Field Guide

Field Guide

The Modern GTM

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Building Your First Customer Presentation

Today’s customer meetings look nothing like what they were 10 years ago.  Per Forrester, 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 are 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 are going to assume conciseness is important: a 30-minute meeting, 10 of which is a demo, 5 for intros.  That leaves 15 minutes for your slides.  At 2 minutes per slide, that’s only 7-8 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.

Finally, form follows function.  Before diving into PowerPoint, 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 the Northstar Storytelling guide above, try writing out a 1-2 page story that buckets your three why messaging into slides.  Then, create 7-8 headline points from each paragraph that form the basis for 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.

Download our outline customer deck here.

Your presentation, slide-by-slide

Slide 0 – The dreaded title slide

Your 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 why’ preview.  Here’s an example: 

‘Hi, I’m Todd.  I’m 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 together 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.

Slide 1 – The shift from <old world=""> to <new world=""> has challenged <target audience=""></target></new></old>

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.

Shif to SaaS software challenges IT to deliver services

To ensure engagement, always end the presentation of this slide with a discovery question like ‘how has this change impacted your world?’

Slide 2 – <target audience=""> are now struggling to <urgent pain=""></urgent></target>

Goal: identify 2-4 acute, hair on fire Why Now pain points

Example: “Who to wake up” - Omnition

This 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.  Their company provides monitoring for modern API-driven applications.  They landed on ‘who to wake up’ as their urgent Why Now problem.  They saw that customers who had application outages would spam 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 3-4 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 a second one ‘how to connect problem to root cause’, a third one ‘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!

Example: Omnition's Urgent Pain slide

As with slide 1, the presentation of this slide should end with a discovery question, ‘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 around their internal priorities and challenges relative to the problems identified in this slide.  

Slide 3 – A new approach is needed to solve <urgent pain=""></urgent>

Goal: provide a high-level framework for how the new world should work

Example: Citrix – need to enable mobile workstyles and cloud services

Before we solve the problem, we need to demonstrate that we understand the essential criteria for success.  Be sure to be complete as no one wants a partial solution to a problem – that’s 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.

One of the best examples of a new approach is below – this is part of Citrix’ presentation of its Mobile/Cloud story circa 2012 in its heyday.  Even though the company has a lot of products, it was able to simplify the framing of the new world in simple language and set of visuals that just 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 6 capabilities listed are the ‘how’ that snap to a visual transition framing slide.

Slide 4 – Introducing <your company="">: <company tagline=""></company></your>

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 are ready to explain how your product works.  For visuals, try to have a single marketecture diagram that shows all of the core elements of how you solve the problem on slide 2.  Where possible, try to have each piece relate to each other visually.  At Citrix, we would start 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.

“Citrix is the Cloud Services Company that Enables Mobile Workstyles”

Done well, this is a great jumping off point for your demo.

Slide 5 – Case study or evidence of success

Goal: prove value and demonstrate that your solution is the best choice among competition

Example: Okta Adobe case study – progressive CIO, adopt 200 SaaS apps in 6 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 ones are those where the buyer shares the same worldview as you do.  For the first 5 years of its existence, Okta’s marquee customer case study was Adobe.  The CIO, Geri 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 #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’.  Geri became the hero of the story.  Everyone wants to be the hero:

Slide 6 – How <your company=""> stacks up to the competition</your>

Example: Adobe Case Slide

Example: side-by-side comparison chart of your company’s primary competitor or competitive ‘staircase’ that shows your differentiators by depositioning 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.

Example: Okta Competition Slide

Ideally, you’ve handled most of the questions on what makes you unique earlier in the presentation (eg: your approach and solution on slides 3 and 4).  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) and ‘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.

Slide 7 - <your company=""> delivers business value</your>

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

As a final slide, I like to end with business value.  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 3-5.  If you’ve been able to quantify business value (per the Three Whys Storytelling framework) then 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 (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!

Example of demonstrated value customized for each prospect

In Summary

A great presentation takes a customer through a three-chapter journey:

  • The opening gambit: why buy anything and why now to draw prospects into the problem, open up, and enter a discussion as to their business priorities and how they’re solving the problem today.
  • A new way forward: your opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership as to how the problem should be solved
  • Your unique solution: told in triplicate - how your solution works, your demo, and customer evidence that it works and provides value as advertised.
Written by
Scott Schwarzhoff
Operating Partner
Scott Schwarzhoff


CEO/Founder Prioritization

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