The Greatest Sales Deck You've Never Seen
My business was about to go under. It was September of 2021 and I’d just lost my only 2 clients.
My savings were running low. I had zero revenue on the books. I had just a single prospect in the pipeline, and if I didn’t close them, I’d have to shut the business down and get a job.
Which would’ve devastated me. I’d struggled for seven years—the entirety of my career at that point—trying to drive hypergrowth with strategic narrative. I’d attempted it at both my full-time jobs and failed. I’d been on the cusp of selling one of these projects for over a year to a well-regarded FinTech client.
Somehow, I always came up short.
And so when suddenly it felt that my long desired storytelling business might be a failure, I have to admit—I was scared. My entire self worth was about to take a nosedive. I’d have to re-enter employment with my tail between my legs, telling my dad and my colleagues and the big bad shame committee in my head that I hadn’t been enough, and would now need to start all over.
But that’s not what happened.
What happened was something that’d never happened before. I finally sold a strategic narrative. And not only did I sell my first strategic narrative, but shortly after delivering it, I was able successfully deliver my second strategic narrative as a first-time VP of Marketing at a tech startup.
These were two of my biggest career victories to-date. I was ecstatic. My ego was riding high and mighty. Seven years of hard work and self doubt finally paid off, and I owed it all to one single project that completely changed the course of my life and career. I call it…
The Greatest Sales Deck You’ve Never Seen
I’ve used this deck over a dozen times now, and nearly always the effect is the same. Nodding heads. Rapt attention. A palpable sense of understanding and alignment between myself and my audience, quickly followed by a push for next steps.
This deck played a crucial role in landing my first strategic narrative project, and has since put me in the running for over a dozen Head of Marketing roles.
Today, I’m going to share with you that deck. I’m going to walk you through it act-by-act. I’m going to share with you the insight that informed its creation, with the hope that this will inspire you to drive career success with your own story-based sales deck.
Ready to jump in?
Act 1: Seize Their Attention
Sales pitches are won or lost in the first act (oftentimes on the first slide). In order to dazzle your prospects, you need to capture and hold their attention. You need to immediately earn their respect and position yourself as an authority.
As a snot-nosed 30 year-old upstart selling to startup CEOs, I knew this was going to be doubly important for me, so I pulled all the stops and reached deep into the collective subconscious to…
Frame the Prospect’s Ordinary Life
The world’s fucked up. Everyone feels it. And so whether my prospect was selling life-saving medical devices or simply a better way to send emails, I knew invoking those feelings would be a good way to catch their attention.
I did some pretty crazy sensemaking here. I studied the 3 major generator functions of existential risk. I spent hours combing through newspaper archives to find headlines related to each of these generator functions, then came up with a snazzy name for our lovely modern predicament: The Maddening.
I wanted also to invoke the feelings of a darkly epic tale where the fate of the world hangs in balance... because it kind of does. Crazy times we live in.
I felt quite vulnerable going through these first few slides at first, but after seeing how literally everyone reacts to this pitch, I've gained a ton of confidence that this section does what it needs to. Which is to set my prospects up for the next technique...
Disrupt the Status Quo with a Paradigm Shift
I've got my prospect's attention. Now, before they even have time to wonder what they've gotten themselves into, I want to blow their mind with that lightbulb epiphany moment that suggests (using a dirty little film trick called the Kuleshov Effect) where this Maddening they're experiencing comes from.
This is the big big sensemaking moment. I want to construct a narrative that rings immediately so fucking true that they don't even spend one nanosecond considering its merit.
I had in the times I'd pitched story services before learned that everyone resonates with a statement about how noisy our world is today, so I knew that was the paradigm shift my narrative would center on.
I usually always see heads nodding on this slide—a telltale sign that my pitch is landing. My Maddening intro and the slides leading into this one build lots of tension. Here's where I resolve that tension with a nice nugget of insight that rounds out a complete narrative. The advent of exponential technology is at the root of so many of the world's problems, not the least of which is the Maddening and distracting din hitting the prospect from every angle.
Act 2: Compel Them to Action
I remember pitching a really cool VR startup right before I signed on with my video production client. They were selling into the enterprise, and their biggest challenge was driving urgency. And so when I saw on LinkedIn a year later that they'd been forced to sell their tech to a competitor, the hero-complex megalomaniac inside me fantasized about saving their company with the following technique...
Present Prospects with an Inescapable Choice
Act 1 is all about sensemaking. We frame the prospect within a narrative that something is happening.
Act 2 is about meaning-making. Something is happening, and if the prospect doesn't do something quick, some bad stuff is going to happen to them. In this case, they're going to continue failing to sell literal gold.
However, not every company is incompetent. Some are doing some really cool things. In fact, those same cool things are things MLK and Ghandi used to do. After tanking my prospect's emotions and putting them into an uncomfortable feeling, I need to shift the polarity and pull them into some positivity.
The social proof and invocations of humanity's best and brightest help me pull the prospect's emotions out from the pit, and propel them with energy towards yet another big epiphany I want them to feel.
Act 3: Ignite Your Movement
I might say Act 3 is the crux of my entire strategic narrative framework. This is where we orient prospects towards the new behavior they'll need to adopt to adapt to the paradigm shift. In this case, I wanted CEOs to communicate their visions (and thus strategies) through story, and use it to align their entire markets.
Inspire Their North Star Behavior
I have to be honest, as "CEO" of StorySeer, I don't think I ever really embodied this vision—maybe because I'd never actually experienced it done before, or maybe because I hadn't yet done the inner work to clarify what my vision really is. Still, I haven't done a single one of these pitches where this section didn't land for a prospect, so evidently I was failing in the right direction!
Act 4: Sell Your Solution
There are of course several different ways to use this section. The emotional story structure is a vehicle which can carry a variety of messages. But the most typical way to use that "all is lost" feeling you get in all the Hollywood blockbusters at the end of the 3rd act is to present your pain points as these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Create Tension by Invoking Their Pain Points
Here, we want to call forth the prospect's pain and frustration and root that into an embodied narrative that'll ultimately make them feel in their bodies why they need to buy your shit.
Now, since I am selling to proud CEOs, whose inner company dynamics are really a reflection of them, I didn't want to risk offending them by going too far into the doom or gloom. So I took a mixed approach—my voiceover would hit the low notes, while the design would help them envision the positive outcome I wanted to help them attain.
So I've presented the obstacles. The journey's going to be oh so hard. They'll need help. So finally, 22 slides in, it's time for me to start pitching my services.
Resolve Their Tension with Your Features & Benefits
Now, at this point, I hadn't actually come to real clarity around how my strategic narrative process would actually work. More pressingly, my design budget was running low, so I thought myself clever to speak about my process in broad terms while placing my deliverables into a little Hero's Journey framework. Sometimes a little showmanship can cover up your solution's shortcomings 😉
The crazy thing I realized after doing two of these projects is that the process actually does follow a 5 act structure! That "all is lost" moment at the end of the 3rd act always happens when the CEO and I present the first draft to the wider leadership team. Someone's emotions always go wild. I wasn't ready for it the first time, but now when this happens I know the project is close to completion!
Act 5: Overcome Their Objections
Here's where we prove that our solution actually works. There is a lot more nuance in how this act could be executed, and I think my instantiation comes up well short of its potential. After all, MLK's "I Have a Dream" section came in the fifth act of this speech.
Me? I just said thank you. I think this is where an inspiring vision statement is supposed to go, but I of course didn't know what that vision was yet (though I think I'm getting close to formulating it).
Eliminate Doubt with Case Studies & Social Proof
And much as I did in this deck, I will end this blog post with a slightly underwhelming "thank you!" I sincerely hope you've enjoyed my little less-than-professional musings (I used to cover up my discomfort at sharing my creative work). Even more so, I hope you found the content inspiring. For more than one reason, this is a very non-traditional sales deck, but it's been a resounding success for me. It boosts my confidence every time I see it, and has provided my yet more inspiration to figure out what StorySeer's strategic narrative really is.
Towards that end, I invite you to reach out to me if you have any questions or there's anything I can help with. Engaging with your challenges will surely inspire me, and who knows... you might even end up as a character in my next deck. One love ✌️