The Real Role of PowerPoint
David Weinberger on Business
I spent yesterday consulting with a company whose salesforce is having trouble explaining exactly what its software does, a common problem with enterprise applications since software tends towards functionality sprawl in ways that, say, refrigerators and asphalt don't. Not to mention that this company's software is genuinely innovative.
The company's impulse is to address this need in the usual way: Build a PowerPoint 'deck' (sorry, 'deck' instead of 'slide set' still sounds unnatural to me) with the sort of corporate overview appropriate for an industry analyst. But, the deck a salesperson needs is, of course, quite different.
The rep isn't there to explain what the company is. She's there because the company has a particular problem. The overview slides that get the corporate mission just right and that explain the inexorable industry trends that have graced the company with the mantle of destiny really just get in the way. In fact, the best sales reps only break out the PowerPoints after making some deprecating remark about the folks in Marketing who think people will believe their pretty pictures.\n\nInstead, at yesterday's meeting we focused on what makes for a successful initial sales call: Listening to the customer's problem, understanding the customer's situation, and responding creatively with how your tool set can make things better (and, by the way, how it cannot). Then we tried out some 'chalk talks' that try to make sense of the array of tools and the 'problem space' (yech) those tools address. (Every tool implies a world, after all.)\n\nWe made progress, but we are inevitably going to be drawn back to designing PowerPoints, even though we understand that sales calls should only rarely use them. But we have to do them because the real role of the corporate PowerPoint deck is something else: It expresses the company myth. Even if no one outside the company sees it, The Deck tells the company who it is, what it does, what its world looks like, how it sounds and why it cares.\n\nPowerPoints are the primary way companies today create their founding myth. That myth is how they understand themselves. Ironically, they are about the worst possible way of communicating that myth to others.