Picture yourself making a sales pitch in a Zoom call. Feel your palms get sweaty and hear yourself say “um” and “uh” over and over as your bored clients shut their cameras off or mute their mics in the middle of your presentation. Then wince as you see yourself fumbling for a non-cringey way to end the call without looking or sounding awkward.
Does any of this scenario sound familiar? If so, then you might be losing sales because you can’t keep your clients’ attention.
The good news is, if you’re struggling to craft a winning virtual sales pitch, it’s easier than you think. You just need to change your mindset on a few things, starting with the fact that virtual meetings are completely different from in-person meetings.
Why Isn’t Pitching Virtually The Same As Pitching In Person?
You might think that Zoom and other virtual meeting programs were designed so that we could copy and paste our in-person meetings online. Well, it’s not that straightforward.
First, it’s hard to know where to look during a virtual meeting. Should you be watching the camera lens? The individual screenshots of your clients? In the struggle to find point of visual contact, the human element of in-person elements often gets lost.
Another struggle is knowing how much time you should spend talking. In person, it’s easier for clients to stay focused because they are present in the moment. But through a speaker, your voice might sound like a drone that they lose interest in partway through your pitch. If you lose clients’ attention, you lose sales.
Finally, when you’re pitching a sales idea to a room full of clients, you’re free to use slide presentations or a whiteboard. In a virtual meeting, these aids merely serve to distract and bore the person on the other end of the call. You have to get your point across quickly without a lot of moving parts.
Is it possible to fix all these issues? The answer is, yes, if you listen to the “sales whisperer” (our title, not his), Nitya Kirat.
Who Is Nitya Kirat?
Nitya’s main schtick is to help business owners and entrepreneurs figure out how to make or improve virtual sales. His secret weapon for virtual sales meetings is simple: maintain the human connection.
For example, he suggests that instead of talking throughout the entire presentation, you should pass the “mic”, so to speak, to the clients. Get a conversation flowing to keep everyone awake and engaged.
He also recommends that you avoid using slides and screen sharing as much as possible. Slides often contain redundant information that you’re already telling the client. According to Nitya, with a slide or a screen share “… you’ve taken away any early human connection or rapport-building by a slide that adds zero value.”
Through Nitya’s expert guidance, shared both on the podcast and his fantastic book, Stride 2 Freedom listeners will learn how to embrace the world of virtual interaction without losing the human element.
Who should I interview next? Please let me know by clicking here.
In this Podcast episode with Nitya, you will learn:
- Why being an expert virtual salesperson is so crucial to your business’s success in 2021
- How approaching virtual meetings differently from in-person meetings can increase your sales
- How small changes on your part can fix all your virtual meeting issues
We are fortunate to have Nitya available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Show Notes and Links From Episode:
Nitya Kirat LinkedIn
Nitya Kirat Email
Russell Benaroya: Hey everyone, welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I’m the co-founder of Stride Services, a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States.
This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone. We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow.
Thanks for joining. Let’s go.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Strike 2 Freedom podcast where we help business leaders get and stay in their genius zone. I am your host, Russell Benaroya.
Stride 2 Freedom is brought to you by Stride Services, which is an outsourced bookkeeping and accounting firm serving high-growth professional service firms like marketing agencies and consulting firms. Our genius zone at Stride Services is helping clients use their data to make better business decisions. You can learn more about Stride at www.strideservices.com.
Let’s jump into the episode. I am super lucky today to be talking to my friend Nitya Kirat. Hey Nitya?
Nitya Kirat: Hey Russell, thanks for having me.
Russell Benaroya: So great to have you. Nitya is the founder of YOSD Consulting, and the author of the best selling book, Winning Virtually. Nitya is like the sales whisperer. He’s not a ball coming in with some rah rah speech as a sales consultant. Nitya, I would say, is a bit of a stoic who helps organizations see the path towards sharing the best of themselves with the right clients that are receptive to the message.
How do you get to them? How do you prepare? How do you communicate? How do you follow up? How do you close the deal? This is Nitya’s genius zone, and we’re going to have the gift and the opportunity to learn from him today.
For many business owners, they may think they have the best mousetrap in the world, but if they don’t have the mice coming to the mousetrap, they’re not going to be that successful. Let’s jump in with Nitya and learn about successful selling strategies.
What do you say, Nitya? Should we rock and roll?
Nitya Kirat: Let’s do it.
Russell Benaroya: All right. Tell me, first and foremost, about this book that you wrote, Winning Virtually. It’s a tactical book. It’s an actionable book, and it’s gotten some great reviews on Amazon. Why was it the right time to write this book? What’s been the result of doing so?
Nitya Kirat: Thanks. I know we had spoken as I was getting started on the book, Russell, and I appreciate your advice and input as I began that journey. The book came about; it’s 10 Tiny Habits For Big Virtual Selling Success.
When COVID happened last year, I noticed people struggled to take the effectiveness and success they had selling in-person to selling over Zoom. This was highly experienced folks at large companies. This was founders trying to raise their next round. What used to happen in-person wasn’t translating so well to doing a video or Zoom meeting.
I started posting ideas and content around, here’s how you make those adjustments and changes. Through that, I said, listen, there’s a lot of people that might benefit from this. Virtual selling is not going away. It’s here to stay for a while.
That’s why the book came out at the time that it did. It wasn’t really something I was thinking about. It was, I think this is what people would find helpful given where we are right now.
Russell Benaroya: Well, I’m obviously going to recommend that people go and buy the book, but I would love, Nitya, if you gave us a bit of a teaser on a few of virtual winning sales strategies that you have found to resonate with people that have read the book and giving you some feedback that that was really helpful. In many cases, probably to be reminded of because it’s not like this is like revolutionary thought. It’s just awareness.
Nitya Kirat: Yeah. What people have talked about is, I talk about the paradigm shift. What is exactly the difference between an in-person sales meeting and a virtual sales meeting? Because there are a lot of similarities. We’re still selling the same products or services. It’s still a human being talking to another human being.
There are a lot of different similarities. The big difference is that in the virtual world, people’s attention is that much more precious. We need to grab it and we need to keep it. What we need to do in order to do that is slightly different.
If you think about an average sales conversation, in an average conversation, you were speaking 60% of the time and the prospect or client was going to speak 40% of the time. That’s a pretty good ratio, by the way. Even then, if you move from 60-40 to 55-45, I’d say the quality of a meeting would increase. That’s true, whether you’re in-person or virtually.
What’s different virtually is that your 60% of the time that you’re speaking can’t all be in one chunk. It can’t be in the front of the meeting. What needs to happen is the microphone needs to get passed back and forth, early and often. If it’s not, it is very easy for people to get distracted, or lose focus and go on to the other window.
They might look like they’re looking at you if they’re polite, but they’re not. In some cases, I heard from folks, their prospects just shut the cameras off mid conversation. You know that they’re not paying attention when that happens. So getting attention early and often is critical and there are deliberate steps you need to take throughout that conversation to make that happen.
Russell Benaroya: What else? Give us another one. This is good.
Nitya Kirat: The rest of the booktalks about how to do that at different points of the conversation. Again, the beginning is so critical because once you lose people, you’ve lost them. But if it’s a 30-minute meeting, and you’ve done a great job from minute one to 20, chances of holding their attention for the next few minutes is pretty high.
A lot of it focuses on, how do we do this early in that conversation? One being the agenda that you share. Sometimes people think it’s too formal or it comes across as too stiff. To me, it’s 100% the right thing to do before every sales meeting. It shows that you’re prepared.
In this virtual setting, the framework we share creates that early input and engagement. Now there’s a commitment that this is what we’re going to discuss. This is the commitment we’re making for the rest of the meeting. We’re now both co-owners of what happens next. That agenda framework we talked about is something I hear, time and time again, people saying it has changed the way their meetings are going.
Russell Benaroya: Early and often, pass the microphone back and forth, set the agenda. You’ve also talked about the power of stories and the power of storytelling. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen you speak a couple of times, or I read it in the book. Can you talk a little bit about the power of stories and setting the stage for effective sales conversations?
Nitya Kirat: Throughout time, as a race, we’ve learned through stories. We find stories interesting. It starts from when we’re kids and it never really ends. The minute someone says, “Once upon a time,” our ears perk up, and we’re interested in hearing about it.
I believe storytelling is very important in all communication, and certainly in sales where we’re trying to influence and persuade others. But it’s not easy. Some people are natural storytellers, but even they probably work pretty hard at it.
When I started in this industry, I would watch some of my colleagues and they had these great stories. I’m like, “How do you have all these great stories that you share in our trainings?” And they said, “Well, we all have great stories. You just have to start paying attention to them.”
So I’d sit down and I’d start trying to think about what stories happened in my life. I’d come up with one and I’d come up with another. I’ve got five or six pages of stories. Almost anytime I went to an airport and I saw something or something happened or the cashier was extra nice or extra rude, I was like, “Here’s a story that could be relevant.”
I think people find it a lot more interesting to hear about what happened to you when you had to change your kid’s diaper for the first time. It was one of my favorites, versus, “Let me tell you how great our sales training is.”
Russell Benaroya: I love it. In selling virtually, what do you think about screen sharing, sharing slides versus not sharing slides, but really trying to create the human connection as best as you can? I’m curious if you could share some perspective on the effectiveness of screen sharing or not?
Nitya Kirat: Yeah, for sure. We talked about this in the book. There are two ideas that come to mind from your question, Russell. One being avoid it if you can and when you can. The minute you start sharing your screen, the actual humans become much tinier. Any semblance of eye contact or human to human connection gets diminished when everyone is two inches by two inches. Only use screen sharing when you have to.
It’s obviously helpful and it is important at times. So it’s not something that you might be able to completely eradicate, but when you can, it bodes well. And even if you have slides, the beginning of your meeting and the end of that meeting, rarely do you need slides for those portions.
I’ve seen people at the beginning of the meeting and it says “2021 Priority Discussion Meeting”. Everyone knows why they were there. Now you’ve taken away any early human connection or rapport-building by a slide that adds zero value.
People are very dependent on their slides when it actually detracts from a lot of good things that can happen. So reduce your slides, share them only when needed. Remember to unshare when you can.
Now when you’re talking about team meetings and team selling, if you can be coordinated enough, it’s best to have somebody else run that. If you’re the one leading the meeting, you want your focus to be on leading the meeting. Sometimes we forget to set off the SlideShare and the slides are still running. If you’ve got a partner, this can be their role to figure out when to stop sharing and when to start sharing. Again, minimize the amount of time that we’re all small boxes rather than bigger boxes.
Russell Benaroya: I listened to a presentation recently, and the presenter who’s very adept, rather than screen sharing, he had one-pagers next to him. He would hold them up to make a point. He wouldn’t share his screen, he would just hold up the picture and say, “This is what I’m trying to talk about.” I thought that was really effective.
The other thing that I see as I’m talking to you is that I can see your hands as you’re communicating. I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about body language as it relates to selling virtually, standing up versus sitting down, showing your hands, your background. The setup around connoting that trust, confidence, energy, desire, commitment is not necessarily what comes out of your mouth. It’s what’s all around you. If you could share that, that’d be awesome.
Nitya Kirat: We’re going to go through the whole book, Russell. Nobody’s going to buy it. It’s okay. I am passionate about helping folks get better.
Russell Benaroya: The book tells you how to do it. You’re just saying what you should be thinking about.
Nitya Kirat: Let me let me go back to one quick point on the deck. I put out a video on this last year. Ideally, you have two versions of your deck. One version, if you are presenting it to an audience, you don’t need all that many words because you’re there. Then if you’re giving a deck as a leave behind, or if you’re sending a deck to an audience who need to read it themselves and get the message, those are two very different things.
People use the highly-detailed version of the deck as their only version. You’re building it out, and you’ve got all the pieces, and any question that somebody could ask is there in the deck. Then you go and you present that? Why are you even there? Why don’t you just send it? I know how to read.
Anyone that’s willing to listen, I tell them, “It takes a little bit more work, but have two versions of your deck: the version with you, and the version without you.
Russell Benaroya: Good advice.
Nitya Kirat: To your point on body language? Again, that’s something most people know how to do but it’s slightly different in the virtual world. For one, eye contact: that’s a tricky one. Are you looking at the camera or you’re looking at the eyes? Where should you look? How should your setup be so that you’re maximizing the time that you’re in the general eye contact area? That’s one big one.
It’s easier to be energetic when you’re sitting across someone in a room. You just need to be aware and do what it takes to drive that energy in a virtual setting. By energy, it doesn’t mean that you need to be a cheerleader, but you need to be the driver of the energy that you want to be the prevalent dynamic in the room.
I think it’s a little bit more work because you’re sitting in front of a screen or you’re sitting at a desk to be conscious and do these little things: the eye contact, remembering to smile, using your hands in the right way.
I read a book that I really enjoyed, The Charisma Myth by Olivia Cabane. She talks about the micro expressions; these little muscles that we have that we don’t control. They’re subconscious based on the thoughts that are in our mind. I thought that’s another one to be aware of.
We used to say, if I have a meeting at two o’clock that finishes at 3:00, my next meeting will need to be at 3:45 or 4:00 because I’ve got to get back across town. Now, it’s 3:00 to 4:00, 4:00 to 4:30, 4:40-5:00. We don’t create these breaks to recalibrate our mental state, and it comes through. You can tell when someone’s exhausted from being in front of Zoom, versus they love what they do, and they’re excited to be there.
Russell Benaroya: Speaking of micro expressions, my wife told me recently as she happened to overhear me on a call, she said, “Russell, you’re very good at asking questions. But one thing that you do after somebody has answered or when they’re getting to the tail of the answer, you say, “Yeah, got it,” as if I’m trying to close them down so I can ask my next question.
It isn’t a lack of curiosity, but it is this unconscious desire to want to keep moving. The downside of that, according to my wife, is that I’m signaling or maybe minimizing the message that they’re trying to send because I’m saying, “Yeah, I got it.” “You could have finished 10 seconds ago. I got it. Great. Let’s move on.”
When you said micro expressions, that got me thinking about how we behave online even in these little micro moments: the ums, the yeahs. It starts to wear on the other party over time. Just being aware of these things and working on them is an opportunity.
Nitya Kirat: I wanted to make the point I’m not cutting you off.
Russell Benaroya: I’m so scared of silence on the podcast. You just nailed it. You got me, thank you.
Nitya Kirat: We were spending a lot of time with clients. Especially lately, everyone here knows that listening is an important communication skill. I don’t think you’d have one listener who would disagree with that. Yet, if you go through your calendar, so far in 2021, how many hours have you blocked off on your calendar to practice this highly critical communication skill. That tells you a little bit about the problem in our world as a whole. We’re not good listeners and we can get better. It’s not rocket science.
Russell Benaroya: So true. The last thing I’ll probe you on, and then we’ll talk about YOSD, and how you’re specifically working with clients today, talk about affirming the close or affirming the next step.
When you and I are in-person in a sales relationship, at the end of the meeting, I will say, “Great, here are the next steps.” We’ll shake hands, maybe we will affirm the next step. We’re subconsciously, and I suppose consciously connoting a commitment. If I shake your hand, there’s a next step. But when you get off a Zoom call, it’s a little harder sometimes to affirm that shared agreement. I’m curious if there are any strategies or tactics for virtual selling that would help close a call more effectively, not necessarily to close a sale yet, but to close the call.
Nitya Kirat: Obviously, the handshake is one element of it. But that’s not what makes or breaks the deal. Clients come to us and ask, “We want our team to be better closers. We want to close more business.” It’s rarely, “Here’s what you do to close. Here’s the magic thing to say.”
Most of the time, it’s everything that happened from before the call, to the beginning of the call, in the middle of the call, and the questions you asked, and how well you listened. All of those things lead you to a pretty easy close at that point, or a higher conviction on whether it will close or not, versus, “I gave my pitch and I’m going to pose this question. It’s going to be a yes or no, and we’ll see what happens.”
So much of what happens early in that conversation is what drives that close or commitment for that next step. In the virtual world, I recommend, if you have a 30-minute meeting, plan for a 25-minute meeting, or plan that you’re getting to the close not at minute 28 or 29. You’re getting to the close at minute 22 or 23. So that if there are additional questions or resistance, you have time to work through them together, versus, “We’re running out of time, are you guys interested or not? We’ll get back to you. We need to discuss this internally.” You have no idea what just happened and the Zoom ends.
In-person, you might still have a walk to the elevator together, or you’re leaving the restaurant together. On zoom, you don’t have that. You really need to think about building in some time at the end more so than you would have before. Honestly, if you structure meetings well, you don’t need to say that many things. You should be able to end earlier in most sales meetings that I’ve seen.
Russell Benaroya: Great, great advice. You touched on another important point, which is don’t try to pack everything into a single call. Or getting back to your point of setting the agenda, “Here’s what we want to accomplish today. Here’s what the desired outcome is: to be at a point where we determine some next steps together.” Then allow enough time to talk about those next steps once you’ve passed the microphone enough so everybody feels heard and expressed. It really ties together like a puzzle and I think your book does a great job at that now.
Now, they’re not going to buy your book fine because you explained the whole thing. but some of the most successful companies in the world have hired you, and you also work with small companies that are trying to get this engine in place.
It is not just, “Okay, how do I conduct myself and win virtually?”, it’s also all of the organizational design and the processes and the structure to have more at bats. Maybe you could talk, as the owner and founder of YOSD Consulting, about how you come into companies and and help them. What is the pain that they’re feeling when they reach out to you in the first place?
Nitya Kirat: Thanks for teeing that up. Russell. Earlier on, you mentioned getting the mice to the mousetrap. Our expertise, what we do exceptionally well is when you have them at the mousetrap, what do you do with them from that point on?
When you think about sales consultants, there are all kinds of consulting. What technology tools do you have? What CRM are you using? What phone systems do you have? What do you think about territory management? There are a lot of different elements to sales consulting.
Our focus is on your team of human beings, so not e-commerce. Your team of human beings is having conversations with other human beings. The quality of those conversations has a direct correlation to the success of your company. Whether its; “It’s taking us eight meetings to close the deal and we’d like to shorten that, to whether we have X number of final pitches and we’re only winning 22% of that, and we’d like to increase that to 35%. That could be a huge impact on our business.”
Whether that’s; “We’ve grown recently and our sales team are having very different conversations. There’s no consistency across the board. We do really well in some meetings. We’ve got some folks that do well with some clients. We’d love to have a more consistent path that we can then scale and hire and train on.”
Those are a couple of the situations that we help our clients make progress with. It’s really what’s the business goal we’re trying to achieve? In order to achieve that, what conversations do we need our team to get better at? Then we build very customized training and coaching programs to help change those behaviors and achieve those goals.
Russell Benaroya: Awesome. And clients reach out to you with the expectation that you’re going to come in what capacity? Do you tend to come in as a guide and a coach for some period of time? Do you engage over a long period or is it fixed in duration? How do you typically approach your engagements?
Nitya Kirat: One thing is it’s to our scalability detriment, but to our client’s success enhancement that we’ve got a very customized and flexible approach. We’re trying to figure out the problem we’re solving for. What are the other resources and constraints? How many people are there? What geographies?
All those things get taken into account and then we prepare the right program for them. These programs are a combination of training sessions in groups as well as coaching sessions, which can be in smaller groups or one-on-one. The length, again, varies.
For example, I’m working with a SaaS company and this is an eight-week long program with a focus group of senior sellers who are the ones having these at bats pretty regularly. In order for them to raise their next round, they need to win more than they’re currently winning. We came up with the plan and it’s an eight-week long program.
Another client, we’re doing four sessions, but then a longer series of one-on-ones as people want coaching and support for their individual opportunity. It varies in the way we approach this and we believe that’s the right thing to do for clients, even if it means trying to figure it out.
Russell Benaroya: Two last questions and then I’m going to let you rock and roll with your day. First, how are you typically received by salespeople? Are salespeople excited to have somebody come in and help guide them or coach them? Or are salespeople saying, “What’s this guy going to teach me? I know all this stuff already.”? I’m curious if you could share some experiences there.
Nitya Kirat:That never happens with salespeople. We’ve got a process that we follow for our engagements. Again, we’re very flexible, but we’re process oriented. It’s called “The Tiny Sales Habits Process”, where we don’t believe everything needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Often, it starts with a few tiny tweaks here and there that start to add up to big results. Then you can build and iterate and continue to improve.
Step one of the process is for us to understand what is going on right now. We spend time interviewing top performers, we spend time joining clients in actual meetings when possible, so that we’re able to figure out what is working well that we can processize and expand across the company. By the time we get to training, most of the folks who are good at their jobs have been spoken to or observed, and their ideas are incorporated into that training. It’s very hard for them to say that this is crap and there’s an example of how they do a particular thing on page six.
I think we do a good job of not having the issue where people are closed up because of the relevance. Salespeople, we value our time. We just want things to be worth our time. If training is going to help me be more successful and make more money, we’re all willing.
I think where they’re frustrated or come in with these preconceived notions is when you go to a training that’s not at the right level and not making that incremental difference that you need.
Russell Benaroya: Great sales strategy in and of itself, which is to have the prospect inform the information that you reflect back to them in the proposal, so they feel like they own it. and you were just interpreting what they were saying. The last question for you is what is a question, Nitya, that you would like people to ask you about YOSD or your book, or how do you engage with clients that they typically don’t, but you think is worth bringing up and sharing?
Nitya Kirat: This question has come up a couple times recently, where people have reached out and asked, “Do you have a program or do you work with teams that are not “official salespeople”?” I was an engineer. My first degree was chemical engineering. I gave up pharmaceutical drug processes and now I train and coach salespeople across the world. I wrote a book that hit number one on Amazon.
I’m living proof that sales can be taught. It’s a couple of ideas and frameworks and processes that can really open up a huge powerful feeling of being an effective communicator Regardless of who you are. I love working with engineers and engineering teams because, again, they’re process oriented. They just have not been trained in this area. We work with technical founders. Again, they are super smart, just not trained in this particular space, and that makes all the difference.
I’m working with one of the largest nonprofits in India. Same thing, again, they’re not used to thinking of themselves as “official salespeople”. So I think that getting asked that question opens up a lot of a lot of opportunities besides the traditional working with sales team, which is our bread and butter.
Russell Benaroya: This is the perfect question to end on Because I wanted to reflect back on something that you said earlier. We’re human beings engaging with other human beings. This is really what you help facilitate and create connections on, whether it’s virtual, or it’s in-person.
So whether or not you happen to be wearing the hat of a salesperson, or the hat of an engineer, or the hat of a project manager, this is all about how we communicate with each other, read each other and respect each other and lead authentically, and how we communicate with each other to come to some kind of shared agreement. Now, if you’re trying to sell something, that shared agreement is a transaction. But oftentimes, there’s a whole lot of selling that’s happening internally in an organization, where it’s really about selling each other on your ideas, or selling each other to try to get more resources.
Thank you for opening up that concept. It could take us in a whole other direction. It’s really exciting to pin it on: this is human beings engaging with other human beings.
Nitya Kirat: You’d appreciate this because a lot of times in our training, in our programs, I hear, “Wow, this is so much more helpful in my personal life,” or, “I’m using this all over and not just for my sales calls.”
Russell, you believe our lives are holistic and I feel really good when people feel better about how they communicate with their spouses and partners and kids using some of these same ideas.
Russell Benaroya: It’s so powerful. I was talking to somebody yesterday about the work that I do in and around finance. I said, “If it was just about the numbers, this would not be interesting to me. I actually think finance is about a reflection on your humanity and the decisions that you make and the impact that that has on the world around you. It just happens to be reflected in the numbers. Let’s use the numbers as a way to unlock the conversations that help us be better human beings and build better companies.”
I hear that screamingly from you in the work that you do. Thank you for being here today. It’s definitely a gift for us on this podcast, to have you share a bit of your expertise as a consultant, but also your accomplishments, Nitya, as an author to share the keys of this book that I think will be an accelerant for many people’s businesses. I really appreciate it.
Nitya Kirat: Thank you so much for having me ,Russell. It’s always a pleasure. I look forward to speaking with you soon.
Russell Benaroya: All right, everybody. Have a great week and we will talk to you next time on The Stride 2 Freedom podcast. Talk to you later.