The new world of virtual sales and marketing – 6 practical tips for engaging customers online

With the majority of us still working from home, the digital world has become the go-to means of interacting and communicating with clients and prospects, almost overnight.

And now, as we emerge from the crisis, we can expect many of the changes to customer behaviour to remain in the collective psyche, at least for the foreseeable. None of us are likely to be attending industry tradeshows, real world events or regular face-to-face meetings any time soon.

Indeed, looking forward, recent research conducted by McKinsey found that B2B companies now regard digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.

The flexibility, scalability and cost-effectiveness of virtual meetings, events and webinars are undeniable. But the lack of real life interaction can also be very challenging.

Most of us can relate to the side-splitting ‘conference call in real life’ video that went viral, and it served to highlight the difficulties of communicating in a virtual world.

With this in mind, we bring you six practical considerations for sales and marketing professionals who may be less than familiar with some of the hurdles and pitfalls of engaging prospects online.

1. Find a platform fit for purpose

A successful meeting, presentation or event can be made or broken by the platform used.

There is no single best solution however, nor a one-size-fits-all. It very much depends on how you intend to use it – and it is important to determine this at the very outset.

Are you looking for a general conferencing solution, a platform to host non-interactive ‘webcast’ presentations, interactive ‘webinars’ or more expansive virtual events?

TechRadar have recently published helpful guides to the virtues of some of the leading video conferencing software and webinar tools.

The functionality of webinar platforms, such as Zoom, and WebinarJam, is becoming ever more sophisticated and these can now be used for bespoke events. But for events that may involve hundreds of participants, a wide variety of virtual spaces, virtual exhibitions, conferences, presentations and roundtable discussions, dedicated event software such as INXPO, Hopin or VFairs offers the more appropriate solution.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to the customisation functionality. To what extent can your company’s branding be integrated across the platform? This can be particularly important for virtual events, where a consistent brand experience is paramount.

An ability to capture and record an event can also be important, allowing attendees to access the information you’ve shared with them at a later date.

2. Make your customer’s experience a visual and interactive one

In the real world environment, the speaker will generally be the focal point of presentations.

But in the virtual world, the focus will invariably be on slides, either as the principal visual aid in webinars or as a tool to help reinforce key messages in one-to-one sales presentations. This makes the need for presentation visuals to be all the more dynamic. Leave your audience’s screen static for too long and you risk them switching off.

The use of multimedia here – from charts and web pages to videos and animations – can offer a powerful antidote to the monotony of traditional presentations, and it can go a long way to boosting audience engagement. Think of presentations in the virtual world as a ‘visual magnet’.

Most video conferencing platforms will also allow you to run live polls, with the results display graphically back to the audience, and interactive Q&As that can allow more experienced speakers to adapt their presentations on the fly.

3. Set up to minimise distraction

Did you see Professor Robert Kelly’s children gate-crashing his live BBC interview about South Korea? He managed to keep his composure, but it was far from easy.

Taking steps to avoid interruption is important, but it is just one aspect of ensuring a good set-up to minimise distraction.

Whether you’re in a sales meeting or presenting a webinar, if your audience have to work hard to hear or see you, you will soon lose their attention. Ensure your internet speed can handle your VOIP connection and consider a USB microphone, which will generally provide clearer audio than a laptop’s in-built mic. A room with soft furnishings will also help to reduce echo.

Position your eyes level with your webcam to give the illusion of ‘making eye contact’, make sure you’re in a well-lit environment and consider your background carefully. If you’re struggling to find a suitably neutral and professional backdrop, your video conferencing software will normally feature a background blur option to help ensure you remain the focus of attention.

Most important of all, make sure to test your set-up thoroughly.

4. Less is more to keep ‘screen time’ energy levels high

In a virtual sales meeting, it is highly likely that your prospects will be on webcam – and because they can be heard and observed, it will be generally easier for you to retain their attention.

Equally, however, people don’t tend to have the same attention span in front of their screens. Keeping your presentation tight, and the pace and energy levels high, is even more important in this environment than in the real world.

With this in mind, particular attention should be paid to the structure of the content you present. It is advisable to break it down into three or four key topic areas and to keep the detail clear, simple to understand, relevant and focused on where it is likely offer most value.

5. Enable networking without a handshake

Networking opportunities remain one of the key event drivers for event delegates – so virtual events calls for virtual networking.

Even relatively simple platforms will offer live chat streams, allowing attendees to communicate with one another or to ask questions of the speaker.

Encouraging interaction on these streams, however, can be difficult, with questions often limited to the likes of “is anyone having problems with their audio?” Adding a Twitter feed can help overcome this, allowing people to communicate in a way they’re more familiar with.

Platforms such as Hopin will allow you to create dedicated networking spaces, where attendees with an interest in a specific topic can participate in video discussion groups. Using event registration data, you can also link attendees with similar interests and personally invite them to relevant group sessions.

6. Promote, promote, promote

The challenges of securing a virtual meeting with a sales prospect remain the same as for a real world face-to-face.

Webinars and virtual events, however, call for active promotion – multiple communications across multiple channels, including email marketing, social media and website banners.

An important, but frequently overlooked, consideration here is the tech savvy nature of prospective attendees. Virtual events may run the risk of turning technophobes away. Clearly signposted support prior to the event, in the form of FAQs and contact details for those that can help overcome technical issues, can help to boost registrations and your final attendee numbers.

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