It’s Salesforce and they are the godfather of strategic storytelling. Here’s why.
Last September, Andy Raskin wrote an amazing post breaking down the Zuora sales deck as “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen”. Last month, he followed up that article with another post entitled, “The Greatest Sales Pitch I’ve Seen All Year” where he broke down the Drift sales deck and pitch. After reading Andy’s article on Zuora last year, I started writing this article, but never ended up finishing it. After reading his latest post on Drift, I decided it was time to dust off this draft and finish it.
After reading both of Andy’s articles, I couldn’t help but see the similarities to how Salesforce has structured their sales decks and keynote presentations for the last 10+ years as well — I would argue it heavily influenced both Zuora and Drift’s approach considering Zuora’s CEO Tien Zuo was the 11th employee at Salesforce and their first CMO. Because of this, I wanted to follow Andy’s structure and dig into Salesforce’s “strategic narrative” in their famously effective sales pitch.
The 5 Elements of Salesforce’s Strategic Narrative
I began my career in Content Marketing at ExactTarget, the leading digital marketing platform, which was purchased by Salesforce for $2.7B in 2013. I stayed with Salesforce through the acquisition and spent my last year at Salesforce working on their corporate marketing team focused on “cross-cloud” product marketing and positioning.
During that time, I got to see some of the magic behind Salesforce’s industry-leading product marketing and messaging. The narratives built in these positioning discussions became the basis for the Dreamforce keynote, which would eventually trickle down to every sales rep and sales deck across the company.
And Salesforce is the king of narratives and keynote presentations — from The Social Enterprise and the Salesforce1 Platform to the Customer Success Platform and their current “Blaze Your Trail” messaging. With Dreamforce this week, I thought it only fitting to write a follow-up to Andy’s posts showcasing the same five elements of a brilliant product marketing and sales narrative from Salesforce.
#1. Industry Transformation
Andy asserts, “Name the undeniable shift in the world that creates both (a) big stakes and (b) huge urgency for your prospect.”
After kicking off all presentations with their infamous Safe Harbor statement and “Thank You” slide to all their customers, partners, and employees, Salesforce dives directly into their “industry transformation” slide below.
This slide, now over 14 years old, is one of the most famous Salesforce slides ever made — and it’s still being used to this day. Salesforce opens every keynote and presentation with a version of this slide. You can always recognize this slide as it visually depicts the computing transformation that’s taken place over the last few decades.
Below is a short presentation of how it has evolved over the years from 2009 to this very week at Dreamforce 2017.
They begin by framing the tectonic shift taking place in their industry. They first were preaching the shift from mainframes to servers to the cloud — over the years they have added social, mobile, IoT, and now machine intelligence shifts to this slide, but the premise remains the same.
Don’t focus on the problem from the beginning — frame your audience’s state of mind to understand the tectonic shifts happening in the industry that make what you are about to talk about a BIG deal. Salesforce shows that this shift is inescapable and needs to be addressed
#2. Develop a Villain
Every story needs an antagonist, a villain. Early in their life, Salesforce developed the “NO SOFTWARE” logo and movement. It was initially polarizing, but it painted Salesforce as the hero pitted against their villain, traditional software. You can read more about the No Software logo in this excerpt from Marc’s book, but the most important aspect of the logo was how it differentiated the Salesforce brand — they were markedly different from the other software providers of the time in their product, business model, pricing model, everything.
It’s also key that Salesforce showed they were in a war against the legacy software industry as a whole, not a direct competitor’s brand. When you define a villain, you invite your audience to join forces with you in this war — you invite them to be a part of something bigger than simply purchasing your product to solve a problem.
#3. Paint Your Vision
After developing your villain , it’s important to tease out the future state of what could be — the “Promised Land” as Andy calls it. It’s important to do this before you start digging into your product and features. As Andy notes:
“Remember, winning is not having your product but the future that’s possible thanks to having your product.”
Salesforce today does this brilliantly. Salesforce lays out the reality of the connected customer in today’s world.
This always-on connectivity and data causes an incredible gap between you and your customer, though, which needs to be filled in order to make it to the promised land of 1 to 1 relationships with your customers.
#4. Introduce Your Product as the Tool to Battle the Villain
Now it’s finally time to introduce your product and position it as a tool for the heroes (your audience) to use to overcome the villain and make it to the promised land.
Now with multiple products and business units, this is where Salesforce’s story would start to diverge as they dive into individual product lines. Salesforce’s overarching “product”, though, is their customer success platform — a platform to help you connect to your customers in a whole new way.
#5. Present Evidence / Customer Stories Galore
Salesforce, the Customer Success Platform, is one of the most unabashedly customer-obsessed companies. They bleed for their customers and devote serious attention to how they utilize their customers as their best marketing asset. You see this from Dreamforce keynotes to customer “films” to 100-foot window decals.
If you’ve ever been to Dreamforce, you know this the second you step into downtown San Francisco — there are hundreds of customer quotes from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies sprawled across the city.
Their keynotes always include customers presenting on stage alongside Marc, customer films, and multiple in-context customer stories or demos throughout the presentation. At times, they can present almost the entire keynote through the lens of a real-life customer.
These customer stories not only become some of you most valuable marketing assets, but they prove to your audience that your product can take them to the promised land and overcome your villain.
Make sure your entire company knows your go-to customer stories — make them widely available and train your team on how to use and tailor them.
The Art of Repetition
Crafting this strategic narrative, though, is just the first step. What makes Salesforce the king of this story arc is their dedication to repeating this narrative. As I mentioned before, you can see the industry transformation slide Salesforce originally designed in 2003 and how they continue to use this same slide every single year. If you watch the last seven+ years of Dreamforce keynotes, you will the see the same strategic narrative told every single year with slight adjustments or additions — and the industry transformation isn’t the only slide with a new variation every year.
They repeat this story every chance they have — from Dreamforce keynotes and customer events to sales presentations and marketing ads. In fact, the Dreamforce keynote deck becomes the newest First Call Deck for the entire company every year right after Dreamforce. The entire company is bought into this narrative and story, which is the true magic.
About Drew Beechler
I run marketing for High Alpha, a venture studio pioneering a new model for entrepreneurship, where I help our portfolio companies craft marketing strategies to build category-leading B2B SaaS brands.