MSPs: How to sell better during COVID

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I recently found myself scrolling through the faces gathered in a virtual webinar while listening intently to my subject-matter expert deliver expertly-honed content. The material was sprinkled with humor, pauses for effect, and questions to ensure the audience was engaged. My speaker was so well-versed in the challenges that the audience faces day in and day out that she moved through the content like a warm knife through butter, effortless and smooth. And to my dismay, the audience was dwindling and some of the expressions on the faces in the gallery were less than enthusiastic. I had the urge to jump in and take over.

That was my “ah ha” moment. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have spent most of my career preparing others to take the stage and enjoy being behind the scenes.)

I am certainly not blazing any trails here and realize that many of you may have gotten here way ahead of me. But, I think there is value in sharing this story, if for no other reason than to encourage others to share what is working for them and what is not.

As marketers, it’s our time to rethink digital content, be creative and adaptable, and make sure what we’re delivering is a meaningful experience. I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic gave birth to a second pandemic, Screen Fatigue 2020, that is making this imperative even more challenging. To better capture the audience and tap into their pain points, marketers must create more engaging and interactive experiences. Here are four questions you can ask to help craft an engaging virtual experience:

1. Would I Want to Attend?
A recent Mavenlink Future of Work survey of professionals found that 52% prefer in-person interactions when collaborating. In-person meetings are impossible for many these days. But too often, we use that as an excuse rather than an opportunity to improve. A majority of people prefer interacting face-to-face when working together. As marketers it’s our job to make virtual presentations feel as close to in-person collaborations as possible.

My experience above is evidence of this. It’s easy to talk at an audience, especially when the conversation is virtual and the speaker has pre-prepared content. Even if the content is thoughtful and the presentation is flawless, attendees can feel talked at instead of spoken to.

Rather than act like a professor in a lecture hall, attempt to develop an interactive experience. Try using tools like questionnaires ahead of the webinar. During the session, you can address some of the questions to help the event feel more conversational. Consider using polls to keep the audience engaged. You may have planned to discuss a certain topic only to find your audience wants to take things in a different direction. That’s OK, be flexible.

Would you want to attend a webinar or even a live event if the host stuck to talking points and didn’t make any room for discussion no matter the mood of the audience? Consider your answer to this question and develop your approach with that response in mind.

2. Can I Deliver This Content Without Slides?
By this point, the lines between work and life have blurred considerably. We spend all day online working. Then, we probably check our personal emails and log more hours in front of the computer. Consider this fact before creating content. You want your content to be relevant and meaningful because you’re asking people to spend even more time in front of a screen.

There are two angles here. First, be thoughtful about the content you deliver. Thought leadership-style content has a time and place. Informative webinars are neither the time nor the place for demonstrating how much of an expert you are on a topic. Instead, consider how you can deliver actionable content to your audience. Leave them with more answers than questions, and provide them tools they can leverage in their professional lives.

Second, because you’re asking people to log into another meeting, reconsider how you present your content. Maybe you swap more text for images than usual. Maybe you include video or other media. Maybe you don’t even need a full deck and just a few visual cues will work. Perhaps this topic doesn’t even need video and a podcast episode will work just fine.

Consider: What type of content would compel you to spend another hour at your computer?

3. What Have I Learned?
We constantly measure and appraise our digital marketing campaigns then tweak them to adjust for performance. Why wouldn’t we do the same with webinar-type content? Let’s figure out a way to measure audience participation, feedback or other metrics we feel are relevant to our webinars.

Once you develop metrics for measuring engagement, it’s important to keep perspective. Your first webinar or event may not generate a lot of engagement or otherwise fail to live up to your metric’s benchmarks. When this happens, try to learn from the situations that don’t go well and move forward from those experiences. Resilience will be key as you move through trial and error. The key is to measure everything that happens and keep working to improve those measurements.

4. Will the content help them solve a business challenge?
The recurring theme here is that, to create engaging virtual content, you should try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Many of us are struggling through some form of work-from-home fatigue and picking our way through a challenging time, in general. The last thing anyone wants is to log more screen time for a webinar that feels like a college lecture. People are looking for solutions and shortcuts. Are you helping them solve a problem or overcome a challenge? Remind yourself of that the next time you prepare a slide deck or virtual event by asking these questions: Now is the time to be creative and try new approaches for engaging with audiences and sharing new ideas. And remember, if you wouldn’t want to attend your own webinar, neither will anyone else.

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