A (Virtual) Reality Check: Mastering remote selling

28th May 2020 |   Tim Riesterer and Dr Carmen Simon PhD

How to make virtual sales presentations more engaging, more memorable and more effective.

In an instant, the number of salespeople delivering remote presentations has reached 100%. But how do they feel about virtual sales calls, versus in-person meetings?

Not good, according to our recent industry survey of over 500 B2B salespeople. Over 70% of salespeople believe that remote selling is not as effective as in-person. Sales reps say that participants tend to:

  • Multi-task
  • Presentations are too passive
  • There’s very little interaction, and
  • It’s more difficult to build relationships when meetings aren’t face-to-face.

Yet despite the vote of no confidence, remote selling is now required. And to be successful at it, you need to understand what works (and what doesn’t) in your virtual meetings.

Despite the vote of no confidence, remote selling is now required.

Much of the advice out there will tell you that you need some decent lighting and to place your camera so it’s not pointing straight up your nose. But how much does that actually help? When you’re online, your well-lit, perfectly framed visage will be shrunk down to a tiny image in the corner of a computer screen. So, you’ve only really managed to improve a very small part of the overall presentation. (Editor’s note: But this is worth getting right, nonetheless.)

It’s the slides that matter

In a virtual presentation, your slides turn out to be the most visible and visual part of your buyer’s experience. They (not you) are now the focus of attention. Or not, depending on how well they do the job.

With that in mind, you might think that sellers would put more effort into developing slides specifically for remote selling. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Even though 90% of sellers believe remote presentation slides should be different and more engaging than in-person presentations, the majority (76%) continue to use nearly the same deck they used for in-person meetings (Figure 1).

Salespeople need to adapt their presentations to the new “virtual reality”. And that’s what this article will cover. What follows are several practical lessons to help you clarify your most compelling message, design a presentation that holds your audience’s attention, and ensure they remember you when it’s time to buy.

Sellers tend to use the same slides for remote and in-person presentations
Figure 1: Sellers tend to use the same slides for remote and in-person presentations.

Multi-tasking

Why don’t the vast majority of salespeople think remote selling is as effective as in-person? One big reason, they told us, is multi-tasking: 88% of survey respondents believe their prospects and customers are likely to multi-task during remote sales calls. Why? Because that’s what they do themselves. In fact, 83% admitted to checking their own email (among other things) during other people’s meetings.

The reality is that you’re trying to sell to an invisible audience who are doing a lot of other things while they’re listening to your presentation. You don’t have the luxury of looking your in-person audience in the eye and pulling them back in when you sense their attention is starting to wander.

Now that your slides are the only visible way to grab and hold your buyers’ attention, your PowerPoint has to do all the heavy lifting.

This isn’t simply about making your slides look great. Visuals play an important role, but don’t forget that the purpose of your presentation is to deliver a message that your buyers will remember – and ultimately act on – after the call.

A psychological concept called the Forgetting Curve suggests that people will naturally forget up to 90% of what you communicate after 48 hours.

Make memories by design

If you were to call your prospect or customer two days after a sales meeting and ask them what they remember from your conversation, what would they say? Chances are, it won’t be what you expect.

A psychological concept called the Forgetting Curve suggests that people will naturally forget up to 90% of what you communicate after 48 hours. But that’s not the worst of it. The really bad news is that the little they do remember is completely random.

Imagine you’re talking to five people on a sales call. If your message isn’t explicitly clear, each person will walk away with a different understanding of what they just heard. But if your goal is to drive consensus around a specific buying decision, you need to make sure your audience doesn’t just remember something – they need to remember the right thing.

That’s where understanding brain science can make all the difference.

Using EEG (electroencephalogram) technology, we record the electrical activity of people’s brains as they take in information from business presentations. This allows us to accurately monitor and learn how people pay attention and remember information.

Your audience will only remember 10% of your sales presentation two days after the event. How can you be sure that they will remember the right 10%?

EEG technology captures cognitive processes at the exact moment they happen, so we can understand precisely what stimuli will get people’s attention, keep them engaged, and help them to remember the information long after an event.

Based on this research, we’ve identified four principles that will help drive home the critical messages you want audiences to remember and act on.

1. Control your message

Your audience will only remember 10% of your sales presentation two days after the event. How can you be sure that they will remember the right 10%?

You might think the solution is to make them remember more, but science says you can’t: 10% is the best anyone can do. So, when you’re talking to your prospects and customers, you need to intentionally clarify what your 10% Message is, and then deliver it in an engaging and memorable way (Figure 2).

Carefully craft your 10% Message
Figure 2: Carefully craft your 10% Message.

Your 10% Message is the single, core message that you want your buyers to remember. To be effective, your 10% Message must be:

  • Focused – One core message with no more than three to four supporting points
  • Rewarding – Linked to something that your audience finds rewarding
  • Repeatable – Easy to repeat so it comes to mind easily
  • Actionable – Phrased as an action that you want your viewer to take

Keep your 10% Message simple and clear. Over time, your audience won’t be able to hold all of the information from your presentation in their mind. If you ask them to remember too much, they may get the gist of what you’re talking about, but the memory won’t be precise enough to recall your message later on.

One simple way to reinforce this message and make it more memorable is to repeat it several times. If you create a single “anchor” slide and strategically repeat it throughout your presentation, your buyers will become more familiar with your message and gain a sharper, more precise memory of that message in their minds (Figure 3).

Repeat your 10% Message at strategic intervals in your presentation
Figure 3: Repeat your 10% Message at strategic intervals in your presentation.

2. Focus their attention

There’s a popular myth that people have a shorter attention span than 25 years ago. But when you consider the number of people who binge-watch television shows, you know that’s not true. People have a great capacity for prolonged attention. But today, they have a higher threshold for stimulation.

People’s stimulation threshold is now so high that your slides will require more interaction, more imagery, and more motion to grab and hold their attention. In a remote selling situation, your audience has all the enticing distractions of home right at their fingertips. You’re competing for attention with their phone, email, social media, and even their fridge.

To effectively plant your 10% Message among all of those distractions, you need to overcome your buyers’ stimulation threshold with dynamic visuals and interactive elements –including the use of:

  • Colour
  • Size
  • Animation, and
  • Annotation

Color

Easily draw your buyers’ eyes to the most important information on your slide, just by adding a splash of color and graying out other parts (Figure 4).

The importance of colour
Figure 4: The importance of colour.

Size

Adjust the size of specific information or visuals on your slide to increase or decrease their importance relative to other information.

Animation

Add motion to your slide to create drama and sustain your buyers’ attention while you gradually reveal an important idea. Simple examples include building your bullet points as you talk, versus putting them up right away, and making any detailed visual images appear in sections as you talk about them (Figure 5).

The importance of animation
Figure 5: The importance of animation.

Annotation

Use the pen feature in PowerPoint to write directly on your slides while you’re talking with your buyers, to highlight important information and invite them into the experience (Figure 6). Annotation helps direct their attention to the points you’re talking about and emphasize key elements again for reinforcement.

The importance of annotation
Figure 6: The importance of annotation.

3. Prime their brain

You’re sharing great information. But are your buyers still paying attention, even in the middle of your web session?

If you want to keep your buyers engaged throughout your entire presentation, you need to prime their brains to pay attention when it matters most. That means identifying the key moments where you want to attract more attention and, right before those moments, intensify the stimulus with a powerful priming slide.

Research shows that using intense visual stimulus in this way spikes peoples’ attention and engagement in those moments. Not only that; they stay engaged for the next 30 to 60 seconds. So right before you share important information, use a priming slide to re-capture your buyers’ focus and prime their brains to pay attention to what comes next.

Strong priming slides:

  • Connect to the theme of the presentation
  • Are simple to understand
  • Use emotive and unexpected visuals

On the other hand, weak priming slides:

  • Don’t connect to the theme of your presentation
  • Are too complex or abstract
  • Use boring and clichéd imagery

Priming slides are highly effective tools for spiking peoples’ attention. But it’s not always easy to find visually compelling designs. That’s why we created SlideClub (slideclub.com) – a slide subscription service that combines brain science and high-end aesthetics to help you sustain attention and engagement in your sales presentations. Each slide is intended to engage and stimulate the brain, and they have been tested and proven to work with our EEG technology.

4. Engage for impact

The last thing most salespeople want in their presentations is unnecessary friction. They wouldn’t dare ask their audience to do something that might seem unusual or out of the ordinary. As mentioned earlier, the vast majority don’t even ask their audience to turn on their cameras.

But adding friction can actually be a good thing. In a research simulation, we split 800 participants into three groups while they participated in a sales presentation.

  • Group 1 listened to the presentation.
  • Group 2 listened to and watched the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Group 3 was asked to draw a simple visual about the 10% Message while they listened to and watched the PowerPoint slides (listen, watch, draw along).

Our research study shows that asking your buyer to draw a simple visual story and write down specific notes during your presentation can improve engagement, differentiation, and recall. Plus, it can make your story more convincing.
People in the “draw along” group (Figures 7 – 9):

Figure 7

Figure 7.

  • Demonstrated 12% higher confidence in their ability to recall and retell the story to colleagues versus those who only listened and watched.
Figure 8

Figure 8.

  • Were 10% more convinced they had a business challenge that needed to be solved and that you could help them, compared to those who merely listened and passively watched the same presentation.
Figure 9

Figure 9.

  • Using interactive visuals improves how quickly people process your most important message and it helps embed it into your audience’s mind. They become more personally invested in the story. And, they will be able to pass that story along to others in their organization long after the presentation.

Deliver unforgettable remote sales presentations

Your sales presentations need to engage your buyers, hold their attention, and deliver a clear message that motivates them to take action. And this becomes an even greater challenge on remote sales calls.

Using the principles of neuroscience, you can drive more attention and engagement during your presentation and ensure they can recall and retell your story when it’s time to buy.

You do this by clarifying your 10% Message, using visual cues to control your buyers’ focus, priming their brain to take in the most important information, and using interactive visuals to enhance their ability to share your message after the call.

Chief Strategy and Research Officer, Corporate Visions | + posts

Tim Riesterer is Chief Strategy and Research Officer at Corporate Visions. He is dedicated to improving the messages marketing creates for the field and the conversations salespeople have with prospects and customers. Riesterer is co-author of four books: Customer Message Management, Conversations that Win the Complex Sale, The Three Value Conversations, and The Expansion Sale.

Chief Science Officer at Corporate Visions | + posts

Dr Carmen Simon, PhD is Chief Science Officer at Corporate Visions and founder of Memzy. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur, cognitive neuroscientist, and speaker, Dr Simon offers a ground-breaking approach to creating memorable messages that are easy to process, hard to forget, and impossible to ignore, using the latest in brain science. Dr Simon is the author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.