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Mastering the Digital Handshake: Adapt Your Sales Pitch to Virtual Meetings

Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern

Selling during a virtual meeting involves different skills and more preparation than an in-person meeting.

If you're trying to sell over the phone or Zoom the same way you were selling when you could hop in your car and visit your clients in person, that's not going to go well for you. Selling remotely is a different animal from selling in person. It's harder. It requires more planning. It takes more prep. Here are the do's and don'ts.

1. Don't wing it.

Experienced sales reps are masters of small talk. They can chat up anyone, whether the person is a stranger or they've known the client for years. They're great storytellers who are comfortable with conversation, and they know how to get the client thinking about buying. This means they spend very little time planning and prepping for that part of an in-person sales call. From the moment they shake hands with the client or potential customer, they're talking, finding common ground and making their first impression a good one.

In short, they're so good at it that they can wing it. But that doesn't work on a Zoom or Facetime call, or even on the phone.

When clients log on to a virtual meeting, they're ready to get to work. They don't expect to spend the first 15 minutes of the call shooting the breeze – time they would be happy to devote if you were sitting in an office with them. On a virtual call, whether voice or video, they expect you to get in and get out – make your pitch, make your point, hang up.

That's no way to sell if you're hoping for an ongoing relationship with the client, though. You need to get a feel for your clients. You need to observe them and talk with them so you can get to know them and let them know you. You want them to like you so they will want to do business with you. You want to find out who they are, what they like, what they need. How else will you know if what you're selling is a good fit for the client? How else will you establish the credibility and trust that will lead the client to feel comfortable with you and confident in you?

Virtual small talk is a whole new skill that even the friendliest, most popular sales reps have to learn right now. You can't just transfer your usual in-person conversations to an online platform. They just don't translate.

2. Bring (virtual) doughnuts.

Nobody goes to an in-person sales call empty-handed. Smart salespeople give something because that's the best way to get something. They bring doughnuts or bagels and coffee. They invite the client out for a free lunch.

Between bites, the salesperson makes small talk, asks questions, gathers intel and sets the pace of the meeting. By the time everyone has finished eating, they're on friendly terms and ready to do business together.

Sharing a meal or drinking a cup of coffee together is like an icebreaker that melts into a comfort level and serves as a bridge from the handshake to the business portion of the meeting. In person, a sales pro wouldn't think of saying, "Hello, here's my pitch." Instead, it's "Hello, let's eat; let's chat; let's ease into this."

That's hard to re-create on a virtual call, but it's not impossible. Figure out a way to bring virtual doughnuts to your next video sales call. For example, have lunch delivered to your client and yourself so you can begin your meeting by eating a meal together. The lunch makes it impossible to dive right into the heavy business of the day and allows you to engage in the small talk you're so good at.

You could also send pre-meeting emails telling the client how excited you are for the meeting. Start an email thread that encourages a dialogue. Ask a question and wait for a response. Feel the client out to learn if they are the sole decision-maker or if others should be invited to join the call. Send an agenda for the meeting, and tell the client what questions you'd like to ask during the meeting. Drop hints about what the two of you might explore during the call.

Create a sort of virtual bear hug in advance of the meeting. You can't touch the person or maybe even see them, but that doesn't mean you can't get to know each other a little bit.

Your goal is to craft an environment that is not all about your sales pitch. Turn it into a conversation.

3. Dance to the client's beat.

A misconception many veteran sales pros have is that a virtual meeting will be a one-and-done – that the "hello," the pitch and the sale will all wrap up in a single call. Don't count on it.

First, people tend to expect virtual calls and phone calls to be much briefer than in-person meetings. They might have scheduled only an hour for the call, and your virtual doughnuts might have taken up 15 minutes of it. Their idea of how the call will go might be different from yours.

During an hourlong face-to-face meeting, a sales pro might spend some time on small talk before digging into the client's problem. Then, the conversation might turn to the services and products that the salesperson's company offers and how they might suit the client. Next, there’s always a question-and-answer period before the client brings in a boss or colleague to ask more questions. The goal of that meeting isn't necessarily an on-the-spot sale; it's to at least get a second meeting on the books.

Actual sales, especially for big-ticket items, aren't always quick. Clients need to time to think, compare and, possibly, get permission. They need to figure out if the money works. They're often not ready to sign a contract at the first meeting.

Yet salespeople who are willing to spend time with clients in person tend to expect to wrap things up during their initial virtual call with a client. It's harder to gauge how long the sales cycle will be when you can't interact in person.

In an artificial environment like Zoom, you need to prepare for every part of the meeting and be ready to move at the client's pace. If your prospect needs approvals from a slew of middle managers, think about sending virtual doughnuts to all of them – and to spend a little bit of online time with them too. Don't go for the jugular by making your pitch or asking for the sale too soon.

On the other hand, don't waste your time. During any first meeting, a smart sales pro will sense whether a sale is really on the table. Trust your instincts and experience. If a second virtual meeting is unlikely to produce a sale, skip it.

4. Be formal and professional.

The friendliest sales pros seem to make the most sales. But online meetings can rob the sales pitch of personality. There's a formality online that doesn't exist in person. This makes it even more important to have a plan for each virtual interaction than it is for face-to-face meetings.

First, present yourself in a businesslike manner. Everyone is getting comfortable working at home – growing beards, throwing their hair up into a ponytail, relaxing on the couch, and dressing in T-shirts and sweats. That's no way to look during a business meeting. Lock your pets out of the room where you will be talking to your clients. Ask your children and others in the house to respect your need for privacy and quiet. Never, ever make the call while sitting or reclining on a bed. In fact, your bed should not be visible on the screen.

Arrive at the meeting with clear goals. Will you get to know the client and talk about your products and services? Will you ask for a second meeting or ask for the sale during the first one?

Bring a list of questions to ask the client during the meeting so you will gather the information you need to determine if your product is a good fit. Pay attention to not only the client's answers but also their body language, tone of voice, attitude, pauses and eye contact – all observations that a sales pro would instinctively make during an in-person meeting.

5. Work with what you have.

There's really no perfect substitute for the face-to-face sales meeting, but right now, personal interactions simply are not welcome – or safe. If you get in your car and drive from client to client, you'll find that many are not seeing sales pros right now because of the health crisis. Many are working from home, so their offices are empty.

Experiment with alternatives. Try Zoom, Facetime or another video conferencing platform for your next meeting. If you're selling to young buyers who prefer texting, give that a shot – although much is lost during a meeting with no video. For those who want to talk by phone without video, do your best to convince them that you don't care if they haven't washed their hair for weeks so they'll agree to turn on the camera.

Ultimately, however, even a text or phone meeting is better than no meeting. Let your client choose the platform, and adapt your pitch to it.

Virtual meetings are convenient, and people like them. Once the health crisis passes, you might find that both you and your clients can get more work done without the personal visits – as long as you are willing to create a new way to do business that doesn't involve in-person interactions.

Image Credit: AndreyPopov / Getty Images
Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern,
business.com Writer
See Dr. Cindy McGovern's Profile
Known far and wide as “Dr. Cindy,” the First Lady of Sales, Dr. Cindy McGovern holds a Doctorate Degree in Organizational Communication and a Master’s Degree in Marketing. She earned her reputation by building (and rebuilding) entire sales programs from the bottom up. Dr. Cindy, who is CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, has helped hundreds of companies and individuals around the world from small to huge create dramatic and sustainable revenue growth. She has also authored, Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work, scheduled for release in September 2019 by McGraw Hill Professional. Dr. Cindy is an expert in the areas of sales, interpersonal communication, leadership, and change management. She can quickly figure out what an organization or individual needs to be more successful, and her current knowledge of many industries helps leaders implement new behaviors needed to succeed. One reason for her success is that she serves as both teacher and coach, working together with individuals, regardless of their role or where they are in their career to co-create their future. She doesn’t tell her clients what to do—she listens, learns about their successes and challenges, and then helps them create strategies designed to be effective long after her visit has ended. An in-demand speaker, Dr. Cindy has presented at both national and international conferences on the topics of Sales, Management, Leadership, Sales Management, and Interpersonal Communication, Organizational Change, Conflict Resolution, and Collective Bargaining.