Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

Waterboarding Clients with PowerPoint? Try Whiteboarding Your Story

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Aug 30, 2011

I don't condone torture, nor do I consider Waterboarding an acceptable treatment for detainees of any race or religion.

If you want to read more about Waterboarding, please follow this link, or if you feel strongly about the ill-treatment of foreign prisoners in US custody click on this link, as the rest of this story is about the misuse of PowerPoint by sales, marketing and technical people in front of innocent audiences.

Having to sit through bad PowerPoint presentations can seem like a mild form of torture for the audience, inflicted usually by a sales or marketing person under the guise of presenting a solution or informing the prospective client in more detail, the worth of your offerings.

I was at the recent Marketing conference in San Francisco, attended by high caliber marketing professionals and saw a lot of bad PowerPoint presentations delivered by marketing executives. Presumably the excuse for the poor presentation being, I didn't have time to create a stunning presentation for this one-off industry event, so I created this one on the plane on the way over, anyway they were peers not prospects in the audience. What constitutes a bad PowerPoint presentation?….many factors, I like Seth Godin's take on really bad PowerPoint, but let's agree that you know you are in one when it's happening.

PowerPoint is a great presenters tool, but terrible for the audience unless handled with great care, preparation and rehearsal, yet we still do PowerPoint to our peers and ourselves, laboring lengthy, bullet-laden, text heavy and product-centric rants that fast become boring and invoke deep smart phone trances.

What’s wrong with a Product Presentation?

Product presentations have been carried forward as part of a marketing and sales culture that pre-dates the Internet.  Up until about 15 years ago, buyers would invite sales people in to hear about capabilities of new products and technologies, because they had problems to solve and the salesperson, brochures and slide presentations were the medium for the message.

Today the concept of the product presentation as part of the sales process is obsolete, yet it’s alive and thriving in its post-Internet form in millions of PowerPoint presentations. Buyers no longer need or want product presentations because they can find out all they need to know about your product and how it's rated with couple of mouse clicks.
The reality is that nobody cares about your products or services - except you, and maybe your colleagues. People really care about getting their needs met, solving their business problems and achieving their goals.

The Purpose of a Sales Presentation

What are you trying to achieve with your presentation?
If you are in sales, I'll give you my definition. "The purpose of a sales presentation is to have the audience interact with both the presenter and the material to engage, transform and activate the audience to create change."

Why Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling is as old as our civilization and cave-man drawings are our link with pre-history. Simple images, coupled with a story that engages the buyer in conversation and creates a fabric of understanding are an order of magnitude more effective than the average PowerPoint product presentation.

Using Whiteboarding for Discovery and Storytelling

The best presentations are conversations and the best way to start a conversation is in a discussion around issues affecting the buyer.  Using a whiteboard is a wonderful way to capture the elements of that conversation, to document the trends and issues affecting the buyer and capture the challenges facing the buyer in achieving their goals. A whiteboard is also an excellent tool for opening a discussion with an opinion about the buyer condition to provoke a response and engagement.
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Having established the buyer condition and the need for your product or service you can tell your story using simple images on the whiteboard, adding relevant facts, proof points and all the while confirming with the buyer that your story is relevant and your capabilities are of value. If during the discovery process you learn that the buyer does not have a condition that you can help solve, then it will be a short meeting and you won't deliver your story.

Which meeting would you prefer to be in as a buyer? The PowerPoint whipping or the whiteboard conversation?
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Topics: value proposition, whiteboardselling, powerpoint

Avoid these 5 Pitfalls for Effective Whiteboard Sales Presentations

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Aug 02, 2011

Give any 2 year old a set of whiteboard markers and a whiteboard and you have a budding artist and whiteboarding fan. Give a pre-sales engineer the same opportunity in front of a customer and a similar thing happens. There is no fear.

What happens when you give a salesperson the same opportunity?

Typically nothing - unless salespeople have been trained and are practiced in delivering the whiteboard....they will be more comfortable with PowerPoint and will default to this method of presentation...why? - because regardless of how bad the PowerPoint is, they can let the slides do the talking.

This article is not about PowerPoint, but if you would like, here is a link to access some best practices PowerPoint resources.

This article is prompted by a comment made on a blog by David Baga, VP Sales at

"In my last firm we had to learn a number of whiteboards. But the way they were going about it was totally wrong. We were trained to stand and deliver the whiteboard in a virtual replacement of the Powerpoint. There was no interactivity and when we were done drawing out the whiteboard and reciting the script we asked questions."

I'm keen to set some ground-rules for effective visual storytelling that sellers and marketers can use for better outcomes. As a primer for this conversation, I recommend you view the Visual Storytelling Webinar

Whiteboard Mistakes that Will Hurt You

1. Reproducing a PowerPoint Presentation rote on a whiteboard.

Bad Whiteboard presentations are just as bad as bad PowerPoint presentations. A lot of B2B companies I have worked with over the past 7 years as a consultant are strongly product focused. You know you're in for a PowerPoint product whipping when the first few slides follow this traditional form.
Slide 1. Opening Slide - Welcome
Slide 2. Agenda
Slide 3. About Us
Slide 4. Key Customers
Slide 5. Partners
Slide 6. Awards
Slide 7. Solution/Product Overview
I dont care how sexy the graphics far its all about you. At this point I haven't been engaged, except maybe for the salesperson asking my goals for the presentation....I'm already bored, I could have gotten all of this stuff off the Web and I don't have time to sit through a product rant.

Why then would you want to reproduce this structure in a whiteboard? The purpose of a whiteboard is to engage the buyer in conversation and discover their issues that are relevant, it's not a one-way product pitch.

I also dislike the word pitch as it harks back to the era of carnival touts. If the buyer has issues that your product or service will solve, then these will surface during the whiteboard discussion and you will have the opportunity to introduce how your products could be used to solve the problem in context.

Tip: Start the whiteboard session around your buyer, not you or your products. Use a brief positioning statement to establish your credibility and immediately engage the buyer in conversation.

2. Not having a story

It's OK for a pre-sales engineer to get up and draw out a few concepts on a whiteboard, but many salespeople will be reluctant to get up and whiteboard without a story.
  • Whiteboarding is a skill that needs to be practiced....just writing on the whiteboard and speaking at the same time takes practice. Drawing and layout takes practice. Learning the script takes practice
  • A whiteboard consists of a visual confection and a narrative and it takes process and intellectual effort to capture the essence of your value proposition and create a story around likely buyer issues.
  • We use a variation of the Hero's Journey to explore the buyer's current state, or "what is" and the challenges presented through not taking action. We introduce the future state, "what could be" around how others use our products, with proof-points and a call to action for the buyer to change.
  • Whiteboard presenters need to learn the script, know the script, then forget the script, once they have it under their skin.
  • Knowing both the story and the whiteboard enables salespeople to focus 100% on the buyer instead of worrying about what to say and what goes where on the whiteboard and in what color.

3. Talking too much - not asking enough questions

Running off at the mouth is a problem for novice whiteboard presenters as well as salespeople in general. We have learned the story and can't wait to tell it.

The way we develop a whiteboard is in a modular fashion with a clump of text and images to relate a concept that we call a module.

RULE 1: Whiteboarding is a totally interactive interchange with the buyer and if you are not asking discovery questions when you transition from one module to another, you are missing a major opportunity...similarly asking the buyer for feedback when you have presented a module will help you qualify interest.

Rule 2: If you become aware that you are doing a lot of talking, ask a question.

Tip: When you are whiteboarding you are doing discovery at every step in the process. If you are introducing an important concept or transitioning to a new module, get objective information by asking the following questions, which consultants call the "E's and the I's".
i. How Important is you and your business. How do you do it today?
ii. Assuming the buyer responds that it is important, follow-up with, On a scale of 1-10, 1 being terrible, 10 couldn't be better, how Effective would you say you are at .......?
iii. Rarely will the buyer answer a 9 or 10 to this question, which provides a golden opportunity to ask "What you like to be", "How much is it costing you to live with a 6?", etc.

4. Finding out what the likely outcome of a successful whiteboard will be, prior to starting.

This is so obvious, yet so few sales people ask this question. A buyer's typical response to this question is, "I'll have to discuss it with my boss, team, etc".

Unless you like giving multiple presentations, a good response from the salesperson to this answer is "I know you're really busy and so am I, so does it make sense that we ask your boss/other stakeholders to join our presentation so that we can decide if it makes sense to work together?

5. Not understanding their objectives and checking how much time you have.

Getting the buyers objectives onto the Whiteboard at the outset is a best practice and allows you to figure out what points to emphasize, also to tell the buyer what you are not going to cover.

It also allows you to go back over their objectives at the end of the presentation and place a check mark alongside the ones you achieved and an opportunity to discus what they did not achieve.

Rule: I ask this question at the outset of every call. "you've had some time to think about our meeting today and I wonder if you could share with me any top of mind thoughts and what you would like to achieve from today's session."  follow this up with, "We are scheduled for one hour, are we still OK for this?"

When we know the Whiteboard visual story and the script, we can
start the whiteboard anywhere, focus where the buyer is interested and we don't have to finish it....unlike PowerPoint which follows a sequential structure.

Proof Point: I had a critical 30 minute Whiteboarding demo. session set up with a SVP of a major information services company and in anticipation a problem, I invested my time in advance of the meeting to create a draft whiteboard of the buyers situation and potential story.

It so happened that we couldn't get the video conference working and with 10 minutes left, I created a .pdf of the Paper-Show whiteboard and emailed it to the buyer. He popped open the whiteboard .pdf and I was able to take him through the structure and flow of the story in a couple of minutes....which led to another meeting and we are in discussion on doing business together.

Rule: If you are presenting a whiteboard over the Internet and it's a super important meeting, use a visual confection. A completed Whiteboard is a visual confection and contains a superset of information; it's a  powerful visual and possible to explain it and completely comprehend it in a matter of minutes.

 Boring PowerPoint Sucks - learn Visual Storytelling

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Topics: value proposition, whiteboardselling, powerpoint

A Guide to Engaging Sales Presentations - Do not use PowerPoint

Posted by Mark Gibson on Sun, Feb 13, 2011

On Wednesday last week, I had the pleasure of sitting in a one day course entitled "Presenting Data and Information" presented by Prof. Edward Tufte.

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Topics: powerpoint, visual storytelling, edward tufte

Creating True Differentiaton in a World of Crappy PowerPoint

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Jan 04, 2011

For the past 7 years I've been helping companies selling high value software or services to uncover their compelling value proposition and to create a positioning and brand messaging architecture in the process of aligning sales and marketing messaging.
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Topics: whiteboard selling, powerpoint

Whiteboard Selling Trumps Powerpoint for Sales Enablement

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Dec 09, 2010

Death by PowerPoint is a familiar a phrase that I am sure every reader of this blog has both heard and experienced...well near-death anyway. If you are interested in PowerPoint best practices you can read a blog I wrote earlier this year.

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Topics: whiteboard selling, powerpoint, whiteboard enablement training

Resources for Creating Engaging Powerpoint Sales Presentations

Posted by Mark Gibson on Wed, Jul 28, 2010

In May this year I posted an article entitled "A Guide to creating engaging Powerpoint Sales Presentations"

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Topics: messaging value, 4-mat, powerpoint

A Guide to Creating Engaging Powerpoint Sales Presentations

Posted by Mark Gibson on Wed, May 05, 2010

Recently I posted a question on a LinkedIn forum eliciting ideas for best-practices in PowerPoint presentations for an upcoming client project.

This was as a result of reading Seth Godin's blog-post on "PowerPoint makes us stupid - these bullets can kill", which led to an older post entitled Really Bad PowerPoint.

I didn't get much of a response to my request for ideas on PowerPoint best-practices, so I did some research of my own and came up with my own idea of what a best practices PowerPoint sales presentation should look like.

The following ideas combine to form the structure of my best-practices PowerPoint sales presentation and if you like it, please leave a comment and share it with friends. If you dont like it, I'm interested in why not.

1. I used MindManager from Mindjet to create the mind-map and story-board and highly recommend this extremely useful tool to create new ideas either individually or collaboratively.
2. I used the 4-MAT system developed by Bernice McCarthy for presenting the information in a way that is proven to create understanding for all learning preferences.
  • 4-MAT is powerful for conveying new ideas in training, presentation environments and in teaching all ages and we use it to present our Selling in the Internet Age training and ELearning materials
  • If you are not using 4-MAT for your presentations, then I recommend you investigate this method. (If you find anything better, please leave a comment)
  • 4-Mat answers the How, When Why and What-if questions in a logical order to engage, inform, extend and refine conceptual understanding.
3. The presentation uses the Buyer Persona from the Buyer Relevant Messaging and Messaging Architecture to engage the buyer around their issues. This creates PowerPoint sales presentations consistent with the Website message and with the conversations sales people are having with buyers.

4. The salesperson expresses an opinion very early in the I.M.P.A.C.T buying cycle to initiate the buyer-seller engagement and create opportunity in a Value-created Selling (consultative selling) approach. 

5. In this approach we do not present the relevant product features and capabilities of our solution until we have created emotional engagement. 

6. If you can't tell your story in under 20 slides then you have work to do to create clarity and distill your message. Try to remember slides are visual aids, not a crutch; we are not training, we are selling. It's up to the presenter to know the script and to bring the images and story to life. A great presenter engages the buyer emotionally at the outset through expressing an informed opinion and asking questions and brings them on the journey as you relate your solution.

7. Remember Seth's rules, pictures convey emotions and engage the imagination, bullets can kill.

8. Finally, can you present without using Powerpoint, using a flip-chart, visual confection, the back of a napkin or some other presentation medium or tools suggested in the comments below. 

Webinar - Do Your PowerPoint Sales Presentations Suck?
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Topics: messaging value, 4-mat, powerpoint

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