6 months ago
I've Never Seen a Sales Deck This Good
It’s Zuora’s, and it’s brilliant. Here’s why.
My friend Tim got a sales position at a Series-C software company that garnered $60 million from A-list investors. He's one of the best salespeople I know, yet he emailed me after starting to struggle.
Tim has a few modest clients. “Big companies ignore my pitch”. Tim said.
I love helping teams write the strategic story that drives sales, marketing, and fundraising. Tim and I had lunch at Amber India on Market Street to evaluate his deck.
After a feast, I asked Tim when prospects tune out.
He said, “several slides in”.
Intent on maximizing dining ROI, Tim went back to the buffet for seconds. When he returned, I pulled out my laptop and launched into a Powerpoint presentation.
“What’s this?” Tim asked.
“This,” I said, “is the greatest sales deck I have ever seen.”
Five Essentials of a Great Sales Narrative
I showed Tim a sales slide from IPO-bound Zuora, which sells a SaaS platform for subscription billing. Zuora supports recurring payments (e.g. enterprise software).
Ex-Zuora salesman gave me the deck, saying it helped him close his largest business. (I don't know anyone who works at Zuora.) After reading this, a few Zuora employees contacted me.)
Tim abandoned his naan in a pool of goat curry and took notes while we discussed the Zuora deck.
We remarked how well the deck led prospects through five elements:
(The ex-Zuora salesperson begged me not to release the Zuora deck publicly.) All of the images below originate from Zuora's website and SlideShare channel.)
#1. Name a Significant Change in the World
Don't start a sales presentation with mentioning your product, headquarters, investors, clients, or yourself.
Name the world shift that raises enormous stakes and urgency for your prospect.
Every Zuora sales deck begins with this slide:
Zuora coined the term subscription economy to describe a new market where purchasers prefer regular service payments over outright purchases. Zuora then shows a slide with the change's history.
Most pitch recommendation advises starting with the problem. When you claim a problem, you put prospects on the defensive. They may be unaware of or uncomfortable admitting the situation.
When you highlight a global trend, prospects open up about how it affects them, worries them, and where they see opportunity. You capture their interest. Robert McKee says:
…what attracts human attention is change. …if the temperature around you changes, if the phone rings — that gets your attention. The way in which a story begins is a starting event that creates a moment of change.
#2. Show There’ll Be Winners and Losers
Loss aversion affects all prospects. They avoid a loss by sticking with the status quo rather than risking a gain by changing.
To fight loss aversion, show how the change will create winners and losers. You must show both
that if the prospect can adjust to the modification you mentioned, the outcome will probably be quite favorable; and
That failing to do so is likely to have an unacceptable negative impact on the prospect's future
Zuora shows a mass extinction among Fortune 500 firms.
…and then showing how the “winners” have shifted from product ownership to subscription services. Those include upstarts…
…as well as rejuvenated incumbents:
To illustrate, Zuora asks:
Winners utilize Zuora's subscription service models.
#3. Tease the Promised Land
It's tempting to get into product or service details now. Resist that urge.
Prospects won't understand why product/service details are crucial if you introduce them too soon, therefore they'll tune out.
Instead, providing a teaser image of the happily-ever-after your product/service will assist the prospect reach.
Your Promised Land should be appealing and hard to achieve without support. Otherwise, why does your company exist?
Zuora shows this Promised Land slide after explaining that the subscription economy will have winners and losers.
Not your product or service, but a new future state.
(I asked my friend Tim to describe his Promised Land, and he answered, "You’ll have the most innovative platform for ____." Nope: the Promised Land isn't possessing your technology, but living with it.)
Your Promised Land helps prospects market your solution to coworkers after your sales meeting. Your coworkers will wonder what you do without you. Your prospects are more likely to provide a persuasive answer with a captivating Promised Land.
#4. Present Features as “Mystic Gifts” for Overcoming Difficulties on the Road to the Promised Land
Successful sales decks follow the same format as epic films and fairy tales. Obi Wan gives Luke a lightsaber to help him destroy the Empire. You're Gandalf, helping Frodo destroy the ring. Your prospect is Cinderella, and you're her fairy godmother.
Position your product or service's skills as mystical gifts to aid your main character (prospect) achieve the Promised Land.
Zuora's client record slide is shown above. Without context, even the most technical prospect would be bored.
Positioned in the context of shifting from an “old” to a “new world”, it's the foundation for a compelling conversation with prospects—technical and otherwise—about why traditional solutions can't reach the Promised Land.
#5. Show Proof That You Can Make the Story True.
In this sense, you're promising possibilities that if they follow you, they'll reach the Promised Land.
The journey to the Promised Land is by definition rocky, so prospects are right to be cautious. The final part of the pitch is proof that you can make the story come true.
The most convincing proof is a success story about how you assisted someone comparable to the prospect. Zuora's sales people use a deck of customer success stories, but this one gets the essence.
I particularly appreciate this one from an NCR exec (a Zuora customer), which relates more strongly to Zuora's Promised Land:
Not enough successful customers? Product demos are the next best evidence, but features should always be presented in the context of helping a prospect achieve the Promised Land.
The best sales narrative is one that is told by everyone.
Success rarely comes from a fantastic deck alone. To be effective, salespeople need an organization-wide story about change, Promised Land, and Magic Gifts.
Zuora exemplifies this. If you hear a Zuora executive, including CEO Tien Tzuo, talk, you'll likely hear about the subscription economy and its winners and losers. This is the theme of the company's marketing communications, campaigns, and vision statement.
According to the ex-Zuora salesperson, company-wide story alignment made him successful.
The Zuora marketing folks ran campaigns and branding around this shift to the subscription economy, and [CEO] Tien [Tzuo] talked it up all the time. All of that was like air cover for my in-person sales ground attack. By the time I arrived, prospects were already convinced they had to act. It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to sales nirvana.
The largest deal ever
Tim contacted me three weeks after our lunch to tell me that prospects at large organizations were responding well to his new deck, which we modeled on Zuora's framework. First, prospects revealed their obstacles more quickly. The new pitch engages CFOs and other top gatekeepers better, he said.
A week later, Tim emailed that he'd signed his company's biggest agreement.
Next week, we’re headed back to Amber India to celebrate.