Today’s customer meetings for enterprise look nothing like they did 10 years ago. Forrester reports that 62% of B2B buyers today will get to a vendor shortlist based solely on online research. Armed with more information and the need to sort through more vendors than ever, customers seek consultative two-way conversational meetings that start and end with their challenges rather than one-way product pitches.
In The Unusual Guide to Customer Storytelling, we discussed how to create a shared narrative that wins customers by shifting the focus from what you do to a higher standard of why you do it. One that meets a customer where they're at — their worldview, their urgent problems — and collaboratively walks them through your proposed new approach and how you uniquely solve their problem by demonstrating the most value. The following guide provides a step-by-step process for building a customer meeting presentation based on this framework.
We're going to assume conciseness is important: a 30-minute meeting, 10 of which is a demo, five minutes for intros. That leaves 15 minutes for your slides. At two minutes per slide, that’s only seven to eight slides for a first meeting! Even if you have an hour, the slides should not take longer than 20 minutes to deliver. Far better to fill the rest of the time with discovery, discussion, and concrete next steps.
Remember, form follows function. Before creating a PowerPoint or Google slides, be sure to draft an outline of your story. Once in PowerPoint, it's simply too easy to start adding slides that don’t help your argument move forward. Assuming you’ve read our North Star storytelling guide, try writing a one- to two-page story that buckets your three "why messaging" into slides. Then, create seven to eight headline points from each paragraph that form the basis of your slide headers.
Your story should then fit neatly in the speaker’s notes of the presentation. Done well, you have a key point to build each slide around and narrative detail that you can refer to as you add visuals. Assuming you’re working with other team members, be sure to collaborate on the script in Google Sheets before finalizing.
The first slide is actually the title slide. It contains the least amount of information but from a delivery standpoint, is the most important to get right. It’s the slide that will probably sit on screen for those first crucial minutes. The risk is undershooting or overshooting how much is delivered. Best practice here is to script a 30-second elevator pitch that provides a ‘3 whys’ preview. Here’s an example:
"Hi, I’m Todd, the CEO at Okta, a venture-backed identity management startup helping companies accelerate their move to cloud software. As the former head of engineering at Salesforce, I saw first-hand how the world was changing from on-premises software to SaaS and how IT was becoming increasingly challenged to adopt applications like Salesforce, Office365, Box, etc. Over the next 30 minutes, we’d like to understand what initiatives your company has around SaaS and how we could partner to quickly and securely enable cloud adoption for your business."
In your intro, include who you are, a one-liner on the big problem you solve, your founder insight / credibility, an invitation to a two-way discussion, and a simple value proposition. Notice that this intro presumes that accelerating cloud adoption is important. This should have been discovered prior to the meeting as everything that follows from here will build on this core belief/assumption.
Goal: agreement on important shift that’s causing a big problem / need to change
Example: the shift from on-premises software to SaaS has broken IT’s ability to deliver services. — Okta
This slide is all about getting to a shared understanding of the new world. It’s context setting with some insight and thought leadership.
In general, you want heads nodding and an engaged audience. I like to start with a simple old-world / new-world contrast visual and impact statement on the target audience. In Okta’s case, a visual with on-premises servers and apps like Oracle/SAP surrounded by a perimeter with cloud apps outside. Then the impact statement is that the shift to SaaS software challenges IT to deliver services to employees.
To ensure engagement, always end the presentation of this slide with a discovery question like "How has this change impacted your world?"
Goal: identify two to four acute, hair-on-fire Why Now? pain points
Example: “Who to wake up?” — Omnition
The second slide is best focused on naming specific, urgent pain points that should be easily understood by the customer. One of my favorites is from Omnition, an Unusual portfolio company recently acquired by Splunk. Omnition provides monitoring for modern API-driven applications. They landed on who to wake up? as their urgent Why Now? problem.
Omnition saw that customers who had application outages would mass-email their entire engineering staff to fix a problem and, of course, time was essential. Worst case, these all-hands-on-deck alerts would go out at night. So, who to wake up? is a beautifully designed urgent problem statement because it’s almost the worst-case scenario for a development team… and shows a great deal of customer empathy in its construction.
It’s good to have three to four problems on the slide in total, ideally built out in a logical flow that shows that current solutions are ineffective. So, after who to wake up?, Omnition had how to connect problem to root cause?, then which customer is impacted?, and a fourth one, where are the bottlenecks?
Even if a company knows who to wake up, they can’t pinpoint the source of the problem and they have no idea what the impact is to the customer. See how all of these are using language that a customer would use? Again, empathy, urgency, and relevance to the business. By the end of this slide, the customer should be heavily engaged and looking to you to provide a new way forward out of this mess!
As with slide one, the presentation of this slide should end with a discovery question like "Are you seeing any of these problems in your organization?" It’s worth staying on this slide the longest of any slide in the deck to invite the customer to open up about their internal priorities and challenges relative to the problems identified in this slide.
Goal: provide a high-level framework for how the new world should work
Example: Citrix — need to enable Mobile WorkStyles and cloud services
Before solving the problem, you need to demonstrate that you understand the essential criteria for success. Be sure to be complete as no one wants a partial solution to a problem — that’s probably what they currently have! Think of this slide as the key requirements to compete in your market. You’ll cover your unique offering in the next couple slides, so this slide is setting the table.
Here's one of the best examples of a new approach — this is part of Citrix’s presentation of its mobile/cloud story circa 2012 in its heyday. Even though the target company had a lot of products, this slide was able to simplify the framing of the new world in simple language and set of visuals that made a ton of sense to the customer. Customers want Mobile WorkStyles delivered by cloud services. They need them delivered from any cloud to any device. Then the six capabilities listed are the how that snap to a visual transition framing slide.
Goal: customer should understand how your solution works at a high level
Example: Citrix product line, organized under Mobile Workstyles and Cloud Services (below)
Now you're ready to explain how your product works. For visuals, try to have a single marketecture diagram that shows all the core elements of how you solve the problem on slide two. Where possible, try to have each piece relate to each other visually.
When I worked for Citrix, we started with the products under Mobile Workstyles to explain the end user story that creates demand for the cloud story. Then, we’d walk through the "secure tunnel" between the two clouds (NetScaler), and conclude on the cloud services product portfolio as the delivery vehicle. This is a very broad product portfolio with a dozen products in it. So even complex products can be simplified with the right framework.
Finally, there will be quite a bit of discussion on this slide as prospects should be asking how each part works and how your product would work in their environment. Ideally, you’ve had a discovery call earlier and understand their environment, but if not, know that a prospect will want to quickly move from how you view your offering to how they would use the product in their environment.
Done well, this is a great jumping off point for your demo.
Goal: prove value and demonstrate that your solution is the best choice among the competition
Example: Okta Adobe case study — progressive CIO, adopt 200 SaaS apps in six weeks, embedded Okta in Adobe Creative Cloud
Assuming you have at least one referenceable customer, this is where you want to start proving that you are the best choice. The best cases are those where the buyer shares the same worldview as you do.
For the first five years of its existence, Okta’s marquee customer case study was Adobe. The CIO, Gerri Martin-Flickinger, was a progressive CIO who saw a huge opportunity to shift the perception of IT from the team that says "no" to new technology to the team that says "yes" to empowering their business units.
She was able to roll out Office365 (the No. 1 SaaS app) and 200 other applications to 20,000 employees in just a few weeks — the most successful IT project in company history. Also, Adobe as a business was making the transition from sending customers CDs to becoming its own cloud SaaS application and embedded Okta into its Creative Cloud suite. This provided us with a lot of thought leadership storytelling as we could demonstrate how partnering with Okta was a great choice in the near-term to "modernize IT" as well a good strategic long-term bet to "transform the customer experience."
Gerri became the hero of the story. Everyone wants to be the hero.
Example: side-by-side comparison chart of your company’s primary competitor or competitive "staircase" that shows your differentiators by de-positioning other technologies as legacy or out of touch with where the world is going.
By now, your prospect likes what you have to offer but is considering his or her alternatives. Having a simple side-by-side comparison chart that lists the key competitive dimensions and how your solution checks off more of the boxes is one popular approach. Another is to have a slide that shows how the industry has evolved over the years and that you’re now leading customers into the where the world is heading. Here’s a recent one for Okta that shows the three "stages" of identity maturity, which can then be used to deposition various IAM competitors.
Ideally, you’ve handled most of the questions on what makes you unique earlier in the presentation (eg, your approach and solution on slides three and four). But it’s good to have this slide to put any competitive questions to rest.
Keep in mind that there are three types of features:
• table stakes (everyone has the feature)
• differentiators (everyone has it but you do it better)
• "purple cows" (you are the only vendor who offers the capability)
Start with the table stakes features that everyone has and then end with purple cows clearly highlighted.
Example: lower costs from reduced help desk tickets, reduced cost of data breach, reduced time spent provisioning users, reduced time spent managing corporate directories — Okta
I recommend ending with business value for the final slide. You may end up camping on this slide for a long time, so it’s good to have a final slide that nets out what’s in it for the customer, preferably in quantified business value terms.
The ideal number of business value drivers is three to five. If you’ve been able to quantify business value (per the Three Whys Storytelling framework), you should include the specific range here. If not, then at least a statement of where each source of value comes from needs to be included on this slide. Here’s an example that you can see running live today on https://www.okta.com/roi-calculator/ (customized as slide for each prospect when running a meeting). Only two questions required to create this — how many apps and how many users. That’s it!
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