What We’ve Learned About Virtual Pitching
By Robert Dunsmore – Senior Account Manager at UNGA
Anyone who’s been part of a commercial team or a sales role knows well that personal, face-to-face communication is crucial for the development of healthy customer-supplier or client-agency relationships.
Hopping on airplanes, traveling the world, and stepping into boardrooms to present ideas and concepts for loyalty campaigns had been our normal for years at UNGA. Then all of a sudden, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, and, in the blink of an eye, the norm was drastically altered. The way we conduct business and a key component of it―pitching―was no exception.
Suddenly, we were not only confronted with lockdowns but also travel bans such that we were not able to visit our clients anymore. Loyalty campaigns were, however, still under discussion and keeping in touch with our clients remained a priority. Therefore, face-to-face meetings in three dimensions have been replaced by those in two dimensions, and stepping into boardrooms has turned into online video conferences.
Stripped of the human connection, sales team―including ours―have had to rapidly adapt. It is a whole new game, and here’s what we’ve learned about virtual pitching so far.
New challenges for sales teams
Annabelle Krüger, Account Director at UNGA, says that the reactions from clients are difficult to gauge during virtual pitching: “Discussions are normally more active and there tends to be less interaction than when being physically present together with a client, and showing samples live is not possible anymore.”
Technical problems are also a new challenge to consider: “Variables such as a stable internet connection, the right video conference platform, and even the right software in which the pitch deck is built, are crucial parts to consider in this new normal,” explains Annabelle.
Establishing connections and engagement among the participants is still possible, but it now requires more time and a new set of skills. Nevertheless, as it happens in most challenges, hidden benefits are also emerging.
The old and the new
The way Yuriy Kotlomin, UNGA’s Sales Director, puts it, nothing beats interpersonal communication, and salespersons worldwide are now grappling with varying scenarios. However, at the end of the day, not much has actually changed.
“Just a few months ago, landing a pitch as effectively as possible would require, a) extensive homework as preparation to the meeting itself―researching and studying the prospect inside-out, translating this research to the team, preparing the pitch deck, etc.―and b) a day or two of traveling back and forth, staying at hotels, and other activities like dinners. During COVID-19 times, all of the b) part is out,” describes Yuriy.
Despite this, the various technologies available still make it possible to meet with clients. “Personally, I find that there isn’t a big difference between physical presentations and virtual pitches, as long as you do your homework and make sure that you have the right software, understand and test it, and preferably send samples and other supporting materials you would like your client on the other side to be engaged with, well prior to your pitch. So the b) part has been replaced by a c), knowledge of a vast number of communication technologies.”
Virtual pitching has indeed changed the context in which sales teams operate, but pitching itself and the basic business protocols seem to be business as usual. The new context has instead brought insightful learnings to the surface.
Adapt and be ready
In the experience of Anthony Pohlen, Senior Account Manager at UNGA, virtual pitching can be as successful as live pitching, provided that flexibility and readiness are part of the equation.
“Virtual pitching is fine, there is still a good-natured feel and the relationship can still be maintained through this medium. Jokes still land well and information can be communicated effectively. More thought needs to be given to the software that will be used. Never assume functionality is equal across platforms. A big lesson is to prep, prep, prep. The variables are different, instead of a cable not working on the day or requiring hard copies to hand out, there are other elements to think ahead about.”
Our sales team has now understood that faced with this new context, the message of a pitch can come across and land as effectively as long as attention to new variables and preparation are well in place.
What the future might look like for creative agencies
While the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, even in the anticipated event of it being under control soon and travel bans being lifted, it is likely that this new way of business―and pitching―will become the new normal.
Patricia Thomopoulos, Senior Account Manager at UNGA, believes that this could very well be the case. “In the future, I could totally imagine that the first round of a pitch for loyalty campaigns would take place remotely to save time, money, and a carbon footprint for everyone. Then only for a second round perhaps a face-to-face meeting would be needed, as the negotiation progresses into more details.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly brought many new, different challenges to sales teams and their ways of working. But overall, we can see that the crucial aspects of business―like pitching―can be carried out as usual, even remotely. While human-to-human communication continues to be preferred, virtual pitching can be equally effective with the right preparation and attention to a new set of variables. This unexpected situation has brought new insights and learning that will likely continue as the new normal even after the pandemic has been overcome.