While there is something to be said for face-to-face meetings, the associated travel can be expensive. New tools have made it easy — and inexpensive — for sales professionals to present a pitch online. When well executed, an online presentation won’t just save your company money it otherwise would have spent on travel, but it also can convey a professional demeanor.
“When you present this way you send a subtle message that you represent a sophisticated organization,” says Steve Waterhouse, president of Waterhouse Group Inc., an Orange Park, Fla.-based international sales training and consulting company. “In virtually every space, you’re battling for your reputation. Using the best technology makes you appear sharp and gives you a little bit of an edge.”
Online technology makes it possible to do most things possible during an in-person sales call. An inexpensive computer-mounted camera can help you and your clients see each other on screen. Instead of bringing along a laptop to a meeting, online meeting software makes it possible for a client to view a PowerPoint presentation or an application you are demonstrating on your desktop computer. And, instead of bringing your client a video demonstrating your product, online tools let you integrate live video into your sales pitch, as well as live product demonstrations.
Waterhouse described a client who made a very sophisticated mixing system, which could mix paints, pharmaceuticals, or other materials in a centrifuge. Using an online meeting platform, the sales rep was able to run a live video demonstration, pouring dirty sewage water into the mixing system, so the client could watch it come out clean. “The mixing technology was really complex,” says Waterhouse. “But once you saw it, it was simple. It was amazing for the client to see.”
Before online meeting technology, the client would have had to travel to the site of the equipment to see it in action, or make due with a static sales brochure or pre-recorded video.
“The advantage of an online presentation is that it is dynamic,” says Dr. Bob DeGroot, president of Sales Training International, based in Houston. “The client is right there with you. If you are walking them through your website, they are the ones clicking through the site. They are involved in the process.”
DeGroot explained that sophisticated interactive technology is not always necessary for an online sales pitch. Sometimes the same results can be achieved simply with a well- designed website and a telephone.
A phone call can turn into an online sales pitch if you have a website that addresses questions the client has about the product or service. “In the course of a conversation you can make a list of the client’s concerns and go to the website right then and there with them. You can walk them through the site and take them to those locations within the website that answer their questions,” explains DeGroot.
For an online presentation to be successful, it needs to be as easy as possible for the client. “Wherever possible, you want to mirror your customer in the sophistication of whatever technology you use,” says Waterhouse. He cautions that while most business people today are comfortable with interactive online technologies, such as online meetings and webinars, the technology can be a barrier for those who are not.
“The trick to making it work is making it easy for the client,” he adds.
Waterhouse explains that most conferencing programs are so fast these days that people scarcely realize they are downloading software, but he warns sales professionals that they should focus on the content of a presentation and not the flashy things that are possible with online software.
“The simpler you can keep your presentation, the better. Don’t try to push the envelope or it will bite you,” he warns.
For example, Waterhouse suggests a presenter evaluate whether a video interface is necessary for all presentations. “Video adds level of complexity,” he says. “You have to decide whether you need to use it to build rapport or whether it will distract from the message you are trying to convey.”
Waterhouse also advises presenters to keep their sales pitch as uncomplicated as possible. He suggests, for example, that a demonstration with screen shots saved in PowerPoint can sometimes be better than a live demonstration of a software application because there is less likelihood of a technology glitch. Just as for an in-person presentation, he advises presenters to keep slides big and clean.
The primary disadvantage of an online presentation, says DeGroot, is that it can be difficult to evaluate how well your presentation is being received by your audience.
Sometimes when presenting remotely a sales professional tries to do nothing but present, says DeGroot. “Sometimes they don’t know where the customer is. It’s important to keep asking the client questions so you know they are following along.”
Waterhouse also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a dialogue with the client during a presentation. “People at the other end have distractions you’re not aware of,” reminds Waterhouse. “It’s important to check in with them and make sure they’re not distracted.”
If you are using your website as a visual aid it’s important to ask questions to make sure the client is looking at what you think they are, cautions DeGroot. “When you take them through a navigation to another page, go slow, be very specific, ask them what they see on the page so you know they are looking at what you want them to when you continue.” “Through questions, keep the listener engaged,” he advises.
When presenting a sales pitch to a group of people, Waterhouse says he sometimes plants a question to make people feel more comfortable about speaking up with concerns of their own. Many online meeting platforms have an instant messaging component where parties can communicate messages to one another privately, or to the group as a whole. Waterhouse pretends he has received a private message asking a commonly asked question to get the ball rolling.
Online technology makes it possible to give a presentation remotely. But it is still the content of the presentation that is most important. “The sales interaction that works the best is consistently the one that is directly targeted,” says DeGroot. “It really doesn’t matter if it’s in person or online.”
Leslie Taylor is an Inc.com contributing writer.