As the ongoing saga of social distancing and local lockdowns continues to impact almost every part of our lives, many of us are now finding ourselves in a very strange and surreal world, one which just 9 months ago we couldn’t have dreamed of.

Like it or not most people have now been forced to work remotely, as well as collaborate and sell to businesses without ever meeting in person. For many businesses these are very alien concepts which they were previously dead set against, due to concerns around productivity, effectiveness and control. While these worries are by no means insurmountable, the shift to video calls and remote selling has led to some unique challenges and fundamental errors which need to be addressed in order to succeed.

Let me paint you a picture from the old world we used to work in…

Over the course of several weeks your team have worked hard to create a proposal for a major opportunity, putting in the hours and pulling in expertise and resources from across your business to craft a compelling and (you hope) winning response. At the end of it all your customer likes what you’ve written, and you’ve been asked to come in and present to them. You’ve been given an hour and allowed a team of up to 4 people.

More time and resource is then spent building a knockout presentation to highlight to your customer the key points and reasons they should choose you over your competitors. After much deliberation you decide that your team for the day will include the main salesperson, their manager (to show the customer you are serious) and two technical specialists. Each person will take turns to present their own area of expertise and the salesperson will guide proceedings. Rehearsals take place (you do rehearse, right?!) and in you go to present.

This is all very normal, standard stuff but there’s another side to this scenario that typically goes completely unnoticed.

If you were watching from the side lines as a casual observer, you may start to spot other things going on. Simple things like one of the team grabbing a glass of water, someone fiddling with their pen or daydreaming a little. In this environment the customer is unlikely to see this as they are focussed on the presentation and the speaker. Alternatively, some of these things may not even happen as you are on your ‘best behaviour’ in front of your customer. Either way it has little impact on the pitch.

Now let’s look at the new world we find ourselves in

For many people uncovering new sales opportunities across the last 9 months has been more challenging than they’ve ever known, as companies have battened down the hatches to wait and see what happens. And with less to go after, competition has become fiercer, which means it’s more important than ever that you win the opportunities you’re presented with.

Fundamentally though, the same rules apply. You still need to (remotely) bring together your team to create a powerful proposal and you still need to present your solution to the customer. It’s just the delivery mechanism that’s changed, and this is where it all starts to go wrong.

For some reason, working from home and not being physically in the room with a customer often leads people to forget themselves, and ‘best behaviour’ goes out of the window.

The problem is that any minor lapses that would previously have gone unnoticed are now front and centre. On a video conference the customer can see each attendee in a small window, and this means when you pick up your phone or walk off to get a drink their eyes are instantly drawn to that behaviour, which disconnects them from the pitch.

All of a sudden, you’ve lost them.

I have been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to witness this first-hand on many occasions whilst being pitched to and several things flashed through my mind:

  • What was the presenter just saying? (I was distracted)
  • Oh, I could do with a drink myself (this further distracted me)
  • And worst of all, if that guy in the corner can’t be bothered to pay attention to his colleague’s presentation, why should I?!

All that upfront hard work, effort and time from multiple team members leading up to the point of pitch, undermined by someone who’s forgotten why they’re supposed to be there. What a waste.

Recognising that this is a serious problem which has the potential to negatively impact their win rates, I’ve now started running virtual pitch coaching sessions for some of our key customers. These sessions are a lot of fun for me but can be quite a wake-up call for some of the worst offenders! I won’t pull any punches because when it comes to major pitches and must-win opportunities, getting this right is vital to succeed in this new world of virtual selling.

Key considerations for success in video pitches

For the reasons outlined above there’s really nowhere to hide in a video pitch, so when I’m running a coaching session I make the team run through it a number of times until we’re all confident that they’ve got it right. Naturally, every pitch is different, but the following themes tend to come up time and again:

Be prepared
  • When it’s a major opportunity, even the most seasoned presenter can get a little nervous so it’s wise to have your drink ready beforehand.
  • Done properly, a good pitch will engage your customer and encourage meaningful discussion which will draw out further useful insights. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes.
  • In order to make your presentation slick and avoid either talking over one another or uncomfortable silences, you need to know what’s being said, by who and in which order (this should be a staple of both old and new world!)
 Be present
  • Pay attention at all times. Video calls are more demanding of your attention than in-person meetings and you need to realise this and keep yourself focused for the entire session. If you drift off on a video call, it WILL be obvious.
  • You can demonstrate that you’re paying attention through active listening skills (and a little acting). Nodding your head, smiling and agreeing in response to your colleagues shows that you’re present and engaged in the conversation. Don’t go over the top and detract from the actual presentation though.
Be aware
  • Of what the customer is responding to, what is working and what isn’t. If something just isn’t landing, you can cut it off quickly and move on, focusing your remaining time on areas of greater interest. Similarly, you might discover some unaddressed issues or areas of deep interest that you weren’t previously aware of.
  • Also be aware of how you’re coming across when it’s not your time to present. This goes back to paying attention and remaining focused. Slouching in your chair, sending emails or generally doing something else entirely isn’t going to impress your customer!
Minimise your distractions
  • Make sure your dog / kids / significant other doesn’t interrupt. It might make for a funny internet meme but it’s not a great way to win business.
  • Turn off your mobile. And ideally leave it in another room so you aren’t tempted to check it.
  • Turn off email notifications. In fact, close down Outlook completely. The same goes for any other web pages and messaging applications you use (Slack, Teams etc.)
  • Be aware of where you’re sitting. If you are in a south facing room, the sun may move during the presentation and could inadvertently blind you. This one was learned from my own experience!
Make presentations that are more compelling
  • Like a story in a book, presentations should have a clear narrative otherwise they’re confusing and forgettable. Unstructured presentations that jump around all over the place without any clear message are incredibly hard for your customer to follow and even harder to retain.
  • Have clear roles for each person. Know who is going to lead, which order you’re all going in and who will answer which types of question. Your customer wants to see you as a cohesive team, not as a bunch of people all talking over the top of each other, or worse, contradicting each other.
  • Practice hand overs. Similarly, by knowing exactly where each person should come in, you avoid awkward silences and appear much more polished and professional, instilling confidence in your customer.
  • Script key points. Major pitches can be incredibly nerve wracking and it’s easy to go off course and start rambling. Scripting key points can reduce some of that anxiety and ensure you stay on-message.
Written down, these points might seem obvious…

Nobody thinks they’re doing them but you’d be surprised how easy it is to fall into these traps, particularly when you’re in the comfort of your own home and you forget that you are in fact in front of a customer. When I’m coaching people, I often hear “appreciate what your saying, but in front of a client we wouldn’t do that” …even when I’ve just watched them do it with my own eyes!

One final point to consider is around the technology. You might think that by muting your mic or only activating video when you’re presenting, that you’re helping to keep the focus on the person talking, but that can lead to other issues.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s been on a video conference recently where someone was talking for a good 20 seconds whilst on mute, and because they’d also turned their video off no one knew what was happening. My advice is, as long as there’s no compelling reason not to, leave video on and mics open.

Getting it right

Pitch presentations typically come at the end of a long line of investment. In competitive situations, margins for error at this stage can be incredibly slim and deals can be won or lost based on your performance on the day, so getting it right is absolutely critical.

Sales Engine’s team of experienced consultants have been supporting our customers to bid, pitch and win major contracts for over a decade and we know what it takes to succeed. If you’ve got a must-win opportunity on the horizon and you want to give your team every possible chance of success, get in touch.