The Death of the Pitch Deck
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Elevator Pitches, a new book containing insights from both sides of the board room to help you craft the perfect pitch. Buy it online from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound
How many sales and pitch decks have you seen? Here's an even more important question: How many do you remember?
If you said, "None," you're like most people in the world. Pitch decks are slide presentations about business plans that use PowerPoint, Keynote or a similar tool. And they're ubiquitous.
But the problem with pitch decks is that, 10 minutes after a presentation, the average listener remembers only 50 percent of its content. A week later, that number drops to 10 percent.
So, why do we even bother with sales and pitch decks? If no one remembers them, it's probably safe to assume they aren't the best way to make a memorable impression. Even the greatest deck won't help you stand out as an exciting startup to potential customers or investors.
I recently saw the members of a team use a 250-page deck to try to win a $10,000 project. They probably spent that much creating a custom deck alone, considering the research required to put it together. Still, all that effort probably won't stand out enough to get the gig, and that money and time will end up wasted.
Instead of sending decks and making presentations, I like to focus on something different: real conversations. Otherwise, you're coming up with ideas before you really understand what's going to happen.
The best way to get the customer's attention is to go off the cuff as you learn what he or she needs, rather than predicting things that haven't happened yet -- especially when you're an entrepreneur trying to gain traction and momentum.
Conversations, not presentations
Sales decks are made up of boilerplate information about a company. At best, they relay general knowledge, which should be available on your website, anyway. At worst, they don't answer the client's needs and you never get another shot to close that deal.
In a typical deck, you explain a lot of things: what potential customers' organizations need, why they need it and why you're the best company for the job. But all of these aspects would be better fleshed out in an interactive, live conversation, where you can discern a real customer's true needs and tailor your responses to the individual sitting in front of you.
When I'm looking for new clients, I don't send blind emails with a deck attached. I don't even send a deck if someone has asked for one. What I do is get on the phone.
Once potential customers take my call, I start asking a lot of questions. After all, if they took the call, they need marketing help. Once I turn that call into a real conversation -- boom! In a very natural way, my job gets really easy. In fact, we get three to five new clients a week using this method.
After you've had a conversation (or several), you're better able to put something useful on paper. If people have to read, they really only want to see the most valuable information they need, not generic stuff. Because everyone is so busy, save written communication for summarizing, post-pitch, instead of using it for drawing in leads.
Death to the deck
You're probably thinking that because you've spent so much time creating your deck, it must be vitally important. Get over that thinking right now, because there are several ways you can meet the same customer needs more effectively.
1. Create a clear, accessible website.
It seems simple, yet many new companies overlook this task. Don't be one of them. Instead, make sure your site has every piece of information you'd want to show in a deck. If customers are looking for something specific, they should be able to find it in a click. Buyers value systems that are easy to use and accessible.
People have called my company to say they love our website -- even though we know nobody looks through an entire website. But if they can easily look up services, clients and more -- usually just the few pieces they need, not all of them -- that goes much further in establishing your brand's credibility than any stale sales deck ever could.
2. Have answers ready and waiting.
A list of answers to common questions should be readily available for anyone who's looking. A great way to cover questions people do ask is to include case studies of your prior work -- including your best projects -- on your site.
When someone asks for this type of information, just send a direct link. Not sure what to have ready? Every time a client asks a question, add it to your list of answers to build a library of resources you can easily send to anyone who needs it.
3. Get your talking points in order.
What's the goal of sending a deck anyway? Starting a conversation. But as soon as you pull out a deck, it becomes a presentation. Circumvent the need for a deck by preparing yourself to have a great talk.
Position yourself to articulate exactly why you want to work with potential customers, and cater to their needs through conversation rather than by pushing for a sale. Show how you'll meet their needs, and you won't have to push the sale -- they'll be asking, "Where do I sign?"
Before customers can have faith in your capabilities, they need to understand and believe that you can and will implement your valuable ideas quickly to show them real results. If you can get them to share their pain points, it will be that much easier to help them see how your company can alleviate their problems.
If you think you can come up with the perfect solution without customers' input, you're dreaming. To figure out how best to serve their needs, you first have to glean those insights from them. Forget the sales decks, and save the presentations for staff meetings. Closing a sale depends on real communication.