Our new reality: All selling is virtual selling. And even for the smartest, savviest salespeople, it isn’t easy. Sure, your face-to-face sales skills might be incredible—winning contracts, clinching deals, and building valuable relationships—but, pitching in a virtual meeting changes everything. Why? Because “reading the room” is much harder in a virtual environment.
Talented salespeople are “people persons”. They know how to read the body language of prospects and pivot their pitch based on visual cues. If they see puzzled expressions, they slow it down. When they see restless eyes darting around (or down at phones) they speed it up. They can easily sense a prospect’s energy and address it head on.
Buyers are Also Adjusting to a New Reality
Consumers must now place their trust in people they (probably) have never met. They must make purchasing decisions on products they haven’t personally engaged with. And most importantly, they must rely on a virtual meeting or presentation to gather enough information—and hopefully be wowed—to make a decision. So, how can salespeople harness their sales skills and create that same magic online?
Build Trust, Rapport and Relationships by Tailoring Your Story Specifically for Virtual
Simply put, you can’t use the same presentation deck or demo in a virtual meeting that you might have delivered countless times in a conference room. You need to take that compelling product or service story you’ve crafted and make a few critical adjustments.
So what are the magic ingredients for a stellar virtual sales presentation? Storytelling, pre-planned interaction, and presence.
First you must structure a rock-solid narrative. The best salespeople know better than to plunge right into their products, services or features first—no one wants to listen to a 40-minute pitch that focuses on their solutions without addressing the real pains of the buyer! Storytelling applies to any presentation, whether it’s face-to-face or virtual.
Second, you must clearly integrate verbal and visual cues into your presentation to ensure frequent two-way (or group) interaction.
Last (but certainly not least), it’s critical for salespeople to have presence in a virtual environment. Sure, it can seem more difficult to come across as confident, authentic, and trustworthy when you can’t be physically present, but coming prepared with your narrative and visual cues will instantly elevate your presence and set you up for success.
Let’s start by reviewing the fundamental structure of any great story.
Fundamental Storytelling Structure
Stories contain four recognizable elements, or “signposts”: 1) Setting, 2) Characters, 3) Conflict, and 4) Resolution. The first three signposts are where all your juicy sales insights live—they build context and directly answer the question: WHY should your prospect or customer care about this story? The 4th signpost, Resolution, fills in detail (like product or service features). It is the HOW of your story.
Every great story should also have a BIG Idea. Your BIG Idea is not about you or your product—it’s the boiled-down snapshot of what you want your prospect to remember: the WHAT of your story. After introducing your BIG Idea, weave it throughout the rest of your narrative.
Now Let’s Adjust Your Story for Virtual Meetings
Just like in-person meetings, virtual meetings are a choreographed dance between your content, your presence, and your visuals. Your content is your story—you should know it backwards and forwards. Your presence comes from “owning” the room (yes, even the virtual room), both from a technical standpoint and one where you confidently engage your audience. And finally, your visuals should be clear, simple and always—always—tell your audience: what do you want them to know or do?
Interactive Placeholders Are Critical for a Two-way Dialogue
What sets the average salesperson (or any presenter) apart from the rest? Strong audience engagement. In a virtual environment, it’s even more important to build in frequent opportunities throughout your story or demo for audience interaction. To ensure this happens throughout any virtual meeting, you need highly visual interactive placeholder slides. These slides act as a pause in your narrative, signaling a check-in with your prospect—both verbally and visually—to solicit feedback. It’s a simple trick to guarantee you create a two-way dialogue, not a monologue.
Interactive placeholder slides are a game-changer because they help you pick up on virtual body language and unveil your audience’s reaction to your ideas. Simply put, these interactions are your lifeline throughout the meeting.
Structuring Your Deck with Prescribed Interaction
Let’s look at an example. The colored slides below show opportunities to intersperse interaction into your content. It’s important to note: these planned interactions are not random, they are strategically placed within your narrative. Always be intentional where you place the interaction and *carefully* consider what type of interactive feature or tool you want to employ. It’s never a one size fits all! For instance, a meeting with only five participants typically doesn’t warrant the need for a poll or breakout room. This small group would benefit more from a pause for Q&A or discussion.
Pro tip: Notice how frequently interactive slides appear in the sample above? Ideally, you should plan for interactivity every 3-5 minutes (Yes, this means you’ll have more slides than you might be used to for a face-to-face presentation)! Just remember, everything comes down to anticipating the needs of your audience and your desired outcomes of the meeting. Consider how often you’ll want to check in, the type of information you’re looking for, and what kind of feedback will help you best navigate your story ahead.
Integrating Planned Interaction with Your Story
Now let’s look at interactive placeholders in the context of a real presentation deck that uses good story structure. We’ve likely all sat through sales meetings where the seller starts off by talking about their company history or product details, without understanding the customer’s needs first. This approach is sure to fail whether online or in person!
In this product demo below, you can see how interaction is spliced into the narrative. We start out with a discussion: Maybe you reconfirm the challenges you’ve heard previously or set desired outcomes for the meeting. Next, Setting and Characters establish context and acknowledge the “pain points” the buyer is experiencing. Then… pause… an interaction is inserted. The storyteller does not plunge ahead blindly. Instead, they build in a chat slide to test the waters: Can we all relate to this, am I on track?
From there, Conflict is introduced: Here’s what’s at risk of NOT taking action. Then once again, pause… another interaction is built in. In this case, they introduce a visual pointer poll to get a read on the main concerns of their audience and let their audience have a voice. Next, the storyteller rolls out their BIG Idea: the one key message they want their audience to remember. Then comes the Resolution, where the seller showcases their solution and dives into a demo of product features and benefits. Finally, a visual placeholder cues up final questions for discussion to close things out.
As you can see in this example, even if you’ve built a great story, you still need strong visual cues to guide and direct your virtual audience so they know what’s expected of them and how they should interact. What’s more, visual cues help avoid the *awkward* silence that is the (oh-so-unfortunate) hallmark of online meetings. And the best part? Not only do these visual pauses “direct traffic” for your audience, they skyrocket your executive presence by arming you with a roadmap for what’s to come.
Story + Visuals = Your Executive Presence Soars
When you can’t meet prospects face-to-face, you must still find a way to build trust and communicate genuinely. Showing up in a virtual environment with the technical know-how, clever online meeting management skills, and content that wows will instantly build your credibility. Nervous presenters will get a boost of confidence when they have a choreographed roadmap for presenting and engaging with prospects authentically. After all, the more they include their audience in the conversation, the more they take themselves out of the hot seat. Win-win!
A Successful Close is Based on Knowing Your Audience
Great salespeople learn to thrive from the feedback (and sometimes resistance) they get from their customers… whether online or in person. How they respond to this feedback directly impacts whether they can build the critical trust, rapport, and relationships necessary to meet their goals. To establish this connection in a virtual environment, sellers must not attempt to simply replicate their face-to-face meetings. Instead, they must have a coherent, structured story brought to life visually with plenty of pauses for valuable interaction. With this new kind of body language, any salesperson can continue to sell confidently and successfully.
Like what you’ve read? These are just a few of the concepts from our corporate storytelling workshop. To learn more strategies and techniques for selling your ideas in a virtual environment, contact us about team training options.