Presenting From Afar: The Case For Virtual Selling
In the current economic climate, the spotlight has been shone with some intensity on the sales process. Across the board, increased competition has forced businesses to re-double their sales efforts, both in terms of the lead generation process and the actual number of new business leads being generated. Either way, delivering a return on investment throughout the sales process has never been more critical.
In terms of sales presentations, it is essential to avoid the trap of generating and attending a significantly greater number of presentations only for the conversion ratio to tail off. In this scenario, the new business drive actually results in being a drain on precious time and financial resources and therefore defeats the purpose of the exercise.
As a result of the increased competition for what leads are available, businesses are having to work that bit harder not only to get their foot in the door, but to stand out from the competition. Getting the value proposition right is of course key – but either way, it is not always possible to get to a face-to-face presentation at the drop of the hat. Consequently, many businesses, in order to stay that step ahead of the competition, have been investing in virtual selling.
One of the key considerations when contemplating virtual selling is to ask what is so different about face-to-face selling that makes it so much more effective than telesales. The answer, which should not be hugely surprising (given the premium importance attached to generating face-to-face meetings) is that an audience will on average only recall 10% of what it hears, compared to around 30 to 40% of what they see. A face-to-face experience engages so much more of an audience’s senses, so that the ability to recall information is dramatically enhanced. Certainly an audience will recall more of what it sees or hears if it writes down the information – but the percentage increase has an impact in both cases; and visual presentations have a far greater starting platform than the audio telesales.
In the case of virtual selling, a mid-point between audio and visual, an online presentation needs to work that much harder to maintain the audience’s attention and as such needs to be far more visual. Bullet points in virtual selling are a sure-fire method to turn an audience off at the outset.
One of the key aspects in maintaining audience attention is movement to draw the audience’s attention along. This is true in face-to-face presentations and is similarly true in virtual selling. There are specific techniques available to provide this level of dynamism, and animations such as motion paths can work well in a virtual selling environment. With an average audience attention span ranging between 5 and 10 minutes, it is imperative to grasp interest at the outset and work hard to retain it thereafter. With this brief period of time to reach an audience, a standard 20-30 minute face-to-face presentation will simply not work. It is also important to ensure that the presentation content is fresh and new to the audience. Even if the other objectives of value proposition, composition, illustration and interest have been reached, if the content has been seen before – perhaps via the business’ website, the audience will, most likely, lose interest.
With virtual selling, the devil is in the detail and there are a number of basic yet key rules for ensuring that theory is effectively translated into practice:
- Potential prospects will respond well to the suggestion of web meetings if it is relatively easy for them to access than face-to-face meetings
- Prospects are not clients and consequently have much lower patience levels. Therefore, the URL needed for them to access the presentation needs to work immediately and be easy for them to remember. Any level of frustration during the experience may result in the prospect walking away before the presentation is even delivered.
- Order values from virtual meetings are typically lower than those agreed at face to face meetings. Moreover:
- Conversion rates are lower
- Activity rates are higher
- Sales cycles are frequently shorter
- Presenters must be prepared to follow up with a face-to-face appointment if necessary
Broadly, a few simple steps can be taken to ensure the maximum is gained from virtual selling. Whilst webcams may seem a good alternative in principle, they are often fraught with potentially crippling bandwidth issues. In simple terms, one small bottleneck at any point in the chain may be sufficient to undermine the entire experience.
So, whilst there are alternatives, it is little surprise that virtual selling offers a tempting solution for businesses when executed appropriately. In addition to offering significant cost savings, virtual selling can prove a far more successful sales mechanism than pure telesales and a far more cost-effective option than funding a field representative. Even as a marketing tool for the generation of appointments it is far more effective than calling (figures suggest three times as successful).
Overall, the bottom line is that wherever previously a telesales of telemarketing team would have been engaged, using a virtual presentation incorporating short visual presentations, complementing a face-to-face pitch, with no software to download will improve the impact of the pitch and subsequently, the profitability given the lower cost of sale. And that’s got to be good in any economic cycle.