Make storytelling the foundation of sales enablement

By Dave DeFranco

“One size NEVER fits all. One size fits one. Period.” This quote, from the highly respected author and management consultant, Tom Peters, perfectly captures my feelings about the sales enablement content given to B2B sellers today. My spider senses twitch particularly when we’re asked to create the sales presentation for an enterprise client. “THE sales deck?” I always think to myself. The one?

The hairs on my neck perk up because I’m always surprised how Enterprise Sales, with a variety of clients in different industries, can get by with a single-yet-modular presentation. “We need it to be modular, so a salesperson can customize it for every different conversation. It should have sections of slides for: different audience roles, different industries, different use cases, different corporate initiatives, and different products and solutions across the portfolio.” If this sounds familiar, then you’re in the right place.

Good intentions won’t pave the way to closed won

Don’t get me wrong, there is good intention here to provide optional content that can be mixed and matched for different contexts. The unfortunate reality is that these “megadecks” with their infinite modularity forces content to be compartmentalized into such discrete bits that the newly assembled deck can’t tell a compelling and resonant story from beginning to end that will matter much to a specific customer in a specific moment of time, trying to solve a specific problem. We hear this feedback quite a bit when we get the chance to work with Sales teams as part of developing a presentation.

“The sales deck we get is nice, but I can’t use it in my conversation because it doesn’t help me get to closed won.”

“They’re often all about us and they aren’t targeted to what my customer wants to talk about.”

“I might pluck a few slides out, but often I’m building custom slides for each of my sales calls because I know what I’m going in there to talk about.”

Context is the key

And right there is the heart of the problem. Each B2B enterprise salesperson has some degree of context about the meetings they have. The rep may already have a relationship with the client-side team – or knows they don’t. The account may already be an active customer – or not. The rep may know the specific problem the customer is trying to solve, may know who else they’re considering, or what other solutions they’ve attempted. In any event, the rep already has a degree of context. So, they need content that gets closer to their customers’ situations, so the deal moves forward. In fact, buyers are doing their own research and complete 57% of the buying decision before ever actively engaging with sales. For salespeople, this means when you get the meeting, you’re there to help buyers make decisions – rather than to educate them.

It’s hard. I get it. But what’s happening is salespeople are spending a large part of their day building their own content for every call because the enablement content they’re getting doesn’t quite fit. Research from Gartner shows that buyers spend only 17% of the total purchase process talking to potential suppliers, because so much is available through independent research. Their research also showed that since the average B2B sale involves multiple suppliers, a sales rep gets roughly 5% of a customer’s total purchase time. Yet, even though salespeople are spending less time with buyers it was found that salespeople are spending approximately 30 hours each month either creating their own content or searching for content.

Sales teams have strong opinions about the content they get vs. what they need

Throughout my career, I’ve interviewed around a thousand enterprise sellers from Fortune 500 Sales teams during the development of sales enablement tools over the past 23 years. In all of those conversations, I heard consistent themes about “one size fits all” sales decks, including:

Content isn’t helpful

  • May choose a few slides from the main deck, but still needs to create sales conversation content and decks from scratch for each meeting
  • Content feels generic; it generalizes roles, industries, and use cases to their lowest common denominator and doesn’t help close or win opportunities
  • Content doesn’t reflect customers’ buying contexts, sales plays, or the sales conversation dynamics salespeople are having

Content isn’t in context

  • The content we get from Product Marketing doesn’t help meet customers’ where they are in their buying journey or help them move through it
  • Sales decks often assume every buyer is net-new and/or knows nothing about us or our solutions
  • Doesn’t reflect the relationship orientation we already have with the customer

Content is inward-focused

  • Too much about “us” and not enough about “the customer”; content is often product-centric and not customer-centric
  • Content is too product-led and does not focus on the problems customers are trying to solve

Content is created in a vacuum

  • Content gets created without Sales’ input
  • The content wasn’t co-created/reviewed/approved with Sales’ input

Duarte has built its business around the belief that audience empathy is the way to win hearts and minds and influence people to act. This belief doesn’t exist for just mainstage, high stakes presentations. In fact, I’d go so far to say that audience empathy in a sales presentation is probably the place it’s needed most – when you are there face to face, trying to persuade others towards a decision in your favor.

4 tips for building situationally contextual sales presentations

Be in the room where it happens

Content creation teams in product marketing, content marketing, and/or sales enablement need to move beyond an organizational-centric lens. When you include Sales in the room as co-creators during the planning process, and as part of the review cycle, the content will get closer to where your prospects and customers are. Sales is your best window into your customers. They are the proxies and the messengers. Listen to their opinions on what tools are needed, how they’re used, and in the contexts they are used. This one step is a huge leap towards increased tool adoption, utilization, and value for successful deal development and customer satisfaction.

Involve the right salespeople – not just any salespeople

This isn’t the time to find just any salespeople who are available to help. You need to capture the best practices and sales arguments from your top-performing reps. The ones who make “President’s Club” are the ones you need to replicate, so all others can be like them. Find stellar salespeople with a sense of duty to share their wisdom with the rest so the tide lifts all boats. Conversely, also listen to new or novice salespeople to understand what they find difficult to explain or overcome in the deals, to ensure the tools you build help them grow and win. Often, your savvy sellers don’t leverage tools, so you need to mine the wisdom of the best to put in tools for the rest.

Build sales decks that match selling situations

Don’t build the stories in your sales decks around product features. The reason? Storytelling that sparks interest in the CFO of a Local Bank whom you’ve never spoken with before probably won’t be the same storytelling that would spark interest in a CMO in a global manufacturing company for whom you’ve been doing business with for a decade. The CFO might care more about price, cost structures, TCO, ROI, and utilization, and may know less about your brand, portfolio, and capabilities. The CMO knows you and your brand well but will be laser-focused on how a new solution will gain them competitive advantage, market share, differentiation, simplicity, and productivity.  Same solution, different context, and different potential objections and opportunities in each sales conversation.

Questions to ask yourself

Take the time to categorize all your key selling situations. Examine a combination of details that will help you find the story to tell that will matter most to them. This transforms storytelling into storyselling.

What is the buyer’s role? Identify a specific title, decision-making role, or persona. If this situation involves a buying center, identify all the roles involved.

What is the industry and subsegment? When you combine industry and subsegment you avoid over-generalizations. Healthcare Payers and Healthcare Providers are very different. A FinServ Stock Exchange and a FinServ Local Bank are also very different. The subsegment is so critical for relevance.

What is the nature of your relationship? Is the situation focused on net-new accounts or existing clients? This can help you assess how much or little they know about your brand, ways of working, past success, etc.

What is the buying context? It’s rare that a B2B seller walks into a sales conversation without any context to the ask. Identifying the nature of what this play is focused on, or the nature of the opportunity helps you laser in on what to share and what to avoid.

Think of it like an equation:
Sales Situation = (Role) + (Industry/SubSegment) + (BuyingContext) + (Relationship Status)

When you begin to inventory the selling situations in which your reps are hunting for opportunities, you can prioritize building sales content that matches the opportunities where your reps need the most help. Yes, it takes extra effort, but if you enable reps with decks that match their sales conversations, they will be better equipped to win.

If this all sounds like a step too far for your organization to rally around, at the very least, build sales decks that match sales plays. Sales playbooks often detail an opportunity matched with audience insights, likely use cases, industry insights, objection handling, and targeted solutions. Don’t build a master deck with sections that can be used for different plays, but rather take the time and bundle the right content to match that right sales play.

Mine your salespeople for the best stories

Find the stories that reps use that frame your customers as the heroes of an epic tale – where they faced a challenge, found a solution, persevered, and came out the other side changed. Often, we see customer stories are treated as a section of slides at the end of the deck. When you unpack these stories beyond merely a “win slide” you can bring real-world situations to life beyond, “Problem A led to Solution B for Result C” and use them as storyselling. What was at stake for your heroes? How did their unique situation or ecosystem require a partner – not just a product? How is the customer now forever changed because they can do things they were unable to do before? Tell a story of how the deal happened – not just what they bought. What criteria was at play in their decision process? Think about the different evidence provided to different decision-makers that satisfied concerns and moved them closer to a decision. Yes, you may have saved them money, time, frustration, etc., but are these customers changed in new ways that lead to new outcomes they previously couldn’t have unimagined? Gather your salespeople’s best stories and make them available so others can make stronger connections at those moments when customers seek help. Also, this is another way to unearth relevant objections. The reps who led these deals can probably share a plethora that had to get handled before the deal was won. Learn them and use them going forward.

For sales enablement content creators who seek help uncovering winning stories and better connecting the message sellers deliver with the needs of the customer, Duarte has storytelling training options to start you that path. But whatever you do, dig deeper to give Sales the right content to support their sales conversations and they’ll be more effective in meeting customers where they’re at to move them forward. Sales may still need to personalize content a bit more for the unique needs that only they know about. However, if you can get them 80-90% closer to the conversations they’re about to walk into – you’ve helped sellers focus on cultivating their deals and less time creating their decks.

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