Virtual Selling – Pitching in ‘Two-and-a-Half Dimensions’
Before COVID-19 hit, presenting to prospects via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or similar programs such as Skype, was a relatively rare but growing phenomenon. No longer. The pandemic put limits on face-to-face meetings. That, in turn, has spurred a boom in the use of online technology both for internal communications, as well as outreach by salespeople to customers and prospects.
We’ve all had to pivot to deal with the fallout from COVID-19. But many salespeople are still learning the unique characteristics of what we’ll call “the Zoom era.” It encompasses a visual/aural realm in which you not only hear, but see your client or prospect live on a computer screen. Textile Services Weekly recently asked consultant/speaker/“sales navigator” and ex-AmeriPride sales manager Troy Harrison for his take on how this technology has altered the world of customer/prospect communications. Highlights of our interview – conducted (of course) via Zoom – follow.
First, like any TV interview, people who are trying to sell via video must address a range of technical issues related to their presentation – starting with the online connection itself. “The biggest technical pitfall is having good Internet service,” Harrison said. “This is one thing that I think is going to become critical because I have heard it said that one of the things that is going to popularize work from home is the availability of high-bandwidth internet.” While that sounds good, the key to a quality Zoom call is your online connection. “High bandwidth internet is great until it cuts out on you in the middle of performing a webinar, which it’s done to me,” Harrison said. “I still don’t think technology is where it needs to be for web selling to completely replace face-to-face time. Obviously, you’ve got to be someplace that has a good connection. Your computer or smartphone must be reliable as well. “You’ve got to be on a device that has a good camera.”
SOUND & VISION
To get your online appearance right requires equal portions of common sense as well as tech skills, he said. You want to make sure the camera is placed so you’re seeing the client/prospect eye to eye. You can do this simply by adjusting the height of your laptop or smartphone camera with a tripod device or other object to raise it to the proper height. “Boost your computer up so that the camera is at eye level,” he said. “I use a very technical device to do that, about three coffee table books. Seriously, there’s three coffee table books on my desk. When I’m getting ready to do a Zoom or a Skype call, I put them under my laptop, boost it up, so I’m at eye level. Eye level is very important.” Smartphone cameras can offer an alternative to laptops. They’re especially handy for salespeople who travel frequently. “Smartphone cameras are actually better than laptop cameras,” Harrison said. “I’ve done a couple of webinars where I wanted good video reproduction. I’ve done webinars from my smartphone, which is a different approach.”
Sound quality is another key factor for successful Zoom calls. While many laptop microphones are good, Harrison prefers a separate, USB plug-in microphone, such as a Blue Yeti or Lavalier device, to make your pitch. “Sound is critical,” he said. “I have a Blue Yeti microphone that I use when I do webinars because it picks up the sound so much better.” A quick web check confirmed that this equipment costs about $125. If online video calls are an important part of your outreach sales strategy, you may find it’s worth the investment.
If your prospecting leads to making online sales presentations due to COVID-based limits on face-to-face meetings, Harrison recommends that whether you use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Go to Meeting, Skype, Google Meet or others, you should put your presentation in PowerPoint and share your screen with your audience. This will enable them to see it clearly on video, rather than a printed version at their desks. “Let’s say that you are going to present a proposal,” Harrison said. “This is the moment where you want to control the technology because you want to be the host. Here’s why. You put your proposal on a PowerPoint, and at the appropriate time, you share the screen. In other words, rather than emailing that proposal where you have no influence over the reading, etc., you put it on a PowerPoint, do a screen share, review it live. You can email the document later.”
The theory behind his approach to online communications, Harrison said, is drawn from the work of Alan Weiss, a management communications consultant. He talks about “dimensions of contact,” Harrison said, noting that Weiss views email and text as “one‑dimensional” exchanges. “It’s words on the screen. Phone is two‑dimensional. It’s voice to voice. Face to face is three‑dimensional.” So where does video communication fit on this spectrum? Harrison said Zoom calls fall between phone and face-to-face contact. “I like to think that video selling lies in this ‘two-and-a-half dimensional world’ because you can get some visual cues. If somebody wants to schedule a phone call with me, I’m going to ask them politely, ‘Would you rather do that by a Zoom call instead?’”
That said, salespeople should never push clients and prospects to use Zoom or similar programs, if they prefer not to do so. And as a practical matter, in an era when in-person meetings are difficult or restricted, Harrison acknowledges that most prospecting contacts still are done through telemarketing and/or email. “In terms of selling in the laundry industry. I would suggest that prospecting still needs to be done by the telephone,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to Zoom call people to prospect.”
As for email, the return rates are lower than cold calling by phone, even allowing for the large number of voice mails. However, if you have a very hefty, well-researched list, it may deliver benefits. “If you can get a large enough database, the law of large numbers will kick in,” Harrison said. “At the top of the funnel, that’s where it is. As you move down the funnel, salespeople still have to be thinking of those dimensions of contact.”
To that point, he added that the reason that video calls are better than email or telephoning is that more intimate contact takes place in “two-and-a-half dimensions.” You can get a better reading of a prospect from nods or facial expressions that you’d miss in a phone call. However, there is a difference with an online call in that you have to coordinate with your computer’s camera. In other words, try to look at the camera, not at the face on the screen. “This is one area where virtual sales is a little bit different from face‑to‑face,” Harrison said. “When I do that, when I look at the camera lens right now, you’re getting a good eye‑to‑eye contact with me. You are in my peripheral vision. I can see that you were nodding a little bit ago. I couldn’t get a good read on your facial expression.”
These limitations show that virtual calls are unlikely to replace face-to-face calls, which Harrison predicts will make a strong comeback post-COVID-19. “If we can get the three dimensions of contact, if we can get a live, face‑to‑face sales call, that’s what we want to get,” he said. “A salesperson should never voluntarily replace a face‑to‑face sales call with a video call. You are losing when you do that.”
In the meantime, other tips for online video communications include:
- Avoid online backgrounds; while beach scenes or stadium backdrops may amuse your colleagues, they can distract from the pitch you’re trying to make to a prospect. Arrange the background in your office, to include items such as a bookcase or other objects that won’t detract from your words.
- Where possible, eliminate extraneous sounds: silence your cell phone or land-line phones if they’re nearby. Turn off any programs such as email that provide audible alerts when new messages arrive.
- Keep pets in another room and wear professional clothing. You never know when you may have to get up for something. “Be fully dressed,” Harrison said. “I was doing a Skype call about four months ago with a female potential customer. She dressed very nicely, sitting there talking to me. Her dog started going nuts in the background. I heard it. Without thinking, she jumped up, and the very nice blouse she was wearing was pretty much the only thing she was wearing.”
For more information, contact Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 913.645.3603.