Still Using Powerpoint? Try Whiteboard Selling. Now.

It’s unusual for me to publish two posts in a row covering new books about selling, but this is a special situation.

Near the end of 2011, I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Corey Sommers on the phone for the first time. At the time, he and his partner, David Jenkins, were the two principals at WhiteBoard Selling, a small, niche,  sales enablement provider. I say “were” because Whiteboard Selling was acquired by Corporate Visions last year. I called it a very smart move at the time and I still believe that to be true.

Back to the briefing. As an analyst firm, we send the following agenda to providers looking to brief us for the first time:

  1. Target market/sweet spot;
  2. Brief overview of approach/products/services – not a sales pitch;
  3. Who do you compete against? Differentiators, unique capabilities;
  4. Customer value proposition;
  5. About your company. Years in business, size, growth, revenue model (percentage training, vs. consulting, vs product sales, etc.);
  6. Growth plans, if any;
  7. Marketing approach;
  8. Deployment of technology-enabled learning and –selling;
  9. Several brief examples where a client has quantified the results of what you provided;
  10. Current opportunities and challenges.

Corey covered the entire briefing in one whiteboard slide via a web meeting. I found what Corey did to be profound.  During several hundred sales performance provider briefings to that point (and since) never once did anyone attempt to employ anything other than PowerPoint. And the whiteboard was so much more effective than Powerpoints. Corey grabbed my attention (and my imagination) and didn’t let go.

Since that initial briefing, ESR has had the opportunity to work with and speak to companies that have rolled out the Whiteboard Selling approach. They provided further validation that there is significant differentiation and value employing Whiteboard Selling.

So, with all that in mind, you can see why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their brand new book.

Just to be clear: using a whiteboard in a selling situation isn’t new. This book takes the reader through an established, proven process and architecture for whiteboarding, and a provides a method for broad deployment across a sales organization. That is new.

As an example, according to Whiteboard Selling, there are six different types of whiteboards that can be used in different settings and at different stages of the selling cycle.  They are:

  1. Qualification and discovery whiteboards
  2. Why change whiteboards
  3. Solution whiteboards
  4. Competitive whiteboards
  5. Business case whiteboards
  6. Closing whiteboards.
Corey and David systematically share with you each of those whiteboards in great detail: how to construct them, and, most important, how to leverage them to advance the sale.

This isn’t a book to skim through in order to pick up a few tips and tricks. Not at all. After making a very strong case for Why the whiteboard, and clear direction on How you use it, the authors push hard for adoption not so much by individual sales contributors, but through a formal initiative driven by marketing, sales enablement, or key executives. I like that a lot.

By the way, this is the kind of book that supports what you’ve learned reading The Johsua Principle, The Challenger Sale, Bottom-Line Selling, and many of the other books that have content relevant to today’s tough business environment.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

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  1. Chris Grejtak says

    As was pointed out the idea of “whiteboardselling” isn’t totally new – many of us have been using whiteboards, IBM punch cards and even overhead projectors to tell our solution story visually. What the authors of this book have done is bring us an excellent set of insights into whiteboarding best practices. This is a must read for sales and marketing leaders who want to help their organizations be more effective.

  2. Simon Rees says

    Hi Dave,

    How exactly does the whiteboard work? Is it a physical board and a video camera?


    • Dave Stein says

      Hi Simon,

      In a live setting, the presenter uses an actual whiteboard or flip chart. I’m not certain what technology Corey used to present to me. I’ll track down an answer.

  3. says

    David, so much talk for so long about whiteboard selling. Here are key limitations I see:
    1. Most selling is not in person, especially at the earlier stages of the buying process
    2. Terrible body language and meeting dynamics — whiteboarding takes time & often requires standing at a board with back to participants
    3. Competency — to know what to draw, and be able to do it effectively
    4. Leave behind — if it is this important, it should be printed out to support continuing internal conversations.

    Let’s identify the underlying problem — ineffective conversations and lack of visual support for the ongoing, sponsor led conversations.

    • Dave Stein says

      Hi Jim. Long time…

      I’m not going to take sides in this, since I don’t see your (Avitage’s) solution(s) and Whiteboard Selling being mutually exclusive.

      Sure, most early selling is not in person. But our clients tell us that when their salespeople employ WBS in live meetings, the level of client involvement and collaboration skyrockets. There is value there, no? I get the back to the audience thing.

      Regarding competency… WBS requires a higher degree of competency. No question. Is that a bad thing? Do we want salespeople who don’t understand what’s behind the Powerpoints they project?

      The leave-behind is perhaps a shortcoming. I’d be interested in hearing how the WBS folks respond to that.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.



  4. says

    Thanks Dave, I’ll try to address Jim’s questions/concerns. All of these items are addressed in the book but I’ll try to summarize:

    1. Regarding selling not being in person in the early stages, this is very true. That is why any simple web meeting can be turned into a remote whiteboarding session. There are many different – and very affordable – drawing solutions ranging from inexpensive tablets (Wacom) to tablet PCs, iPads, digital paper (Papershow), and many others that our customers use for remote whiteboarding. The big advantage over slide sharing via web meeting is that a seller can actually capture the customer’s input, current situation, and agreed-upon next steps on the drawing surface and then create a “virtual leave behind” in the form of a PDF, PPT, or other output of the visual that can then be emailed to the customer as an excellent follow up piece. We’ve also done some tests to show that 50% of viewers “alt-tab” away from a web-shared ppt presentation but only 15% during a remote, interactive whiteboard session. We also train telesales teams how to do this.

    2. With respect to whiteboard body language, we agree there are a set of best practices that can be employed to make sellers more comfortable at the whiteboard. These range from proper stance to the ability to talk while you write, and many others. We’ve trained 50,000 sellers globally on these best practices during our 1/2 day symposium training, and we’ve seen participants turn from skeptics to “whiteboard ninjas.” The best practices are also covered in the book and can have an immediate impact even without training. And there’s tons of research that shows customers are far more engaged when viewing hand-drawn visuals compared to static images. But I completely agree body language is a concern that needs to be addressed with the right training and education.

    I should also point out that the whiteboard is not the only option for in-person discussion using a structured visual story. You can take your customer to lunch and use a 4-color Bic pen on the butcher paper on the table. Then rip off the sheet and hand it to your customer or prospect. Very powerful. The point is not the drawing surface. It is all about knowledge ownership.

    With regards to whiteboarding taking time, well, that is the whole point. Customers appreciate it when a seller ditches the PowerPoint and takes the time to have an interactive, 2-way knowledge exchange using the whiteboard (or any other drawing surface). The last thing a customer wants is a seller standing in front of a screen and rushing through a bunch of slides. It’s also impossible to gather customer feedback (unless you have someone else there capturing notes).

    3. Competency – well, that is the whole point of whiteboard selling. You’ll never draw something on the whiteboard – or on any other drawing surface – if it’s not in your head! Sellers become lazy and dependent if all they are using is slides, data sheets and other “slicks”. If you are going to draw out a visual story or discussion framework without slides, your prospect will view you as a trusted advisor and thought leader. You’ll have differentiated yourself from your competition who are still using slides. Our customers view the whiteboard training as not only a way to get their sellers to draw visuals, but also a way for them to retain the knowledge they learn during the symposiums. Studies show 70% retention when learning by drawing vs. 20% when learning by observing material (such as a training PPT during a sales meeting).

    4. Leave behinds. I addressed this above with respect to remote whiteboarding. But regarding in-person meetings, the most powerful thing a seller can do is walk into a sales call with nothing more than 4 dry erase markers and their smart phone. They capture the customer’s input, current situation, and next steps on the board, and at the end of the meeting, they take a picture of the board, and then, if necessary, put it through some simple apps on smartphones (like Jotnot) that can clean up the penmanship and drawing. Then five minutes after leaving the meeting they email the photo – along with a recap of next steps – to the prospect. The impact is amazing. I’ve also seen sellers put the image into a laminated follow up mail piece.

    Now I will fully agree that collateral has a key role here and can be optionally brought to meetings as leave behinds. It’s not an either/or proposition. All we are saying is that the rep shouldn’t lead with the prepared materials. We’re also big proponents of what we call the “hybrid” sales call where you start with a whiteboard – to build that trusted advisor status and differentiate yourself – and then switch to slides and other materials when the customer wants to drill down.

    The key point is that all of these techniques and materials are not mutually exclusive and can play an important role in moving the sales forward and fostering good customer conversations.

    I hope this has helped.

  5. Michael Noyola says

    Powerpoint has its place, but one problem with it is that it forces the presenter’s cognitive viewpoint on the audience. Your audience needs to take in your information the best way they see fit, not you. For information on this, Edward Tufte ( goes into great detail on his website (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information).

    The whiteboard technique (or “chalk talk”) allows you to interact with your audience and the feedback they give you so that you can match your presentation to their needs. Think of it as fitting your message to the market.

    Working in a highly technical industry, my colleagues and I have always been challenged in explaining complex problems to people without the experience to really grasp the underlying details of how the technology works, but still want to know how the features of what we are proposing translate into user benefits.

    There are guidelines for using Powerpoint effectively, and it is great that some guidelines are out there for using a whiteboard/scratch paper to help you get your message across.

  6. says

    Jim, it’s strongly recommended to give WBS a try. I know I did and was amazed with the results. Give it try and after doing so would be great to see your impression.


    • Dave Stein says

      Thanks, Gary.

      My take on all this is that we need a range of tools, processes, methods, and strategies to provide what our customers need to buy from us. The secret is to understand how our customers buy and align our sales approach to that.