By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
Another great episode of Sales Pipeline Radio to share this week! We are live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales and marketing professionals.
We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
We were thrilled this last time to be able to talk to Alli McKee, Founder and CEO at Stick who has a Bachelors from the University of Virginia in studio art. She has an MBA from Stanford. Her original oil paintings have been featured in a variety of publications and exhibits. She’s spent almost two years in Africa creating new design thinking curriculum, and then a couple years ago she decided, “Well, what the hell, I’ll just go back to the valley and I’ll create a start up.”
It seems like we’re focused sometimes more on the math [in marketing] or more on the quantitative and not enough on the design. Alli talks to us about the impact and importance just generally of good design in driving businesses today.
Along the way, if you don’t already know, find out what a “word wall” is.
You’ll also hear Alli’s view on creativity:
I think about creativity is that it’s really just collecting things, collecting information, and putting it together in interesting ways. It’s really not about having this creative talent, it’s more having access to that inventory from which you can invent. So the way that Stick works is we’re trying to give you a jump start on that creative process. It’s built around this behavior that I’ve seen in real life as a designer working with business people, a lot of people, just like yourself, saying, “I’m not creative. I need help with this.” But the second you give them a first draft, they always have feedback. Always. Right? So what we’ve tried to do is build that first draft into a tool. So you can put in your content, Stick automatically generates that first draft for you, and then enables you to act on that feedback in a few clicks in seconds rather than a two day email exchange.
Listen in to see what doing improv has to do with sales and marketing… and a lot more! The full transcript is below:
Paul: Welcome aboard. Time to grab your board. Catch a wave and see if you can surf out onto the new Sales Pipeline that’s starting to curl up over the horizon out there. With the only man I know who’s NCAA bracket is still intact, Matt Heinz.
Matt: It’s perfect.
Matt: It’s perfect. I don’t know how I did it. But it’s absolutely perfect. Just like zero percent of the rest of the country. I think I read somewhere last week … We weren’t even halfway through the weekend and ESPN announced that there were zero perfect brackets.
Paul: I mean just one episode after another. I couldn’t believe this last round here. I’m hoping today, today we’re taping this on the Thursday the 22nd, I’m hoping University of Michigan pulls it off and continues their last minute climb up the ladder here, but we’ll see.
Matt: I mean, what’s funny about this tournament, I mean, I’m not a huge basketball fan in general, and I don’t watch a lot of college basketball, but there’s something about this tournament. I mean, just the drama and the suspense and these small schools that come out of nowhere, and some of them have 96 year old nuns that could root for them.
Matt: It’s crazy.
Paul: It is. It’s crazy. Well, your guest I’m sure is an expert on this. I’m sure she’ll have a lot to talk about on this.
Matt: Well, she’s an expert on everything else. So I think it’s highly possible that she does have a perfect bracket at this point. So we’ll get into that in a second.
Thank you for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Thrilled to have you with us. We are here every Thursday live at 11:30 a.m. Pacific, 2:30 p.m. Eastern. If you’re joining us live, which I know many people do, thank you so much for doing that in the middle of your workday. If you’re joining us on the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing. If you’re stumbling upon this for the first time, you can definitely find us on the iTunes store and Google Play and every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio is available past, present, and the future at SalesPipelineRadio.com. Every week we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds and thinkers in B2B sales and marketing. Today is no different.
Paul, not just sales and marketing, but let me set this up a little bit. Our guest today, she has a Bachelors from the University of Virginia in studio art. She has an MBA from Stanford. Her original oil paintings have been featured in a variety of publications and exhibits. She’s spent almost two years in Africa creating new design thinking curriculum, and then a couple years ago she decided, “Well, what the hell, I’ll just go back to the valley and I’ll create a start up.” So oh my gosh. So much to talk about today, but first I want to welcome Alli McKee, who is the founder and CEO of Stick.
Alli, thanks so much for joining us.
Alli: Thanks you so much, Matt, and as a University of Virginia grad, I’m excited to talk about just about anything other than basketball right now.
Matt: I bet you are. That’s true. So in the intro, I tried to do my best to cover the highlights, but I’m sure I missed some things. I mean, the diversity of your experience is fantastic. Was that intentional for you early in your career? How did that come to be?
Alli:I have been lucky to have a lot of diverse experiences, but the theme has always been consistent, which is really around visual communication and the power of visual to connect people and to grow businesses. So whether I was teaching art and design thinking in South Africa with visual framework or making slides for clients that stain, the theme has been consistent. Now that’s what I’ve been focused on turning that process, that visualization and visual design process into a tool with Stick so that anyone can do it.
Matt: So let’s talk a little bit about Stick and what you’re doing. That’s a great way of sort of entering into that conversation. You and I met at SaaStr Conference earlier this year. I got a chance to check out the product and what you guys are building, and very impressive the way you guys are rethinking essentially just general design and presentations and specifically visual presentations for Go To Market teams. Talk a little bit about maybe what’s broken with most presentations today and why we need a new approach.
Alli: Absolutely. What we’re seeing is old system of marketing develops this PowerPoint deck, which then they send out to the sales teams, the sales teams get this PDF or kind of static PowerPoint and are saying, “Okay. This isn’t relevant to my customers.” Right? So then they go rogue and kind of type up their stuff in bullet points and are trying to customize to their customers, but it takes so long to make these slides. So what we’ve seen is not only are sales reps sending an insane amount of time trying to pull together content, but they don’t have any guidance on what successful content is. So what we’ve tried to do with Stick is basically enable those salespeople to have personalized conversations with their customers that are supported by visuals rather than typing out word walls of text.
Matt: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase word walls, but I think if you’re in marketing or if you’re in sales, you immediately know what that means is that slide with like 28 fonts where instead of talking through the slides, you basically just give someone your script right up on the slide. I mean, it’s a very different thing to think about giving a bunch of slides versus giving a presentation versus having a conversation. Talk about those differences. I mean, if you get the point where you are in the room with your prospect, where you’re even on the phone and have their attention, having it be a two way dialogue and more interactive seems to me to be a better approach, don’t you think?
Alli: Absolutely. Lots of things to talk about here. I would say one of the key pieces of advice I got early on in my career. I was presenting a slide to and I was doing a practice run with my manager before meeting with the CEO. I had this very detailed slide, lots of content, lots of text on it, and my manager stopped me and he said, “Alli, if you present this, the slide is the expert. We don’t want the slide to be the expert. We want you to be the expert because you’re the one who did the analysis. You’re the one who understands this problem. You’re the one who can guide the client to the solution.” So what you want is you want a slide that supports you, but the focus should be on the human beings in the room, not the text content on the slide.
I’ve seen that play out. That’s a consulting environment, but I’ve seen that play out in all different types of presentations and conversations where a speaker, a lot of it has to do with the root cause being wanting to set yourself up for success and not forget anything, but really you end up undermining your own credibility if you put too much content on those slides. Instead, just relying on the two people in the room and supporting, whether it’s a conversation or a presentation, but retaining your expert status is really important.
Matt: Absolutely. We’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Alli McKee. She has noted before has done many amazing things a lot in the world of design and art, and is the founder and CEO of Stick. If we can take a step back and talk about just the important of design in business. We’re tend to be a sales and marketing pipeline guy. So I consider myself more of a math marketer, a sort of sales pipeline focus guy. So I think a lot more about the math. I think more about conversion rates, and I think a lot of B2B marketers today are focused on how to get more conversion out of landing pages and getting better open rates and click rates. It seems like we’re focused sometimes more on the math or more on the quantitative and not enough on the design. Talk about the impact and importance just generally of good design in driving businesses today.
Alli: So what we’re seeing is the consumer world is spilling over into the enterprise world, right? So your content that you’re using to drive those click through rates is competing not with other B2B content but with Snapchat, Instagram stories, scrolling through headlines. Consumers aren’t reading anymore. So as a result, their attention spans are so much shorter than they have been, and having good design to actually stand out to your customers and then earn their attention, designs the only lever you have. I think that’s the key trend that I’m seeing in content. Everything from social to sales decks to landing pages. It’s everywhere.
Matt: It seems like in many cases, the idea of less is more is important here, right? I mean, from a design standpoint. I’m not a design guy at all, but from what I’ve been taught more white space is better. Less on the pages is better. What you said earlier really resonates. Don’t let the slide be the expert. Use that as a way of enhancing your story versus being the story.
Alli: Absolutely. The other benefit of that, right? Is that it enables you to personalize more. So if I’m selling a product that has in six key benefits, chances are the prospect I’m talking to only cares about three of them. So if I try to include all the information that anyone could ever possibly want, I’ve already overwhelmed them rather than focusing on the three key things that they care about, or even better the one key thing that they care about. Design teachings of prioritization and focus are really, really critical.
Matt: Yeah. Absolutely. You’ve been working on this for almost two years. You guys launched at SaaStr here a couple weeks ago. What’s the reception like and what kind of feedback are you getting from your early customers on it?
Alli: It’s been such a fun process. So we’re in the going from a prototype to a product that’s actually working and actually creating value for our clients is … I can’t tell you how fulfilling it is personally, but then the main feedback that we’re seeing is that it’s not even about replacing PowerPoint and saving time. That’s been great. But what we’ve seen and been a bit surprised by, frankly, is actually realizing there’s so many more opportunities for visual content and it’s actually more white space than you realize. So for example, if I’m a salesperson calling a prospect, that phone call is typically now a video chat and now you have a screen that you can fill with visual content that maybe you didn’t have time to make a deck for but now with Stick, you’re basically turning your call notes into a visual deck automatically. So now you can have visuals to support that conversation. So what we’re seeing is it being used in ways that we didn’t really anticipate and it’s really exciting because the opportunities even bigger than we initially thought.
Matt: That’s awesome. Well I think this definitely has a lot of legs and could go in a lot of different directions. We’re going to have to take a quick break here, pay some bills. We’ll be back in a couple minutes with more with Alli McKee. She’s the founder and CEO of Stick. We’re going to talk more about how to challenge the status quo, especially when your competition may be a tool that people already have for free. We’re going to talk a little about the impact of improv on running a business and the sales process, and lots more coming up after the break. You’ve been listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: Okay. Back to Matt and his guest. Can I ask a quick question here?
Matt: Yes, sir.
Paul: I’d be curious to know, haven’t seen the product, does it help a stick in the mud like me? Does Stick help a stick in the mud like me who has no creativity when it comes to putting out data or images or whatever? I understand it can help me design a little better, but how do you get me to be creative?
Alli: That’s a great question. So the way that I think about creativity is that it’s really just collecting things, collecting information, and putting it together in interesting ways. It’s really not about having this creative talent, it’s more having access to that inventory from which you can invent. So the way that Stick works is we’re trying to give you a jumpstart on that creative process. It’s built around this behavior that I’ve seen in real life as a designer working with business people, a lot of people, just like yourself, saying, “I’m not creative. I need help with this.” But the second you give them a first draft, they always have feedback. Always. Right? So what we’ve tried to do is build that first draft into a tool. So you can put in your content, Stick automatically generates that first draft for you, and then enables you to act on that feedback in a few clicks in seconds rather than a two day email exchange.
Matt: Now, Alli, I want to follow up on that just in terms of people’s understanding of needing a better presentation solution. Many cases you’ve got an early stage company that is nascent marketing that is creating demand out of sort of to where there hasn’t traditionally been a need. In other organizations, maybe you’re trying to promote a new CRM system, trying to get people off something like Sales Force, just change where they’re spending their money. I think if you’re selling into sales teams, your primary competitor may very well be a tool that people already have that they don’t really pay for, it doesn’t come out of their own budget. I’m thinking about PowerPoint for example. We’ve been talking about the importance of the conversation, the fact that you don’t want the slides to be the expert. But how do you really sort of help people challenge their status quo? How do you compete against something that is essentially entrenched and free in some organizations?
Alli: It is so difficult. So difficult.
Matt: I bet.
Alli: So our strategy is by focusing, right? So Google slides or PowerPoint are used for anything under the sun, which means you can do anything with them. What we’ve tried to do instead is say, “Look, we are focused on sales slides. That means are tool is trained on sales slides. That means our tool can tell you how your sales slides are going to perform and optimize your content for this setting because we know this use case.” And supporting that with the way that we’re getting most of our customers, frankly, is putting out content and writing about how to do this and how to build our companies story, how to visualize it. So they were trying to position ourselves as an advisor to them in the space. That’s something that Microsoft and Google, while their market share is high, they’re not able to really focus like that at this point.
Matt: Well, when you’re trying to get over that hump, you’re trying to get someone to think differently about their current situation, are we talking B2B about the mix between logic and emotion in getting people to make decisions or change their mind or adopt something new. How have you guys really sort of rationalized logic and emotion. I think making a business case for something different versus also sort of getting people to be excited about the impact it can have maybe on their careers, maybe on the culture and morale of their sales team. How do you balance those things together?
Alli: Yeah. It’s definitely a balance. So I think it’s the emotion that gets you in the door, and it’s logic that closes the deal. So for us, the emotion around, “Oh, I hate PowerPoint decks. Slides are so boring. I hate making slides.” That emotion is real and it’s pervasive and that opens the door for us to start a conversation. However, in order for them to really go up the learning curve, invest the time in a new product, invest their money in a new product, we’ve got to prove that it actually works. That’s where we’re backing up, we’re saying, “This feels better. This is easier to use, but it also saves you. You can make a sales deck in two minutes rather than two hours. You’re more likely to close deals by x percent when you use this product.” So trying to balance the two and of course flexing it depending on who you’re talking to. There’s going to be some buyers who are more logic driven and vice versa. It really is about using emotion to open the door and logic to close the deal.
Matt: Yeah. I love that. Got a few more questions here, a little more time with Alli McKee. She’s the founder and CEO of Stick, and I’ve seen you speak a few times and you’ve included some comments about the improv classes that you have taken. I’m sure that is in part for fun, which sounds amazing as an improv nerd and a fan of Who’s Line Is It Anyway, another cool sort of manifestations of improv. I’m sure that’s just a lot of fun. But I’m curious as well. Where have you seen improv benefit you in the business world as well? Either selling Stick or just as a founder and entrepreneur.
Alli: Yeah. So the three lessons that I have learned from improv and I’m still practicing quite a bit, but the three things are first, you’ve got to be a listening goalie, right? If you don’t listen, you’re not going to be successful. So just really learning how to listen, whether that’s customers, team members, investors, anyone. That is your secret weapon. Second is around the importance around relationship. So when you’re doing a scene, one of the things we’ve learned is you’re always supposed to give your scene partner a name because that name implies that there’s some kind of relationship there. Right? So the importance of building a relationship and understanding the nuances of every single relationship. Again, regardless of where that. This is particularly true with customers.
Then finally, we did an exercise last week in class actually about how we had to get up and do a monologue. It was so difficult. It is really difficult to improvise a monologue. It’s hard to know what to say because you’ve got to come up with the content and you’re so worried about what am I going to say next that you’re not actually present in what you’re saying now. Then we followed that with a typical two person scene. It was so much easier. The takeaway that I had there was if you can have a conversation with your customer, rather than a monologue pitch, it’s more fun, it’s more natural. You’re actually building a relationship, and you can, again, going back to listening, you can truly listen to them rather than making sure that you dump all your content.
Paul: Can I ask for another … I have to pipe in one more time here because I love improv, and I’ve taken classes at the famous Groundlings up in Hollywood here. The thing I learned that I never thought of that’s changed everything in my business is the idea improv is always “yes and…” In life, it’s always “yes, but”, particularly in marketing. Yes, we can do that, but … Then you start to give the 40 reasons that that’s a dumb idea. In improv, you have to say, “Yes, and …” no matter how crazy it is. “Yes, and …” and then make it work.
Matt: Mm-hmm. Alli, is that true?
Alli: Yes, and … The core of that to me that’s been a really powerful lesson as well and the core of that to me has actually been humility, right? What’s implied with a yes and mentality is I don’t have all the answers. I don’t get to control this outcome. I can build on it. I can direct it, but I don’t have all the answers. Your scene partner is who builds the scene with you. You don’t get to tell your scene partner what their line is. So I love that mentality. Also having a light and playful approach is really easy to get stressed out when you’re trying to make your number and you’re trying to please these customers who are complaining, and just kind of taking a deep breath and having a little bit of fun with it too. Because this should be fun.
Matt: Paul, I feel like we just got, in the last four minutes, a master class in business and life just by talking about the impact improv can have. As I’m looking through this list here. Like learning how to listen, focusing on sort of building a relationship, having a conversation versus a monologue, the fact that yes and creates a sense of humility, and that taking a light and easy approach almost always works better for both sides. Boy, if that isn’t good advice in business, in life, in sales, everywhere, I don’t know, man. That’s some good stuff. Good stuff.
Good stuff from Alli McKee. She’s founder and CEO of Stick, and before we let you go, just want to ask our final question as an artist, as an entrepreneur, as someone who is clearly in sales now as well, who are some of the people that you have learned the most from? They can be alive or dead. They can be a recent. It could be someone from your past. But as you’ve sort of continued to grow as a leader, who are the people who you’ve been paying attention to, have been mentors, that have been inspirations for you that other people might take inspiration from as well?
Alli: The two people who are top of mind to me this week are Jaco vanderKooij. I feel like Jaco lives in the future and helps bring us all along. He’s basically taught me how to marry, design and sale, and really enjoyed learning from him. Then the other is a customer who I just got off the phone with who has such an operational mindset, right? She takes a big idea and says, “Okay. You’re doing one, two and three.” Just great lessons around focus. It just goes to show that you can learn … I’m learning from coaches, from customers, everyone in between, and the learning never stops. You can find it anywhere.
Matt: I love it. I love it. Well, we’re running out of time, but thank you so much, Alli McKee, for joining us today.
If you like this conversation and you want to hear it again or share some of these great insights, especially our life lessons on improv, check us out. We’ll have a recording replay of this available on SalesPipelineRadio.com here in a couple days. We’ll also have a summary transcript of the conversation up on HeinzMarketing.com. Make sure you join us each week.
Coming up the next few weeks, we got some great guests coming up. We’ve got Raviv Turner. He is the founder and CEO of CaliberMind. We’re going to be talking about the importance of marketing intelligence, not just updating your information and making it accurate and complete, but making it actionable. Talking about the importance of making your data actionable and intelligent.
We’re also going to be sitting down with Mike Braund. He is the head of marketing operations for Tableau and he’s going to be talking about how to build the marketing operation function, how to create it, how to measure it, and how to work with sales operations the rest of teams. So make sure you join us next couple week for Sales Pipeline Radio.
That’s all the time we got today. For my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. We’ll see you next week on Sales Pipeline Radio.