Selling at a Virtual Event is Just Like/is Not at All Like Selling at a Physical Event

Posted on January 8th, 2011 by Michelle in Archives, Strategy

Whether you are an exhibitor trying to navigate the new medium of virtual trade shows or a corporation using virtual platforms to enlarge the opening to your sales funnel, Dennis Shiao’s new book, “Generate Sales Leads with Virtual Events” and his upcoming presentation at the Virtual Edge Summit can help. As with any new environment—the Antarctic, third world countries, and the Moon—you have to take the surroundings into account. Much of what Shiao advocates is straightforward advice that will work in any scenario. However, paying respect, as he does, to the disruption in normalcy that occurs in a virtual setting is the key to having success with it.

In the book, Shiao, director of product marketing at INXPO, outlines a five-step plan (hint: if you just skim the subtitles, it sounds like selling in any other environment, so read on):

1.     Define your mission statement—get your entire team on the same page by quantifying exactly what it is you want to get out of the virtual event. Because of the rich metrics available, your mission statement can be highly targeted such as, “100 leads from a specific vertical,” Shiao says.

2.     Assemble an all-star team—select a diverse mix of people from sales to product experts to staff the virtual booth or corporate meeting. This is where virtual might even trump physical events. Folks from all over the organization can chime in to address customer needs. You don’t have to rely on the people in the room. Nevertheless, you will need to assess their online fluency and train them on how to behave in a virtual world.

3.     Build and promote your presence—get out the online bullhorn and let customers, prospects, and ordinary citizens know about your virtual booth or meeting. That’s the beauty of all things digital. The audience can grow itself and they can attend with little effort. Plus, those on social channels will be the most comfortable in a virtual setting. “Use all the tools at your disposal to generate awareness and attract visitors,” Shiao advises.

4.     Engage with prospects—Have your engagement protocols ready to go.  The window of engagement is both a tremendous weakness in the virtual environment and an exhibitor’s greatest opportunity.  If you have 60 seconds to make eye contact and acknowledge someone who has entered your physical booth (or meeting room), how much time do you have in a virtual booth when you can’t see his or her eyes?  Shiao advises exhibitors and meeting hosts to develop a set of tactics from immediate responses and V cards to rich media that let visitors know you are there and keep them engaged longer.

5.     Qualify and follow up with prospects—go back to the rich virtual metrics (which you don’t often obtain from a physical trade show or meeting), drill down to determine what stage of the buying process the visitors are in, and follow up accordingly. “Virtual events have built-in RFID. You have access to the entire trail of activity and you have the benefit of a pile of data you don’t have with face-to-face events,” Shiao explains. In other words, don’t treat prospects like you don’t know what they want when their virtual behavior offers so many clues.

Much of the misunderstanding and even fear of virtual platforms comes from tossing virtual and physical events into the same features and benefits bucket. In reality, virtual events emulate physical events—a clear attempt on the part of platform providers to aid comprehension—but the value propositions are different. During this exploration and experimentation phase, Shiao is on target with his book and his advice. For the moment, exhibitors and meeting hosts can still aim for the low-hanging fruit by tweaking their existing sales processes to accommodate the virtual differences until the platform reaches its full potential and an entirely new way of selling emerges.

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