According to a report on The Impact of COVID-19 on Global Startup Ecosystems by Startup Genome, since the beginning of the crisis, 74% of startups have seen their revenues decline, with 16% seeing their income dropping by more than 80%. Although 61% of global chief executives surveyed by YPO expect a U-shaped curve where there will be a sharp recession with a longer recovery period, over half of Fortune 500 CEOs surveyed predict that they will never travel as much for business as they did before the pandemic, and 26.2% expect that a majority of the workforce will work from home indefinitely.
In what can be called a ‘new normal’, most startups and even large corporations are now used to operating in either a fully virtual or hybrid environment. Many of our German Accelerator companies have seen their lead generation activities collapse due to the inability to attend in-person events such as networking sessions or trade shows. For those with more high-touch sales, it is difficult to sell to new customers without being able to conduct face-to-face live product demos where potential buyers can directly experience the benefits. This forced our startups to innovate and change the way they engage from a sales perspective.
How can startups continue to reach out to customers who seemingly have more time, and how do we engage them in a virtual context? These were the questions most often posed by our startups to our mentors during the pandemic, and here’s a collection of the top tips on closing sales virtually for B2B startups.
1. It’s Still About Building Relationships
At the end of the day, it’s still about relationships. While companies are investing more of their marketing dollars into digital advertising, for B2B sales, it is still about the ability to connect with your audience. Especially in a virtual setting, it is important to understand the psychology of the target audience and the need that you are addressing in order to get them to even be interested in building a relationship with you or your company. In a virtual world, you can leverage digital tools such as social media, Zoom, or even Slack to start building relationships.
Once you have built a connection, your target audience would be more willing to share their problems. Alongside your pitch, you should also have a set of questions to bring out any additional pain points. Here is when you can define the value of your product to the customer, what problem it is solving for them, and how much they are willing to pay to address this pain point. Once they find that this relationship is more than just transactional, they would be open to collaborating on a solution and eventually commit to working with you.
2. Understand The Buying Perspectives
To whom are you speaking to in an organization, and from which perspective are they buying from? Knowing that would help you engage your potential customers from their perspective and tailor your message accordingly. In a virtual situation, it may be harder for you to identify their buying perspectives, and you end up having conversations with more people than initially expected.
A tip is to find ‘sponsors’ within the buying organization so that they can connect you with the right individuals or teams that need to be influenced or educated on your product or solution. For example, you would need to address the concerns of the Technical Buyers, but also convince the Executive Buyers who have the influence to make a decision. Ultimately, selling virtually does not change the selling process nor the amount of groundwork necessary to close a sale.
3. Build Trust and Loyalty
Not every conversation has to end in a sale. It is important to invest in building rapport and loyalty rather than hard-selling or trying to close a deal when your client is going through a period of uncertainty. If you can instill a sense of trust and show empathy, you may not get a sale and retain the customer today, but they will remember you in the long term when things start to look up. For a start, it’s better to listen than to talk, and start from a place of empathy. When you engage in conversations, don’t shy away from personal topics that could be an opportunity to build authentic human connections.
One specific piece of advice we share with our German startups is to make use of the ‘brand Germany’ reputation to your advantage. Universally known for engineering excellence, punctuality, and more often than not, being realistic about what the product or solution can or cannot do, this can already set the stage to build credibility. Lastly, remember your personal brand as a sales person. Stick to your values and stand your ground on what you can or can’t compromise on – this helps to assure customers of your authenticity and principles, and adds to the trust factor.
4. Referrals, Referrals, Referrals
Securing meetings through referrals isn’t specific to an online setting, but is especially relevant when trying to connect virtually. Since it is harder to build trust without face-to-face interactions, the power of referrals cannot be underestimated when engaging a new prospect to listen to what you have to offer. Most startups often overlook the existing networks and communities that they can tap on for warm introductions, such as German Accelerator’s global mentor network of over 300 international industry experts.
However, it’s not just about asking for a referral. It is important to be specific in your request for a referral – what is the outcome that you are expecting and what is the proposition that you would like to present. Even for introductions, you should have a short slide deck ready for the connector to assess if it is worth their time and reputation to make the connection in the first place.
5. Use Technology
In terms of prospecting, make sure to get insights on your potential customers from available data, such as your CRM system or website analytics (or invest in a platform that provides customer analytics).
Since we are ‘forced’ to engage with clients virtually, why not leverage the technology out there to make the best out of the online setting? Your pitches could be enhanced with virtual tours or demos to make them more dynamic and engaging. By now, everyone is expected to be a Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Zoom expert. In order to come across as knowledgeable and confident as a sales person, you cannot be struggling with sharing your presentation properly over these virtual platforms or worse, not having a functioning camera during your virtual presentation. Invest in good quality tools, take note of your surroundings and lighting, and most importantly ensure you get the basics right and upgrade your internet connection to not drop out of the virtual meeting halfway through pitching your awesome solution!
Special thanks to our #GAmentors Alex Tan (Associate Trainer, Dale Carnegie Singapore), Brandon Atkinson (CEO & Principal Consultant, 46 Summits Consulting), and Joshua Amrani (CEO, The Amrani Group and one of our #GAalumni) for the insights that helped form this article on prospecting, connecting, and engaging potential customers in the ‘new normal’.