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Making sales by webinar can be tricky, but there are advantages too

Channel sales professionals may need to work harder to seal deals and become truly trusted advisers when they cannot meet in person

Webinar video call

Online meetings, whether classic webinar or video call, have become de rigueur in the age of coronavirus, potentially making it tougher to close channel sales than ever. 

As Abhishek Vanimali, CMO for ZenSar Technologies notes, companies operating in the channel need to increase online visibility to customers overall – including upping activity on LinkedIn, for example, and other social media. 

"If the physical you is not available to be seen by other people, a larger part has to be available to be read or seen, or heard on a podcast. Think about Instagram influencers who rake in millions a year," he explains.

Vanimali points out that online meetings are often casual and less committed. More of a "song and dance" is therefore needed, incorporating many more calls, follow-up calls and messages. So focus on interactivity and engagement, and keep things short – under 30 minutes, with short breaks if required. 

"Your only objective on call number one should be to get call number two," Vanimali says. 

Things can get tougher when trying to sell in a new brand or technology partner. Whereas Salesforce might not need many demos, channel providers might struggle to clarify where and how they add value. 

That said, Vanimali says ZenSar teams have closed big deals this year without in-person meetings. His advice is to make your online setup slick. Limit distractions, and make the surroundings look professional yet authentic. Consider lighting, hang a couple of pictures. Investment in digital communications like video that can help get the idea across might be required

"At the end of the day people need to see you, if not in person, then another way. Sales tools are changing, and we are all adapting," Vanimali says.

Nick Taylor, general manager at Ballou PR, agrees that although sales teams were at times "mistrustful" of non-traditional strategies in the past, increasing online visibility has become critical.

"The first thing people do is google you, so you need to be able to show your expertise online," Taylor says. "Yet on a video call or webinar, it’s difficult to build that rapport: you have to actually like the person you're buying from, and a lot of communication is subconscious or doesn't come across in the video format, such as eye contact, with people looking at different parts of their screen."

Definitely focus on building engagement; people tend to "get into the agenda" earlier on Zoom calls and the like, but Taylor advises against this. Instead, spend more time chatting – putting people at ease and showing that you care. Smaller groups can work better as well, partly for this reason: Try breaking up big meetings into 10-minute one-on-ones.

Jamie Davies, head of innovation at brand experience and events company Amplify, says anything that fosters more interaction between presenter and audience can create a more compelling and sales-friendly approach. Think about quality broadcast techniques – from HD to beautiful animations or overlays that tell a story. For example, the presenter could describe a product that then becomes available to the audience as a 3D scan through mobile web-augmented reality (AR), which has no app to download.

"If it’s hard to capture audience attention at an in-person event, it’s sure as hell harder to get them to listen for hours in a virtual event. It’s not enough to simply port presentations and keynotes into the digital world," Davies affirms.

Steve Chad, customer engagement manager at PFU EMEA, notes that it can be tough to sell hardware, particularly without physical demos. However, webinars can not only help generate engagement but are also very scalable, potentially scooping more leads into the sales funnel. 

"It's not just about the numbers though. Your relevance to your target audience, and the ensuing quality of your leads, is just as important as your capacity to engage and nurture the leads. So any activity needs to be integrated into your overall sales plan," Chad warns. 

And yes, content is king … if there are innovative ideas and insights, coupled with clear benefits. Gain attention and establish relevance to your target, then explain how their world might be better post-webinar.

Kevin Bland, UKI head of partners and alliances at Red Hat, believes the mileage on all this can vary. But done right, no-touch sales can be more intimate and personal.

"What we're finding is that actually opening up our homes to our customers and saying 'look, this is me, there's no facade' comes off as more personal," Bland says. "Your son shouting in the hall, the cat jumping on your lap. That can bring you closer to customers."

Benefits include increased productivity, with more time available due to not having to travel around as much, or at all. Bland says he can now get seven or eight conversations into one day.

"We had an amazing session this morning: three hours, 22 people, dropping into virtual rooms, having debates and conversations, taking output, refining it into clear actions. That would have cost a lot of time and money before to get people together to do that for three hours," he says.

Sales itself hasn't really changed: it's all about solving the customer challenge, defining success criteria, and adding proof points. This can all be done remotely online as a team, Bland says. Some of the benefits of meeting face to face can be replaced by adding other personal touches, like grazing boxes or white papers for attendees. When webinars are plagued by disappearing acts, this can be more about poor marketing though than the tech.

"Let's not blame the tools, it's about the process, it's about the people, it's about making sure you're clear about what you want. It's all about preparation."

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