Lonna J. Williams decided to start using an iPad application to sell her company's depression-detecting blood test after realizing that the PowerPoint presentations her salespeople used just weren't cutting it.
PowerPoint, even when displayed on the iPad, "didn't seem like a solution to capture a doctor's attention given we were talking about cutting edge technology," says Williams, chief executive of a San Diego-based company called Ridge Diagnostics that employs 20 people. In order to create a sales tool more in sync with how she saw her company's brand, she began working with a New York based start-up called StoryDesk, which makes an iPad application specifically for sales presentations.
PowerPoint has so dominated business presentations since its introduction more than 20 years ago by Microsoft that it's virtually become a noun in and of itself, much like Kleenex, Jell-O or Xerox. Among small businesses that want to differentiate themselves in a crowded environment, however, presentation applications designed specifically for the iPad are becoming increasingly popular. Experts say that iPad apps are particularly relevant for small businesses which often rely on face-to-face interactions with a single client or a small group.
The iPad's touch screen allows the presenter to use it as a whiteboard, driving real-time engagement based on a client's questions or needs. And the iPad also enables business representatives to have access to company data or information at all times, allowing them to make the unexpected sales presentation, say at a conference or a social event, says Jan Schultink, a former McKinsey strategy consultant turned presentation designer.
"It's good for running off a presentation designed specifically for a countertop setting," says Schultink.
Apple, which offers its own iPad presentation software Keynote that retails at $9.99 for iOS devices, doesn't collect data on the number of iPad presentation apps retailing on iTunes. But companies that develop such apps say they are seeing rising interest from customers.
StoryDesk, which is about 16 months old, has seen a month-on-month growth of about 30% and now has over 1,000 clients, according to its founder, Jordan Stolper. The number of users of the app Prezi Viewer for iPad have doubled in the past six months, says Prezi spokesperson Andrea Torres, and the company has seen 750,000 unique application downloads on the tablet.
Elizabeth Gordon, CEO of New York travel firm Extraordinary Journeys, began using StoryDesk for presentations last September, designing them to "have a catalog feel" that incorporates video along with high resolution photographs. Increasingly, the app is replacing not just her PowerPoint presentations, but also her paper catalogs.
Gordon estimates that she spends about $20,000 a year on catalogs and that switching entirely to StoryDesk, which charges a fee of $70 for each of her six salespeople per month, will cut that spending in half.
"I've used PowerPoint before, but you can't give it to people and let someone look at it themselves," says Gordon who hopes to turn her StoryDesk presentation into a magazine of sorts, with a regularly updated blog that clients can look at in their own time.
"Everyone has a website," she says. "We were looking for a solution that was cool and different from everyone else in travel."
Currently, PowerPoint software must be converted to be viewed on a tablet device. A Microsoft spokeswoman wouldn't say whether the company plans to release an iPad-enabled PowerPoint program, but the company does plan a new release of the software this summer. Currently, converting PowerPoint to be viewed on an iPad binds the presenter to a linear format, whereas native iPad applications allow one to skip to particular sections and subsections.
"You can chunk your content in chapter heads and subheads. You can go topically across and click down into detail. You can shuffle through information quickly and find exactly what you want," says Nancy Duarte, CEO of presentation company Slide:ology. "When you convert PowerPoint for an iPad, you don't have that navigability."
Navigability is one reason why Williams at Ridge Diagnostics switched to the iPad for presentations. "If a doctor has a particular interest, they can go right to that particular area of the presentation in a very simple way without scrolling through," she says. "The graphics are beautiful, it's interactive and it allows sales people maneuverability."
Apart from the ability to skip ahead, the StoryDesk app allows salespeople to interact with the presentation in other ways, such as taking notes and expanding sections. Additionally, companies that pay for the enterprise version can use StoryDesk to gather back-end analytics on their sales teams, tracking where the presentation took place, who presented, what slides were used and for how long.
While the self-service version of the app, which allows for unlimited data storage, costs $39 a month per user with no upfront cost, the enterprise service has an upfront cost starting at $5,000--which covers the design of a customized, interactive iPad app--and a monthly cost of between $30 to $70 per user. The fee also includes a dedicated project manager and training sessions for sales teams on how to use the iPad.
Stolper is working on a new 'leave behind' version of the app, which lets salespeople update clients with new material in real time, rather than sending an email or waiting for the next visit. The new app "aims to replace leaving behind PDFs and thumb drives with a dynamic, bidirectional marketing communications tool," he says.
Although it is too soon to tell if StoryDesk has improved sales, Williams says the app definitely commands more time and attention from the doctors Ridge Diagnostics visits.
Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at email@example.com