the ceo magazine, sales,
Ashley Welch and Justin Jones, Founders, Somersault Innovation

The Pitch—when we present a solution to a client for consideration—is both an exciting and nerve-wracking time. Many of us rehearse for hours, especially for a big deal. And many more of us make the wise choice of incorporating visual aids with which to engage our prospects. And…we succeed! We win deals every day. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the sales process is far more participative than it used to be. Customers are more informed than ever before, and they’re watching very closely to make sure the solution we provide is the very best. Decision-making is also more collaborative, so there are more stakeholders involved in the sales process and more needs and interests to speak to. Plus, the sales cycle takes longer, and the solutions being pitched are increasingly complex. The result: customers no longer want to be dazzled with beautiful graphics as much as they want to be engaged in a hands-on way.


Our best pitch clients have mastered the art of what we call “co-creative” pitches. They recognize that coming to the table with a well-rehearsed, colorful pitch is both outdated and high-risk. Outdated for the reasons we mention above, and high-risk because the assumed outcome of such a pitch meeting is a Yes/No decision. It’s ridiculous to risk so much on one meeting! A “No” could mean months of work down the drain. A co-creative pitch approach tilts the table in both parties’ favor.

Rather than positioning your pitch as a final decision making meeting, set an expectation that you’ll walk through several options and will create the best solution together. Shift the client’s role from Yes/No Decision-maker to feedback provider and co-creator. This set-up works exceptionally well when working with a buying team and it takes the pressure off you as the sales person because you don’t have to perfect any one solution; rather, you can rely on multiple customer experts to help you shape their ideal solution. Your stress level goes down, while their involvement goes up, along with their commitment and confidence in the final solution.

We worked with an Account Executive supporting a major healthcare division of IBM. He was beginning to work on perfecting his pitch when we were able to convince him to offer rough-written drafts of 3 different options to his client,  theSVP of Sales Operations. He positioned them as some early ideas and invited her to react with feedback. Her response? She loved them all—especially the crazy “let’s go for it” option—and she took ownership for championing the solution internally to win the necessary budget. He shared enough of the solutions for her to get the gist of each idea, while inviting her to help him shape and guide the ultimate solution she believed should be implemented.


Our final suggestion here relates to your choice of visuals—even for a co-creative pitch. The vast majority of us have become comfortable with PowerPoint. And, in many cases, we have accumulated stunning slide material which we feel very comfortable presenting. The problem with our PowerPoint slides is that, by their very nature, they invite passive engagement from our clients.

A PowerPoint slide is a finished and static visual aid. When you direct people’s attention up to your slide, you’re literally de-emphasizing the interaction among the people in the room. Don’t do that! It makes co-creating much more difficult. Instead, we suggest you either minimize or eliminate completely your favorite slides and trade them in for a whiteboard. This is where PowerSketching comes in. Our clients have seen the incredible power that sketching brings into their co-creative pitches. It’s like magic. From the moment the marker touches the wall (or flipchart), people are singly focused on what is being created and highly engaged in shaping what’s drawn.

For most people, the first time we suggest this, their immediate response is, “Well, I can’t draw.” We’re not asking you to draw. We’re asking you to sketch. Dan Roam has built an entire company on the power of sketching. He offers simple online courses called the Napkin Academy (as in, back of the napkin) because he has seen incredible success from the simplest of sketches. He suggests that if you can sketch 5 simple shapes: a line, a square (or rectangle), a circle, a triangle and a blob – you’re golden!

If you’re still feeling tentative about your sketching skills, let us lower the barrier for entry even further. This sketch is worth many millions of dollars. Look closely. Feast your eyes.

Notice the finely crafted circles, the calligraphy quality handwriting, the near-impressionist abstraction of the human form. Not! This is a sketch created by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and Angela Ahrendts, then CEO of Burberry and now SVP of Retail for Apple. Marc drew this (on a napkin) with Angela in a meeting to seal the deal on a new partnership between their two companies.

To the extent you can shift the purpose of your pitch meetings to be co-creative, you’re more likely to win bigger deals that your clients will love. And, to the extent you can sketch—and involve your clients involved in sketching—solution options you’ll create a highly engaging and collaborative experience that will be hard to forget. In fact, in most cases, the sales people we’ve worked with have common stories about how their clients still have pictures on their phones of their ‘awful’ PowerSketches.

About the Author

Ashley Welch and Justin Jones co-founded Somersault Innovation, a Design Thinking consulting firm providing a unique approach to sales development. They are the authors of  Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue. For more information, please visit,


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