke with Dietz, Duarte Director of Sales Strategy Dave DeFranco and BurstIQ CEO and Founder Frank Ricotta about how to build an effective sales pitch deck tailored to earn that next meeting.

9 Tips For Building an Effective Sales Deck

  • Tailor the pitch deck to the customer.
  • Place the buyer at the center of the story.
  • Keep the deck to no more than 12 slides.  
  • Limit the information to one idea per slide.
  • Use visuals to convey emotions and tell a story.
  • Builds and text formatting can help highlight key points.
  • Only include relevant customer use cases.
  • Update the pitch deck as the company grows.
  • Create custom slides for customers.

 

creating sales deck
Image; Shutterstock

How to Structure a Sales Pitch Deck

Tailor the Pitch Deck to the Customer

Every effective sales pitch deck starts from a solid foundation of customer research. It doesn’t matter how crisp the slides look or how evocative the brand story is — the customer’s eyes will glaze over if the slides aren’t immediately relevant to them and their needs.

DeFranco sales deck
Dave DeFranco, Duarte.

“All of that context that you might have about who they are and the reason for your meeting should be the genesis of how you look at your sales presentation,” DeFranco said.

As director of sales strategy at Duarte, DeFranco consults with clients to help them craft their messaging and figure out how to present it.

In order to start building a pitch deck, a salesperson needs to be able to answer a few basic questions about the customer, he said. They should understand the company’s mission, who its core competitors are, what issues it is facing in the industry and what issues are most relevant to the point of contact.

“All of that context that you might have about who they are and the reason for your meeting should be the genesis of how you look at your sales presentation.”

They can gather that information from the company website, blogs and any thought leadership the point of contact may have participated in.

It’s also important to take the context of the meeting into account. Does the customer have an existing relationship with you? Are they looking to buy or just gather information?

The answers to all of those questions help ensure that the presentation gets right to the heart of the customer’s issue and makes the case for why the product is relevant to them. Even if a company uses a main pitch deck, customer research can inform what use-cases to include, what slides are irrelevant and even what story to tell in the pitch.

 

Structure the Pitch Deck as a Story

Building a sales pitch deck is like structuring a story with the customer as its protagonist. Each slide should build off what came before to help a customer learn more about the product and why they would want it.

When outlining a presentation, DeFranco said, the best place to start is with an objective slide that clearly states the outcome you want from the presentation, whether that’s another meeting or a technical evaluation.

“If you put that up front, you’ll know whether the audience or buyer is aligned with that being the next step,” DeFranco said.

From there, the early slides should focus on the customer, not your company or product. Often, salespeople make the mistake of trying to build credibility through their companies’ valuations or product strategies, DeFranco said. Since buyers conduct most of their research online and already have that information, doing so will only cause them to tune out.

The slides should present specific challenges the customer has spoken about in discovery. That sets the stage to discuss how the product approaches those problems, why it can solve it better than competitors and then proof points that tie the value of the product with the results the customer desires.

The last slide should be reserved for a return to the call to action and next steps. By structuring the presentation that way, the salesperson takes the buyer on a journey relevant to them — and there’s a clear decision to follow.

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Keep It Simple (and Short)

When it comes to length, a helpful rule of thumb is to prioritize simplicity over anything else.

The biggest mistake DeFranco sees salespeople make is to try to cram 100 slides worth of information into 10 slides because that’s how long they think a sales pitch deck should be. For all he cares, a pitch deck can be 100 slides — as long as each one isn’t crammed with information.

“You don’t have the time and luxury to create a real detailed pitch deck.”

Ricotta sales deck
Frank Ricotta, BurstIQ.

Ricotta, who’s the CEO and founder of the blockchain-enabled health data platform BurstIQ, agrees that the slides need to be simple, but he suggests aiming for no more than eight to 12 slides. The pitch deck needs to be the purest distillation of the salesperson’s pitch.

“It’s getting down to: What problem are you solving? What’s the impact on their business? What’s your secret? Why should they pick you? And are you a credible team?” Ricotta said. “You should be able to convey those messages in eight to 12 slides.”

For virtual pitches, Dietz suggests limiting the presentation to five slides and spending no more than a minute or two on each one.

“You don’t have the time and luxury to create a real detailed pitch deck,” Dietz said. “It’s: ‘What do you know about me?’ Then, in a few minutes, ‘I’m out.’”

 

Slide Design Tips and Tricks

Limit Each Slide to One Idea and One Line of Text

Building on the theme of simplicity, DeFranco believes sales reps should include no more than one idea per slide.

When there’s too much information on a slide, it takes the attention away from the salesperson and puts the focus on the presentation. Instead, the visuals and information should operate more like a backdrop and a supplement to the conversation.

Still, it can be difficult to figure out what information to include and what to exclude from a slide. After all, Mark Twain is famous for his quote suggesting that he could write a 30-page story in three days, but a three-page story would take him a month.

To that end, Dietz encourages reps to think about what information they want to discuss in a slide and distilling it down to a three- to five-word headline. This helps to convey the theme and allows the rep to drive the points home in conversation.

Ultimately, the slide shouldn’t stand on its own, Dietz said. If a customer would prefer to just read the slides, odds are, they aren’t interested in a deal.

 

Use Abstract Images to Generate Conversation

When Ricotta builds his slides, he skews toward more abstract visuals and text than detailed flow charts or bulleted lists. As a blockchain company, BurstIQ’s message is focused on creating connections with information and how that can change business processes in medical care.

To tell that story, he might use an icon of a doctor, a hospital, an exercise bike and a lab that are all connected. In keeping the visuals abstract, it allows the customer to project themselves into that situation, and for Ricotta to ask questions and adapt the story he’s telling based on what resonates most with the customer.

“The purpose of a slide is to engage the person you’re pitching to in conversation.”

When slides are too detailed and specific, there’s less flexibility to have a conversation and engage with the customer.

“The purpose of a slide is to engage the person you’re pitching to in conversation,” Ricotta said. “You want to get them talking more, to the point where you’re listening more than you’re actually talking.”

 

Be Specific About Which Logos You Include

Most buyers don’t care about company stories or customer logos anymore, Dietz said. Spending time on a logo slide — even one that features major names like, Microsoft, IBM or Slack — won’t do much to convince a smaller company that you’re the right product for them.

Instead, the best way a salesperson can build credibility through customer use-cases is to be hyper-specific about which ones they include. If the rep is selling to a local bank in Cincinnati,  they should have examples of how the company has helped their competitors or other firms in the area, Dietz said.

Ultimately, those examples help the customer relate to the solution they are being sold, and it signals that the seller has done their homework on the customer. That’s what builds credibility, Dietz said.

 

BurstIQ sample slide sales deck
BurstIQ sample slide representing how to use text formatting to direct attention. | Image: BurstIQ 

Use Builds and Text Formatting to Direct the Buyer’s Attention

Sometimes the best way to convey information about the product or service is through a complicated flow chart. However, presenting all of that information at once on a slide is a quick way to lose the customer.

One of the easiest ways to make the chart engaging and simple to navigate is to show one section of the chart at a time, DeFranco said. The salesperson can do this all on one slide. All they need to do is format each section to appear and then either gray out or fade away when they’re ready to discuss the next section.

In doing so, the rep can methodically walk the customer through the flow chart so that they understand what it represents when they see the full scale.

This strategy can also work with data and text. Bar graphs can be an effective way to present information, but it’s still on the rep to visually highlight the information they want the buyer to focus on.

For text, Ricotta likes to bold key words he wants the customer to home in on. It’s a simple trick, but it can help him get his message across without requiring the buyer to read all of the information on the slide.

 

Find Visuals That Convey an Emotion

The first image Dietz uses in his sales presentation is a boat sailing straight ahead under clear skies. The next slide features that same ship enveloped in fog, lost at sea and uncertain where to go. The final image is that of a beacon. The high-resolution visuals often take up most of the screen.

Dietz admits that it’s a cheesy analogy, but those photos help him evoke an emotion in the customer and hammer home his point. The point in this case is that the world is changing every day due to COVID-19, but that Mintel and its data can serve as a beacon or guide for the customer.

“The images allow us to bring someone through a story with us,” Dietz said.

A company doesn’t need a marketing team or a deep marketing budget to put together engaging visuals, either. Free photography and illustrations from websites like Unsplash are just as effective as anything the marketing team might provide, Dietz said.

As long as the visuals evoke an emotion and tell a story, they will work, he added.

 

presentation sales deck
Image: Shutterstock

Maintaining a Pitch Deck

Update Your Deck Frequently

When Ricotta built his earliest sales pitch decks for BurstIQ in 2015, he included slides that shared his personal story about healthcare data and a detailed explanation of what blockchain was.

At the time, blockchain was new to the healthcare industry, and most prospective customers didn’t understand what it involved. They needed a personal story and a detailed explanation to understand the product he was selling. That information would be redundant in his slides today, Ricotta said.

His buyers now know what blockchain is, and he has other customer use-cases to rely on that are more effective in building credibility, he said.

A pitch deck is far from a static resource. It needs to evolve with the company and its customer base, Ricotta said. While the deck should be continuously tweaked to reflect feedback from customers, there are a few benchmarks that a sales leader should consider when revamping the pitch deck.

In the early stages, the deck should spend more time selling the vision of the company. The slides will be more consultative and evolve with each customer. After the company gains some customers, the sales leader will update the deck to shape and adapt the messaging to the customer base.

The sales leader should continue to tweak and adapt the core slides until they get into a groove and sell more consistently. At that point, the company is in a growth stage and should have a deck of core slides that it can repeat with each customer.

 

Create Custom Pitch Deck Presets for Primary Buyers

For larger teams, it may be helpful to use a main deck to create a unified sales approach. Still, that doesn’t mean the salesperson should use the same slides for every customer DeFranco said. For reps with less room to build their own presentations, DeFranco suggests creating custom decks that are arranged to meet the needs of their most common buyer personas.

Using the 80-20 rule, a rep should be able to figure out who the majority of their buyers are and create preset presentations. If they spend 80 percent of their time selling to pharmaceutical companies and CIOs, then the salesperson should rearrange the slides so that it meets their needs.

“If [a sales rep] could just take the time to do that, I think they’d be much more satisfied with the outcome,” DeFranco said. “Because the closer you get to the audience, the easier it’s going to be to move them to act.”

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