Ever since the book “Back of the Napkin” became popular there has been a movement toward bringing hieroglyphics back to interpersonal communications, and whiteboarding is the modern way to add this strategy into your arsenal. Stick figures and illustrated icons have re-emerged as a legitimate means to deliver critical messages, and whiteboarding has become the best way to deploy these messages.
This has created more of a by accident, do-it-yourself approach inside most companies and with salespeople than a purposeful enterprise methodology. The result is lots of renegade whiteboards of suspect quality and questionable impact.
Kind of like PowerPoint. Just because you have the program on your computer and you produce a .ppt file doesn’t mean you created a great presentation. Most times it means just the opposite. Same with taking a marker to a dry erase board or flip chart.
Incorporating visual storytelling into your company’s approach to executive decision makers is great, but it needs to be treated like a systematic process if you want to ensure the quality of the message and the delivery.
Whiteboarding is a Methodology
Whiteboarding impacts the message development, the deployment of that message into an effective visual whiteboard, and the delivery skills necessary to bring that story to life. Creating the organizational capability and confidence to use a pen vs. a clicker as your communication weapon of choice requires a purposeful, repeatable structured approach.
It’s not a methodology in the sense of sales processes such as opportunity management, account planning and alike. Those methodologies help salespeople know how to structure a deal – where to show up, who to meet with. Whiteboard selling is all about what are you going to say when you get there.
Develop, Deploy, Deliver
Here’s an overview of the three components of the on-purpose, whiteboard selling methodology that I conceptually introduced above:
Great whiteboards look spontaneous, and the imagery looks simple, but they are really the product of a well-facilitated development process. They follow a proven choreography for how a great story is built, told and visualized. This includes significant incorporating significant intelligence into the process, such as leveraging brain science to understand how visual contrast is required to help get a reaction to your picture, or how to grab and spike attention with compelling visual techniques and storytelling models. It isn’t simply about putting some words, arrows and stick figures on a board.
If you can’t explain or justify why you draw your whiteboards the way you do, then you are guessing at what might work and hope that it’s effective. Sales methodology companies documented long ago that “hope is not a strategy” (with a nod to Rick Paige of the Complex Sale). We’ve worked to develop repeatable templates for crafting whiteboard stories that have been proven to work at different stages of the customer buying cycle.
Packaging your whiteboards for use in the field requires a toolkit containing coaching and customer-facing content. As you may suspect, teaching a salesperson to deliver your whiteboard is like helping an actor learning their part. As the director, you must provide a script and a storyboard. You will need to decompose your whiteboard into a “build” showing how each part is drawn, along with the commentary behind it. This is documented in a sales coaching guide with thumbnail pictures of the whiteboard parts and the accompanying script next to it. We also recommend you capture an example of someone delivering it and providing as a video or voiceover of a PowerPoint with illustrated images and micro-builds. In either case, it’s about demonstrating the best practice in terms of timing, cadence, emphasis, and interaction.
You also should provide this in customer-facing form. The PowerPoint micro-build allows your field people to potentially deliver the whiteboard in a web conference call in a simulated fashion. Also, a professional, animated video of your whiteboard can be used by the field as a follow-up tool to document their presentation and give prospects something to share inside their organization.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Salespeople need to understand both the art and science of whiteboarding. This means sufficient training on the use of a pen and a writing surface and getting comfortable with the conversation vs. presentation approach this requires. It also means understanding the principles behind why the story needs to be told the way it’s been developed, including the brain science and storytelling models at work in the content, and the objective for each whiteboard.
Practice, practice, practice. I say it three times not to be trite, but because this is the part where many whiteboards fall apart. Salespeople need to practice delivering the whiteboard until they can deliver it naturally while demonstrating complete command of the content. It’s not just about eliminating errors. It’s about building confidence, taking ownership and making it their story. Ideally, you will develop coaches who are capable of providing appropriate feedback and even certifying client-facing folks on their delivery.
Whiteboards Have Documented Impact
Aberdeen research has documented improved performance in companies who have started to replace traditional presentation decks with whiteboards. There’s a correlation between increased whiteboard use and improvements in productivity of new reps (or new products), first-year reps hitting quota, deal cycles, lead conversion and more.