Using a sales deck to present your product or service seems like a tradition as old as time. 

But recently, I've noticed a trend of reps diving straight into the product on the first call – without me asking.

Every time I’d get the “let me show you under the hood,” I couldn’t help but ask, is the traditional sales deck becoming obsolete?

So I decided to dig around the web and gauge the popular opinion when it came to the use of sales decks in first meetings.

In this post I’m summarizing what I’ve found. But first up, let’s take a look at some of the most common first meeting structures which has an impact on whether to use a sales deck or not. 

3 Common First Meeting Structures

In our previous post, we learned that with an average price point of $700 for B2B companies, first meetings can be costly. And as we know, the art of closing a deal starts at first touch. Because in order to close the right deals, you need to not only cultivate interest in your product, but also pursue the right prospects. This is normally done through a series of calls that center around qualification, discovery, demos or a combination of those.

Let’s examine each one and when they make sense. 

First Calls Oriented Around Discovery

Every sales leader will tell you discovery is critical. This is when you understand what a prospect’s needs are, whether they map to your product, and the impact of those challenges in order to create interest and urgency.

Since the goal is to cultivate interest, followed by assessing fit, this often makes sense for most outbound conversations and products that are more evangelical as a first call focus. Why? Because the person wasn’t looking or budgeting for your software. It’s your job to build interest and cultivate a need vs. run someone through something like BANT after you’ve asked them for time.

Discovery Call Chart
Source: Dan Smith

Assuming you’ve been able to build a champion who is interested in exploring further to build a business case with, then you might layer on some light qualification to gauge how much time you should spend on the deal. But this should only be done after you’ve built value in the conversation and ideally hooked them.

The Qualification First Call 

The line can sometimes get blurred between discovery calls and qualification calls. So let’s set the record straight:

As described above, the discovery process focuses primarily on whether there are needs you can solve, and ideally building pain around them.

Conversely, the qualification process refers to the seller understanding whether the prospects’ circumstances (needs, timeline, budget etc) make them a good candidate for your salespeople to spend time on.  

For inbound conversations, where the interest in the product is more implicit, starting off qualification often times makes a lot of sense. Many teams have their inbound BDRs do this vs. more expensive AE resources

If the conversation is generated through outbound, then having the primary theme of your first call be about qualification makes more sense. Especially for known commodity products where buyers are actively looking for a vendor within a known space or category. 

The Combo Disco/Qual/Demo Call

Whether its a discovery or qualification oriented first call, usually the prospect you’re talking to wants to at least see something. If you do a really strong discovery that gets someone excited enough you might not need to, but this is where the question of, “What do I show, a deck or product?” normally comes into play. 

You can either use a deck to guide the qualification or discovery which can make a line of questioning seem less like a one sided interview. Alternatively, you can frontload the discovery or qualification portion in order to tailor the presentation based on what you learned earlier in the conversation.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Sales Deck

Sales deck, pitch, presentation – whatever you want to call it – has always been (and will continue to be) one of the most important tools for a sales rep. That’s if it’s a good one.

If the sales pitch is a cookie cutter, pompous ego parade, then... not so much.

Deck Advantages

  • Storytelling - A good deck tells a story about why your company exists and what a compelling vision for the person you’re talking to might look like. If your job early in the process is to get someone excited and build a champion, orienting the conversation to a more visionary tone often does a better job of this then getting mired into features.
  • Mapping to Strategic Outcomes - To drive urgency in the sales process, you need to convince the person you’re talking to that you can have a big impact on their business. Ideally, the impact is related to a challenge that the most important people in the company have already identified and are excited about improving. 

Because decks are often more visionary and high level, the conversation tends to map to larger outcomes that people with power care about.

  • Social Proof - Decks make it easy to display credibility in the form of customer testimonials, logos, and awards. Some people care about this, others don’t. 
  • Structure - Having a deck provides structure for reps. Whether that’s around guiding the discovery or presenting your offering. Moreover, for teams that are less savvy, this reduces the complexity of the conversation vs. having to navigate the product.

Deck Disadvantages

  • Boredom - A lot of the people we talked to simply said decks are boring. To me this is more of a symptom of other things than reality. A few considerations:
    • How educated is your prospect about what you’re already? If they already know your company and what they want, then taking them through the whole dog and pony can be a pretty bad prospect experience.
    • How engaging and educational is your deck? Learning something new that’s going to help someone in their career or question their perspective is interesting. Learning about the founding story of your company five years ago, much less so.
  • Rigidity - It’s very rare that your deck accommodates every single scenario and use case a prospect might ask about. This limits a reps ability to demonstrate that you can solve someone’s problems if you haven’t built enough value or interest in the discovery.

Demo Advantages

  • Seeing is Believing - If your product demos well, it can be a very powerful way of helping a prospect envision how you can help them. Often times, this is more interesting and exciting than a static image on a slide. 
  • Flexibility - Assuming your reps can navigate the product, it gives them an opportunity to navigate towards a larger set of use cases and validation points for the prospect. 
  • Speed - If you’re selling to SMBs who know exactly what they want, they often want to get into the product quickly and validate their needs will be met in order to make a purchase. There is little need to slow down the process and split it out. 


Collin Cadmus

"It depends on a couple things. What you’re selling and who you’re selling to. Small SMB deals the customer often wants to move fast. We always do a discovery here, but also typically jump into the product on the first call after a brief discovery assuming we already have all of the right people on the call. 

As for what you’re selling, if it’s something like Aircall, we’ve found it doesn’t require a deck in most cases, people know what it is and want to see it. Selling Troops on the other hand I’d imagine a deck is very necessary since you’re making a brand new space and the story behind it really matters."


Demo Disadvantages

  • Low Level Conversations - It’s not that you can’t have a conversation about strategic outcomes when you get into the product early, but it’s just easier to get bogged down in features and functionality vs. business impact when you have the product right in front of you. This can derail the conversation from the big picture and detract from your ability to make someone excited to build a business case that the exec team will care about.
  • Customization - When you show your product, the ideal state is to tailor the demonstration to their exact use case in order to deliver a powerful demo to the prospect that demonstrates the impact and how they would use it. 

If you’re gathering information on the fly early in the call and then go into presenting, this can be challenging. This is why many companies save product demos for subsequent calls in order to give their reps time to really tailor and customize the experience.

  • Product and Technical Acumen - Let’s face it, many salespeople are not that tech savvy. Although this is changing, especially amongst more millennial sellers, rarely do they know the product nuances and technicalities as well as a sales engineer or perhaps even account manager. Assuming these folks are not joining on the first call, this can subjugate your reps to scenarios where the buyer has questions they can’t answer. This goes without saying that this is not a great look.
  • Premature Unveiling - Decision makers and budget holders usually aren’t sitting in on a sliu of first vendor calls. This obviously depends on who you are selling to, but generally they have someone vet the conversation earlier in the process before they engage. For example, at Troops we often get kicked down to a sales operations team member from the VP of Sales or CRO who is focusing on closing out the quarter or hiring senior team members. 

As a seller, you never want to get single threaded, and you ideally want the evaluation of your product to be done with the people that matter. Often times you’re able to get a second or third call with multiple stakeholders assuming you’ve built enough value in the discovery. An environment that contains multiple people that can make decisions is always a better time to unveil your product in a customized way vs. to one person who might not have vision.

The Factors That Will Decide Whether to Use a Sales Deck

The pros and cons above are ultimately the considerations you should take into account when deciding how to approach a first call.

In summary, using a deck on the first call probably makes more sense for:

  • Evangelical products
  • Outbound generated opportunities, or prospects with little context as to what you do
  • Products that are hard to demo, or do not demo well. (Technical acumen of your personnel should also be taken into consideration.)
  • Products with a high variance in use cases which make it harder to demo in a tailored way
  • Initial calls with low level stakeholders 
  • More enterprise, expensive products 

Going into a live demo on the first call might make sense for:

  • Known commodity products where prospects have a high familiarity with your software category and your alternatives
  • Inbound generated opportunities or free trial conversations
  • Repeat customers
  • SMB or highly transactional sales
  • Products with a highly homogenous use case - i.e. Applicant Tracking Software
  • Products that demo extremely well
  • Senior buyers who know exactly what they want that don’t want to go through an elongated process. (You’ll learn this early in the call.)

These are just guidelines and in no way should be considered rules. Moreover, every conversation is going to be different and might require a slightly altered approach.

I’ve often been in situations where we start with a deck and finish the call with a very brief product demonstration related to one thing we discussed in order to punctuate the conversation. This makes a lot of sense for us at Troops because our product demos really well. 

The important thing when you do this is not to show too much so that you can get the prospect to commit to a second, more substantive call. You can think of this as almost as a teaser to get them excited for the full demo.

Final Thoughts

So, should you show something? And if so, should it be a deck or the product? Well, this depends entirely on the conversation. You need to build excitement on the first call to cultivate a champion. This is the most important thing. So whether you’ll need to show something depends on how the prospect is responding. The goal of the first call is to build interest. This may require a deck, a demo, or both in certain scenarios. Give your team guidelines and train them to have the agility to adapt how they achieve this based on the feedback they’re getting on the call.

Your company might also have made a strategic decision to always use visuals to guide a conversation that builds excitement. This is what we do at Troops using a deck. But we always adjust what we show in the first conversation based on what we think we need to do to get the prospect excited. Sometimes this means showing a product to someone that is less educated about it or having trouble understanding exactly what we do. 

In my opinion, most prospects today want to see something when they commit a portion of their time to talk to you. But ultimately, let the conversation with the prospect guide you and always have the tools necessary (deck, demo, etc.) to help you in your efforts to cultivate a champion.

Scott Britton

Written by Scott Britton

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