Think back to the last time you traveled through the airport and how much goes into catching a flight. Show up two hours early, park in a distant cornfield, ride shuttles and trams, struggle through security (shoes on or off?) and walk miles of tunnels to your gate.
These are just a few of the logistical challenges that business travelers face, all in the name of meeting in-person. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation statistics, approximately 16% of American business travel was conducted through airports before 2020, accounting for more than 405 million business trips per year (the other 84% of business trips were made via personal vehicle or short-range commute). Many of those flights were made by sales teams in support of closing a deal. But why?
So much of the sales process is dependent on trust and rapport, intangible relationship factors that can’t be easily established over the phone or via written conversations. How a person carries themselves and adheres to cultural norms (e.g. shaking hands, bowing, eye contact, etc.) can be as important to a business deal as the details on the term sheet. We travel to present our sales pitch in person because it works in creating empathy and reducing the physical and emotional distance between the two negotiating parties.
Building a New, Virtual Sales Funnel
Flying multiple times to close a sale used to be the norm. This has changed as businesses have reimagined the sales funnel in a virtual-first environment. Savvy sales teams have embraced the next normal, understanding that virtual and hybrid presentations are not only here to stay, but they’re also better for the bottom line. The research firm Gartner projects that by 2024, only 25% of business meetings will happen in person.
Like any presentation, virtual selling success hinges on understanding and meeting the needs of the audience. Effective virtual presentations offer many of the same benefits of meeting in person, including the opportunity to build understanding through verbal, nonverbal, and visual cues. The operative word is “effective.” Proficiency in presenting virtually may be more important than the capabilities of your product or service and be the difference between winning or losing a sale.
Fortunately, many of the tactics used by top brands, including your competitors, are affordable and accessible to you.
In May 2021, Duarte launched a survey of business professionals to understand how presenting and communicating in a virtual or hybrid environment can be improved. The results of the survey, mixed with success stories and insights from industry leaders, are captured in our new Duarte guidebook, Presenting Virtually: Communicate and Connect With Online Audiences.
Let’s define a couple of key terms.
Remote communication can mean anything from responding to an instant message to crafting an email to a customer to running a meeting online.
A virtual presentation goes beyond technology to encompass any situation where you are speaking to a group of people who aren’t in the room with you.
Both are important concepts to understand, as they work to your advantage—or disadvantage—in a virtual sales environment. Here are a few tips for planning, writing, designing, and delivering virtual sales presentations that close the distance between you and your customer.
1. Technical Mastery Is a Must
Our survey revealed that 95% of professionals communicate online daily, with nearly half of respondents giving and attending virtual presentations in a given week. From April 2020 to April 2021, the world spent more than 3.3 trillion minutes in Zoom meetings (that’s over 6 million years!), giving the world ample opportunity to learn and establish best practices.
At this point in the learning curve, your audience expects professional presenters to command the virtual room. As part of your preparation for a sales presentation, use this as a handy technical checklist:
- Connection: Whether you’re back in the office or working from home, your Internet connection impacts every aspect of a virtual presentation. Invest in the highest speed Internet available and use an ethernet cord whenever possible to ensure a steady connection.
- Functionality: Find the mute button and use it appropriately! Additionally, if presenting a deck, practice sharing your screen and advancing the slides. If video is part of your presentation, ensure it shares smoothly from your device—otherwise consider nixing it or sending it to participants to watch on their own devices.
- Notifications: We live in a world of pop-up notifications, ringtones and vibrations. While helpful at times, they can be distracting to you and your audience, especially during a sales pitch. Help everyone in a virtual presentation stay focused by muting notifications on your phone and desktop, especially if you’re presenting.
- Environment: There are additional strategies for improving the visual and nonverbal cues of a remote presentation, but it starts with putting your best foot forward. Ensure your device has a high-quality camera and microphone, transmitting the best quality video and audio for your call. Whenever possible, select a quiet, well-lit room with a neutral background, and position the camera at eye level. If that’s not possible, consider a headset that eliminates background noise for you and the audience, toggle on and off of mute when speaking, and use a digital background image, or blur to reduce distractions. That leads to the next point below.
2. Audience Empathy
Once the technical side of a presentation is solved, presenters can get creative with tactics to build audience rapport, as long as every decision comes from a position of audience empathy. Successful presentations are a process of moving people from an original state of thinking to your state of thinking. The following tactics, when applied with empathy, can expedite this change process.
Take every opportunity to build rapport in the conversation. Eye contact and pausing can help greatly here. As unnatural as it may feel to stare into your camera lens, make it a habit to do so, especially when speaking, as eye contact has been shown to build trust. Pausing allows your audience to fully grasp what you’re saying. Give them time to process, especially if your virtual engagement is through audio only, and they don’t have visuals to help them understand. Additionally, interactions create connections between the audience and speaker. Asking questions and intently listening to the answers of your customers is the most powerful way to build rapport. And any time you’re in a position of listening, be an active listener by nodding, smiling, and showing engagement.
Be Visually Impressive
Remember: compared to standing in a conference room or on stage, the camera presents a relatively narrow point of view. The reality of your visual environment can be entirely curated.
While having a neutral background is safe, curating a branded environment is next level. Consider including your company logo or product in the background of the room, or a picture of something that reinforces your brand values (e.g. awards and honors, family pictures, etc.) or something that helps you connect emotionally with the other people on the call. Just make sure it isn’t too distracting.
You are the subject on your end of the call, and a visual representation of your brand and product. Body language is always important, so choose an environment where you feel comfortable and confident. If you normally wear lucky socks, a comfortable blazer, or a favorite sweater to an in-person sales pitch, the virtual environment can still convey those visuals. Stay within the frame of the camera but feel empowered to talk with your hands and gesture naturally.
3. Win with a Story
One of the biggest differences between presenting in physical and virtual environments is the prevalence of distractions. In an in-person presentation, audience members are typically away from their desks, with devices out of sight. In a virtual environment, the presentation lives within the screen where all remote communication competes for their attention.
Is your presentation compelling enough to win?
Success starts with crafting a story that keeps your audience engrossed—a process which begins long before you join the call. Storytelling has become a bit of a buzzword, but the underlying lesson is people buy from people. Presenters should lead with empathy, tying a product or service back to the people it serves. A winning sales pitch makes the value proposition clear and concise, paces the narrative appropriately, and uses variety to gain the audience’s attention.
A key component of holding attention is visual harmony to keep the focus of your audience. Well-designed visuals work in tandem with your words to help your audience easily understand concepts, an effect called “dual coding” by psychologist Allan Paivio. His research revealed that words and graphics are understood differently by the brain, in support of one another. He also noted that attractive or delightfully surprising visuals help make your presentation more enjoyable for the audience.
Lastly, there is no substitute for practice and polish. While this holds true for presenting in any environment, presenting virtually is not the same as commanding a physical room. Beyond the tips already listed for tech and visuals, it’s important to remember that presentations are a spoken-word medium. Effective vocal delivery brings clarity to your words and vibrancy to your performance. Remember to speak precisely, vary your vocal dynamics, and project your voice with confidence. No matter where your audience watches from, your preparation will shine through.
Embrace the Next Normal
Now that digital technologies are transforming work itself, remote interactions are becoming more norm than exception. No matter where your audience sits within the sales funnel, your ability to connect remotely will determine your success in persuading them to buy.
Virtual sales presentations don’t have to replace in-person pitches in order to be a critical part of the sales cycle. Virtual sales presentations are here to stay, and today’s sales leaders have already adapted to the tips listed above.
The new Golden Rule is simple: “Never deliver a presentation that is less engaging than it would have been in person.” This is your blueprint for sales success in the next normal.
Illustrated by Taylor Henry