How to use virtual events effectively to close deals in a post-COVID world

Spencer Green, founder & chairman, GDS Group, explains how sales and marketing teams can make better use of virtual events in the pandemic's aftermath.

audience members using virtual reality.

There was a time when winning big deals meant spending a lot of time ‘pressing the flesh’ – i.e. getting in front of decision makers, speaking with them, building a rapport with them and selling your goods or services. 

This was done through meetings, events and social outings. How quickly times have changed. The global COVID-19 pandemic put an immediate stop to all of this, effectively shutting down all types of face-to-face sales and marketing.

Spencer Green, founder & chairman, GDS Group.

Spencer Green, founder & chairman, GDS Group.

As the vaccines continue to roll out and we begin to look to a gradual reopening of the economy in mid-2021, we should not expect a return to the same mix of face-to-face vs. virtual selling. I believe sales and marketing will remain a ‘digital first’ activity going forward. While the pandemic was not the cause of this shift (digital was a key part of the mix beforehand and will never fully replace face-to-face events), it has fundamentally changed how we do business. 

Digital/virtual events have now become the main route to market.This does not mean the end for face-to-face events; they will certainly return because there is an appetite for them. But for those companies that do virtual events well and gain real value from them, the platform and growth in use of them will have been accelerated by COVID-19. This will result in a more hybrid approach going forward where face-to-face events will run alongside digital meetings.

Sales teams were forced to change their approach to close deals in this “new normal.” From using digital technology for virtual meetings, reviewing their pipelines to focus more on those products/services which are more relevant to their prospects’ needs right now, revising prices, etc.

Even virtual events, which were already a viable sales and/or marketing tool prior to the pandemic, have been forced to change too. Webinars in particular – previously the “default” online sales tool – have lost their effectiveness. When your prospects are spending their whole day in virtual meetings, what distinguishes your webinar from just another Zoom call in their diary? Virtual events cannot default to webinars anymore. Prospects need something more.

Here are my tips for getting the most out of your virtual events in this post-COVID world:

1. Change your messaging 

Times have changed significantly, so make sure your messages are updated to reflect this. Don’t assume your messaging pre-pandemic is still relevant today.

How can your product or service directly address pain points caused by the pandemic for example? If you don’t address your audiences pain points directly and speak to them from a position of relevance your messages will fall flat.

2. Get the event structure right 

Having a clear structure in place isn’t only beneficial for you but also for others that are attending the event. Set out your talking points and make sure

that all your tech is working before you begin. This can help you to feel more prepared and confident about selling virtually.

3. Get in the right mindset 

As with so much of sales, confidence is key. It is important to psych yourself up and get in the right mindset. You should approach the virtual event in the same way you would any other event.

4. Keep it engaging

‘Zoom fatigue’ is real. Attention spans in virtual meetings are much lower than face-to-face events, so keep your event succinct and engaging with a variety of content. You can’t just run through the same presentation you would at a conference. Can you blend keynote speakers, interactive workshops and actionable insights to keep the event moving, interesting and engaging?

5. Leverage experts to maximise ROI 

Whether these are independent experts to deliver engaging content to your audience, or specialist events companies to manage the logistics of the event itself, it is better not to do everything yourself.​

6. Follow up after the event 

Even if you have to follow up virtually, this can still increase your conversion rate dramatically.

The fundamental differentiator for success is to find ways that distinguish your virtual events from the day-to-day reality of your prospects. No one wants yet another Zoom call in their diary, so make sure your event defies expectations by putting the “event” back into virtual events.

  • GDS Group, based in Bristol, England, specialises in hosting virtual executive events.

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