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Don't Get Slideswiped: Sell Value with a Pen

There's a reason why the phrase "Death by PowerPoint" has become part of today's corporate vernacular. There's no better way to torpedo a sales call than to plug in a projector and start presenting a bunch of slides. How often have we heard, "I'll get to that in five slides," or "I'm not really sure what's meant by that bullet," or "that's actually an old version of this slide." You've only got one chance to stand out from the crowd and become a trusted advisor, and slides aren't the answer.

Let's look at a new way of selling: using "visual storytelling" to convey your organization's message and value proposition on a whiteboard (or any other writing surface) in a compelling, competent, and consistent fashion. We call this the "Power of the Pen"—the power of a salesperson of any tenure or experience to get up in front of a C-level buyer, delivering a visually rich and interactive presentation with complete confidence and command of the material.

Five Steps to Power of the Pen

Seasoned salespeople know slides are a big no-no with high-level decision-makers. These sales reps will sit down in the C-level's office and start talking about kids, family, or common interests, then subtly ease into a dialogue around business challenges, opportunities, and consensus on next steps.

But eventually, even the C-level will want to know "where's the beef" — they still need to get some sense of what the solution actually looks like in their own environment, and how it pertains to their unique business needs.

This is when selling value with only a pen and a drawing surface proves so effective. There's something very powerful about graphically depicting solution knowledge without slide bullets to prop you up. Your prospect may even grab the pen and say "we do it this way today," at which point you might as well forecast the deal.

So, how do you get there?

1 . Involve key stakeholders. One of the many drawbacks of slide presentations is they are often created by marketing and "thrown over the wall" to sales, who is then expected to internalize the message and make it their own. It's critical to ensure that all key stakeholders are included in the team that will take the whiteboarding initiative from inception to field rollout and beyond.

Better to put together a message team comprised of diverse stakeholders, which may include corporate and product marketing, competitive intelligence, strategy, sales, top account managers and engineers, and sales enablement and training. Having sales involved from the very beginning is particularly important, because they become the field evangelists and ambassadors of the new whiteboard story.

2 . Define the scope. Your story should be much more than just a list of bullets, it should be a compelling visual narrative designed to showcase your products and services, and how they provide unique value to your customers and prospects. What story are you trying to tell? Do you want everyone to convey a consistent and brand-compliant corporate pitch? Or should the focus be on a specific solution area that can yield near-term revenue?

In many cases, companies will require multiple whiteboard presentations developed for various business units, or even tailored to buyer types and market segments. You may also develop in-depth technical whiteboards if these are required.

3 . Leverage what you have. The next step is to compile your existing materials. This may include your core product/solution presentations, core sales presentations, solutions diagrams and architectures, product/solution messaging documents, sales "play" documents, competitive documents, customer case studies, ROI studies, and any "battle cards" or "cheat sheets." Third-party content such as analyst reviews, media coverage, or awards is also helpful.

But you shouldn't stop there. You've got a lot of great intellectual capital and "tribal knowledge" locked up in the heads of your top performers, including existing whiteboard approaches and templates you may not be aware of. Combine these with your existing messaging and you'll get even more buy-in from the field.

4 . Develop the story. So let's review. You've got the right people involved, you've nailed down the scope, and you've gathered whatever tribal knowledge you can from the your top reps who are in the trenches. Now, you need to actually design the whiteboard story. And it's just that—a story, a narrative, a compelling tale. In many cases, the story will be about a "tragic hero" (an anonymous customer) who overcomes diversity (the current situation) to attain ultimate glory (the desired state, achieved uniquely by your solution/service). This "day-in-the-life" is often an effective mechanism for pulling your audience in and getting them emotionally involved in the final outcome, putting themselves in the shoes of the main character.

The story also needs to be visually intriguing, with humorous whiteboard iconography and just the right amount of information in the visual as well as the script that goes along with each step. The whiteboard must also have interaction points where the salesperson will engage with the customer to ensure a two-way dialogue.

5 . Train and measure. With typical product/solution training, a bunch of salespeople go into a room, eight hours later they walk out bleary-eyed with a stack of folders full of sales cheat sheets, battle cards, and call scripts that are all obsolete before they hit the salesperson's desk.

With whiteboard selling, it's recommended you immerse field personnel in a role-play based learning model that will have them presenting the whiteboard to C-level audiences the very next day. Many companies find attaching this whiteboard training session to a planned sales event or kickoff meeting works well.

Finally, you'll need to measure the effectiveness of your sales force in delivering core sales messaging to prospects and customers. Its advisable to have a formalized whiteboard certification process that ensures every member of the field organization can deliver the whiteboard in a real-world mock sales call. Apply a consistent scoring model across multiple geographies and languages, and make sure you're capturing the right metrics around solution knowledge. Also know how your teams are opening and closing meetings, competitive knowledge, reference selling, etc. You not only guarantee knowledge ownership but will end up with a valuable sales skills inventory that can help you identify future training needs.

To learn more about Blue Coat Systems, a company that has successfully incorporated the WhiteboardSelling model, click here

Corey Sommers is co-founder and CMO of WhiteboardSelling, a provider of sales enablement solutions. He has more than 15 years experience in sales and channel enablement, account manager certification and training, and competitive intelligence.