Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

Creating Visual Storytelling Images to Empower Sales Communication

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Nov 08, 2012

The purpose of sales communication is to have the buyer interact with both the sender and the material, to engage around the core issues, transform thinking and activate the buyer to create change.

If your sales letters and proposals look visually boring and are chock-full of features and benefits, and “product-speak” that’s all about you, then it's time to stop sending them and re-assess what you are trying to achieve.

Do the images you use on your Website, in your sales letter, proposals and sales conversations create clarity or confusion and cause the buyer to turn off as they try to unpack the meaning of all the chart junk, drop shadows, text boxes and block arrows?

A picture is worth a thousand words - and it truly is when it comes to communicating your ideas on your Website, in-person, over the Internet and in a sales letters and proposals.


More than 50% of the brain is dedicated to processing information in the visual field. The brain processes images differently than it processes words. Simple images are stored as complete objects, no reconstruction or thought process is required to recognize them or understand their meaning.

Collections of images tell stories in context and pre-date written language, with man’s earliest visual images painted on cave walls at Chauvet Cave in the South of France, some 45,000 years ago. These images give an inkling of the sophistication of the human brain and the power of images alone, to tell a story.

Introducing Visual Confections

According to  Edward Tufte, Visual Confections are  “structures that consist of a multiplicity of image events that illustrate an argument, organize information, show and enforce visual comparisons; they should be transparent, straightforward, obvious, natural, ordinary, conventional…with no need for hesitation or questioning on the part of the viewer.”

When I create a whiteboard story, I am effectively creating a visual confection, consisting of hand drawn images, words and numbers that tell a story, that is ideally meaningful without any explanation.

A day in the life of a Visual Confection used in sales

The exquisite beauty of visual confections is their scalability and adaptability for a multitude of sales and marketing purposes.
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Topics: visual confection, trade-show, tufte, visual storytelling

Engaging with a Whiteboard and Story when You've Got no Time

Posted by Mark Gibson on Wed, Sep 12, 2012

I've only got a couple of minutes

If you are in B2B technology sales on a trade-show floor, you have 20 seconds  to greet a passing visitor, figure out if they have potential and engage them in discussion. The main goal of the trade-show is to have conversations that turn into leads and sales, not to give away coffee mugs or tee-shirts....both can be measured, but only one will turn into revenue.

No time for a Presentation

It's amusing to watch salespeople at Tradeshows drag visitors off the floor and back to the booth to give them the 5 minute introductory pitch. I've done it in the distant past and I've created the crisp introductory slide-deck and I can't help thinking of wild animals dragging prey back to their lair to devour them. 

Scott Santucci, principal analyst at Forrester Research stated in a recent survey, that “88 percent of executive-level buyers believe it’s important that a sales pitch is framed as a conversation, as opposed to a prepared PowerPoint presentation.”  Buyers want effective conversations with intelligent salespeople at Trade-shows, not presentations.

Rule: No presentations at trade-shows, focus on conversations.
If you have a great demo and the product capabilities are enhanced by viewing it on screen then OK, by all means give a demo.

Give me the Big Picture

At a trade-show, you are in a less ideal environment for verbal communication; amplified presentations, music, PA announcements, and nearby conversations, make it challenging to be heard and to clearly understand what the visitor is saying. For that reason I recommend using big-pictures and stories to engage visitors.

Visual Confections

Visual confections are big picture stories - a single image superset of information that include images, text, numbers and an overarching storyline that can quickly help buyers get your big picture and enable them to focus on their areas of interest.

A visual confection is basically a completed whiteboard story and if you are using one at a tradeshow, it should be broad, but specific enough to allow visitors to readily identify with their challenge areas.  The goal is to engage visitors in conversation, uncover their concerns, have your capabilities unfold in the course of conversation, qualify interest and get a meeting.

Visual Confections are Differentiators

Here is a reproduction of the whiteboard visual confection I used in our inbound marketing partner,  Kuno Creative's booth at the recent #Inbound12 conference in Boston. It stood out in front of the booth, no dragging people off the floor, I pitched them where they stood and plenty of people were curious to know what it was. Total investment $64.00 for 3*2 whiteboard, tripod stand, 4 color dry erase marker set.

Visual Confection Trade-Show Best Practices

  1. Use a whiteboard or paper version of your story already laid out....don't attempt to whiteboard in real time at a tradeshow, there simply isn't time.
  2. Triage visitors who come thick and fast in the breaks. Be ready to politely send those looking for a stamp or tee-shirt on their way to the next booth. If you take junk to give-away at your booth, you will have plenty of visitors who want it and lots of noise, - is that what you really want?
  3. Engage visitors with a brief story and establish their role and their interest area...then ask the following question, "what's the biggest problem you are having with....."
  4. If you haven't engaged the visitor and they are not forthcoming with an interest area, then why pitch them? Give them a hand-out and politely send them on their way, or ask them to wait till a few more people show up that are interested and then tell your whiteboard story.
  5. Start your story with your "why I'm here story" that introduces the big picture. Whiteboard storytelling is an opportunity to have the visitor interact with the content and you, the don't have to start at the start or finish the whiteboard.
  6. Go as deep as you need depending on the level of engagement, but you will only have 5 minutes at best, as others will likely show up half-way through.
  7. Check for interest and understanding, ask questions, does this make sense?, would it work for you?
  8. If interested, they will tell you, or if the conversation is lively and there is genuine interest, you could ask, "would it be OK if I contacted you after the event to continue our discussion", or if they are interested, but not the right person, ask "would you mind if I followed up after the show and if you could connect me with the right person in the organization?" This may sound obvious, but getting permission to contact them is important.
  9. Write brief notes on the back of the card that will help you remember them - red hair, loud voice, 50 salespeople, has a problem here....this is very important for follow-up.
  10. I like Mike Bosworth's strategy for tradeshow leads. You put all the business cards of visitors with whom you had a meaningful conversation in one pocket of your jacket, (after you have made notes about your discussion on it) and you put the visitors who dropped in their card for the "prize-draw' in the other. As you leave the show, you put the cards from the prize-draw pocket in the bin and you work the rest.

 Visual Confections that Sell

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Topics: visual confection, whiteboard story, trade-show, visual storytelling

Whiteboard Selling acquired by Corporate Visions - Visual Storytelling goes mainstream

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Sep 04, 2012

Whiteboard Selling is now a part of Corporate Visions.

Effective Friday 31st August 2102, Corporate Visions now owns Whiteboard Selling. Whiteboard Selling co-founders, Corey Sommers and David Jenkins and their affiliate partners have developed over 500 whiteboards over the past 5 years for more than 50 companies. The whiteboard stories are used to help salespeople own their value creation message and to engage buyers in conversation, without using PowerPoint slides. 


The strength in the Whiteboard Selling approach is in capturing a companies value proposition in a visual story. Whiteboard Selling creates a visual story and synchronized script that salespeople can quickly learn to tell in a 1/2 day workshop, so that they are more confident in front of customers and their conversations are more consistent across the company.  A well constructed Whiteboard story will enable salespeople to engage buyers around their issues to answer that question and that makes the conversation compelling for the buyer. 

Visual StoryTelling hits a Tipping Point in Sales

This acquisition signals a tipping point in the adoption of visual storytelling in sales and a recognition that the old ways of selling, led by questioning technique that looked for pain, coupled with PowerPoint presentations that laid out the solution to the buyers problem are over.

The integration of Corporate Visions messaging process and the Whiteboard Selling visual tools is an ideal fit in a new acquisition for Corporate Visions.

Take a look at  Selling Power's Top 10 list of sales training companies in 2011 and drill down on their approaches. About half are rooted in traditional question-based consultative selling which I contend is obsolete, of the other half, some are getting started in storytelling, but very few have the clarity of Corporate Visions, with their focus on messaging and conversations to equip salespeople to disrupt the status-quo, who now have the visual tools to effectively engage buyers.

The Majority of Salespeople are Spectators in the Buying Process

Anyone in selling today will admit that the selling process has given over to the facilitation of a buying process. This means that most B2B salespeople are unwilling spectators in a buying process which has disintermediated all but the salespeople who are able to connect with buyers, engage in conversation around their issues and develop trust and influence as consultants first and salespeople second.

But what specifically are the 13% of successful producers in the Sales Benchmark Index report doing that is different from the core group? Research shows that these salespeople have highly evolved interpersonal communication skills and emotional intelligence and are using stories to engage buyers… either because they are story-telling naturals or because they have learned and mastered the techniques.

This is the essence of the Corporate Visions approach and combining visual storytelling tools from Whiteboard Selling gives customers of both companies a complete methodology to help improve the performance of the core group. Naturally nothing happens without disciplined practice, coaching and feedback from sales management teams, and that is also part of the methodology.    


Click me


View a Visual Presentation of the Announcement 

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Topics: whiteboard selling, visual storytelling, corporate visions

Ten Presentation Rules for Sales People to Improve Engagement

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Apr 12, 2012

I spent Yesterday with the Duarte organization in Mountain View, CA. in a one day Resonate story development workshop.

This was an excellent workshop that helped me identify the core elements of my story. I came away from it with the basis for a story that will resonate with a much broader audience and that I expect will improve my engagement and the outcome of meetings.

Getting your ideas to Resonate with the Audience

I have been using ideas from Nancy Duarte's book Resonate for about a year, but the workshop brought my story to life. The techniques learned will change the way I present myself and my services in future. I am applying my brain in idle moments around how these ideas can be applied to any communication, not just presentations.

My Story Map created in the Resonate Workshop

10 Rules for More Engaging Sales Presentations

The course was presented by  Michael Pacchione and it was about story; we created our own story, step by step as the day progressed, but we talked a lot about presentations, because presentations without a story are boring.

The first rule for this eclectic but important list of ten presentation rules for salespeople is Nancy Duarte's Golden Rule.
  1. Never give a presentation you wouldn't want to sit through yourself. Such good advice, most presentations are boring because they lack story, or the sales person, product or the company is the hero of the story, instead of the buyer. Presentations turn into an ordeal when they fail to engage the customer's imagination and emotion, usually because they are all about you and your stuff.
  2. Spend the time prior to a meeting researching the client's company, instead of customizing their presentation, you will sell more. This is a new rule based on feedback from Laura Olsen on a blog post comment from

  3. If a salesperson gives a PowerPoint presentation on the first meeting, they won't get a second one.
  4. Bullets Kill - One idea per slide and no bullets, Edward Tufte

  5. Simple hand drawn images and a story work way better than complex PowerPoint geometry with bullets, boxes and drop shadows. This image is from Dan Heath's Switch presentation. It took 10 minutes to draw on my touch mouse.

  6. Guy Kawasaki rule. 
    Maximum 10 slides, Maximum 20 minutes, Minimum 30 point text.
  7. Seth Godin's 5 rules
    1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.
    2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.
    3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions. (Prezi users take note)
    4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
    5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.
 8. Create a STAR Moment. This is another one from Nancy Duarte. A STAR moment is and acronym for Something They'll Always Remember. This takes a bit of thought and may need props and preparation, but if you want to differentiate and you are in a beauty pageant where everyone looks just like you, it might be worth doing. Here is an example of a STAR Moment in the Jamie Oliver Ted's a great talk and the STAR moment is about 13 minutes in. 

 9. You are the presentation, the client wants to know what you know and how you can help them, the medium is secondary. Know what you want the outcome of the meeting to be, know who's going to be there and their issues/interest areas prior to the meeting.

According to extensive research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board,  published in  The Challenger Sale , 53% of the contribution to customer loyalty comes from the sales experience itself....not from your presentation.

10. Do not present when a conversation is possible - unless you are specifically asked by the client to present and you know what the outcome of a successful presentation will be.

Align Sales & Marketing Messages - Webinar
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Topics: resonate, powerpoint, visual storytelling

10 Reasons to Leave the Laptop and PowerPoint behind on a sales call

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Mar 22, 2012

With so much at stake in every prospect encounter, why would I promote the idea of leaving the laptop, PowerPoint presentation and LCD behind?

I've been working with sales and marketing teams for the past 8 years as a consultant to help align sales and marketing messages and create clarity around value creation. With one or two exceptions from the hundreds of presentations I've seen, they all follow the same format.

It's all about me, my big office, my stuff, my awards, my customers (slide 4), my partners, my products, my compelling features and my unforgettable and highly differentiated benefits. 

It's like there was a gold standard master PowerPoint presentation written 20 years ago and every presentation since has inherited the format....only the buildings and the names change.
If you want a good laugh and some introspection take a look at the Chicken, Chicken, Chicken video below (Thanks to Neil Warren for making me aware of this).
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Topics: presentation skills, powerpoint, visual storytelling, communication skills.

Start-up Sales VP Regrets - I wish I had done this 2 years ago

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Feb 14, 2012

I had dinner with a Sales VP of an early stage technology company this week and discussed her business and her experience in building the startup revenue stream. We got down to talking about "the how" of building the sales team, recruiting the channel and generating revenue.

They now have 6 people in sales globally and their resellers are starting to sell their product, although she mentions it was a painful process in getting there.  

Cash-burn and Unpredictable Revenue

The problem isn't lack of revenue as much as predictable revenue; it's that in one quarter we have a million dollar deal and blow the number out and the next quarter we're scrambling to bring in $500K....does this sound familiar?

The big problem now is cash-burn and with 40+ people in the company and investors who want to accelerate the growth, she is feeling the pressure.

Slow out of the Gate

"We were slow out of the gate. We have great technology, but it was disruptive 3 years ago and still is. There was no demand for the product and no buying category, so we had to create it, one deal at a time. Since then the smartphone market has exploded and most of our sales now relate to mobile and we are starting to get inbound leads."

Leads from Investors, Cold Calls, Trade Shows

I asked how they went about generating early leads. "In the first year we relied on introductions from our investors, who are very well respected and connected in the Valley. We also worked our personal connections and found our initial set of customers who validated our approach and gave us really good feedback.
We had a Wordpress blog from the outset, although it was all about us and the product, and it wasn't generating many leads. Targeted trade-shows were useful in generating leads, particularly with OEM's and resellers. The second year we hired a couple of sales people and started calling who we thought would be high probability customers."

I asked about how the sales team engaged prospects "Today the sales process starts with a free download of the tools. The sales team will then follow the lead up with a conversation and if qualified a short PowerPoint presentation to stakeholders in IT. If that goes well we then put together a proposal.

When I explained how we help companies to create clarity in positioning and capture the value in using complex products and services for both inbound marketing purposes and for visual storytelling using our Visual Storytelling method, she exclaimed... "I wish I had done this two years ago."


  1. It's an order of magnitude easier to resegment an existing market than it is to start a new one. Steve Blank
  2. Selling discontinuous technology to early adopters requires a different sales approach than selling mainstream products.  Early adopters have a higher tolerance for risk and are prepared to engage potential suppliers earlier in the buying cycle. The big question for most start-ups with novel technology is, would they find you in a Google search?

    Click on the image to learn more about the Four Buying Cultures, the IMPACT buying process and view the Webinar, "Why Killer Products, Don't Sell" 
  3. It's never too early to start Inbound Marketing. Technology companies can easily put together Websites and link them to social media, but too often I hear we're doing all this Marketing 2.0 stuff, but nothing's working.
    Using an inbound marketing strategy on an integrated inbound marketing platform like HubSpot can accelerate growth, create mindshare in months and typically produce 5-times the inbound leadflow within the first 6 months.
  4.  Kill PowerPoint. You learn nothing when you are presenting. In a start-up every sales call is a learning opportunity. Get everyone in the company using visual confections to tell your story. Figuring out your value proposition early (even if it's a hypothesis) and creating visual stories will help win new clients, recruit new employees, win new investors and recruit partners.

  5.  Putting it all together.
New- Selling with IMPACT Whitepaper
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Topics: inbound marketing, visual storytelling, lean startups, steve blank

Visual Storytelling, PowerPoint and Memory

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Feb 07, 2012

Visual Storytelling is the future of presenting

Users of PowerPoint like it because it's easy to create and modify presentations and that's the good news. The bad news is when you are on the other side of the presentation - in the audience as a salesperson at a kick-off, or as a prospective customer in a sales or marketing presentation or in a business setting.
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Topics: whiteboard enablement, whiteboardselling, visual storytelling

Downton Abbey - Great Storytelling and its Importance in B2B Selling

Posted by Mark Gibson on Wed, Jan 25, 2012

The PBS Masterpiece Theatre period costume drama, Downton Abbey is a masterful example of visual storytelling, featuring superb British acting talent, staged in the magnificent Highclere Castle, (hailed as the best castle in England).
It's the best TV drama I have seen for a very long time and a welcome departure from the US election news; I'm a huge fan and recommend it to anyone interested in quality entertainment.

For those who have not yet seen Downton Abbey, Series 2 is playing on Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday evening in the US, on the PBS channels. 

Downton Abbey has enormous appeal across age groups from 10 years old to 100 and is being shown in 100 viewing territories. It is hugely popular in the US, UK and is the biggest television hit in Spain for 10 years.

Downton Abbey is a beautifully written and visually compelling story from a time of tremedous social upheaval, World War 1. The characters are fully developed; the aristocrats restrained and rule-bound by the mores of the era and the servants, subjugated by dutiful obedience. The superb grounds and the setting of Highclere is stunning.  

The essence of great storytelling is our ability to identify and connect with the aspirations and frustrations of the characters in the story as they confront their personal challenges. The tension and excitement in the struggle to overcome them as the story unfolds makes the next episode a compelling must-watch event and a reason for staying in on Sunday evenings.

How can we apply these lessons in selling?

John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor, and author of "Leading Change" who comments on the power of visual storytelling states , "Over the years I have become convinced that we-learn best-and change-from hearing stories that stike a chord within us. Those in leadership positions, who fail to grasp or use the power of stories, risk failure for their comanies and themselves".
Salespeople are leaders running their own business franchise and John Kotter's advice is highly relevant. 

Top Salespeople are Natural Storytellers

I'm currently working on a whiteboard story for a leading technology company and have received contributions from some of the sales and marketing stars in the company over the course of its development.

What struck me about a number of the salespeople and marketing team members is their use of story in discussing their products. 
  • They use anecdotes and simple, yet powerful metaphors when talking about how their products are used. 
  • Use cases come alive through examples that are relevant and compelling.
  • They create tension in their discussion around the use of their products to differentiate themselves from the competition. 
  • They have figured out how to tell their story naturally....without a script.

Bottling your Story

Our goal in creating Whiteboards is to capture and bottle the magic from the top performers and create a story around how the products are used to overcome problems with the status-quo and have everyone on the customer-facing team learn it and have fun telling it.

When the buyer is at the center of your story vs. your products and the story captures their current situation and their struggle, then you are well positioned to have your capabilities unfold naturally in conversation. 

Combining Visual Imagery and Story

The earliest evidence of Visual storytelling is 35,000 years ago in the  paleolithic cave paintings in Chauvet Cave, South of France. With the advent of the slide projector and then PowerPoint, we forgot how to tell stories and let the bullets and slides do the talking.

The best presentations in sales communication successfully integrate simple images with product value-creation and weave a story around the buyer condition.

When we use whiteboards to tell our story vs. PowerPoint bullets, we use simple hand drawn images (that are immediately meaningful in the context of the discussion), interwoven into a story around issues that the buyer is potentially struggling to overcome.

In a WhiteboardSelling enablement symposium, everyone on the customer-facing team learns to draw the whiteboard and to tell their story and in half a day, they will have learned the story well enough to use it with prospective customers the next day...although they may be somewhat uncomfortable until they have mastered it.

There is massive difference in the level of cognition in the audience between an un-trained novices scrawled notes on a whiteboard and the whiteboard created by a person trained to present a visual story and to use icons to convey meaning.

Buyers will often remember a well constructed whiteboard story months after the interaction; scrawled notes on a whiteboard will not be stored in our brain in the same way a poor PowerPoint presentation is discarded from our memory.


  1. The essence of selling is effective communication and the most effective communication uses simple visual images interwoven into a story.
  2. For those who enjoy British humor, a spoof of Downton Abbey for last year's Red Nose Day charity fundraising event is hilarious. Links below.
  3. PBS Interview with the producer and cast members
  4. Learn more about the science behind WhiteboardSelling Enablement.
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Topics: sales, downton abbey, sales & Marketing effectiveness, visual storytelling

Selling your Solution to Early Adopters - Visual Stotytelling Video

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Jan 10, 2012

This Selling Early Adopters video was created following a joint Webinar with Dominic Rowsell, co-author of Why Killer Products Don't Sell. The original sound-track was unusable, so I captured the elements of that Webinar and added more meat into the following two-part, narrated whiteboard video.

Buying Behavior is dependent on Risk Tolerance

Early adopters of new technology are prepared to accept more risk when buying technology than the majority of buyers. Despite the success of SaaS as a concept and the wholesale adoption of cloud based applications, the vast majority of SaaS software fails to achieve commercial success because the innovation never makes it across the chasm from the early adopters into the early majority mainstream market. The consequent massive uptake of the SaaS innovation has eluded all but a small percentage of aspiring entrepreneurs.
The following Flash videos are a 2 part series and run about 7 minutes.

Part 1. The Four Buying Cultures and the Technology Adoption Life-Cycle.

This video introduces the four buying cultures and how they map onto the Technology Adoption Life-cycle. Will be of interest to sales and marketing professionals selling B2B technology solutions or professional services based engagements.

Insight Selling is Value Created Selling

This series offers insight into buyer behavior and the process of getting your challenging idea/solution through the buying process.

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Topics: killer products, selling to early adopters, visual storytelling

Whiteboard Selling Best Practices Group started on LinkedIn

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, Oct 17, 2011

Whiteboard Selling Best Practices

If you are interested in Whiteboarding, you are invited to join a new LinkedIn group set up to promote and share Whiteboarding best practices, tips and to advance the art of whiteboarding in sales.

Whiteboard Selling Best Practices is an open group created to share and disseminate Whiteboarding tips, ideas and best practices.

WhiteboardSelling alumni and sales, marketing and enablement professionals with an interest in using whiteboarding techniques for in-person and remote whiteboarding are most welcome.

The goal of this group is advance the art of whiteboarding so as to improve engagement, discovery and differentiation through visual storytelling.

Click on the whiteboard to go to the group.
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Topics: whiteboard selling, visual storytelling, whiteboarding

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