In-person vs. virtual selling: How modern teams can use this classic sales strategy
For startups and technology enabled sales teams, meeting a prospect in person feels like a waste of time. Why spend half a day with just one customer, when you could email or call hundreds? But while this might feel like common knowledge, it doesn’t mean in-person selling is dead.
When it comes to the top of your funnel, in-person selling is the last thing you want to do. But as you get closer to the close, it can become one of the best sales strategies you have. But you have to do it right.
Meeting in-person builds better relationships
At the top of the funnel, you want to grab someone’s attention. It’s all about the pitch. The offer. The value you’re presenting. But as you get closer to the deal, that dynamic shifts. Instead of just being about numbers, the deal becomes more and more about the relationship.
There’s no denying that every industry is getting crowded. And with all those competitors to choose from, a prospect’s decision usually comes down to how they feel about you. That’s where it’s so important to build a strong, human connect. And nothing does this better than meeting in person.
- There’s more context around the conversation: When you meet in person, you get an insider’s view on how to pitch and negotiate. You get to see the way that person physically reacts. How they talk and sit. Their office and coworkers. Knowledge is power in sales. And in-person meetings give you so much more than a call or email will.
- You get to read their body, not just their words: Communication is 93% nonverbal, which means you’re missing out on so much if you can’t physically see the person you’re talking to. Are they saying “maybe” but their body is tense? You might be able to get some of this from a video call, but it’s not the same as sitting in the same physical location and reading someone’s whole body, tone, and presence.
- You build a deeper, more personal connection: For thousands of years, humans have built relationships around shared experiences and breaking bread. The simple act of being with someone and having a coffee or a meal can help build that relationship and give you an advantage.
- You get more (and higher quality) time: In-person meetings are rarely 10 minutes. So while you might not get to talk to as many prospects by going in-person, the interactions you have will be better quality.
- They’ll give you 100% of their attention: When you’re on a call or emailing a prospect, you’ll be lucky to get half their attention. The modern workplace is distracting and we’re all busy. But in most cases, when you meet in person you get that person’s undivided attention.
As long as humans are making the buying decision for companies, meeting in person will offer you a strategic advantage.
Where in-person selling fits into your sales process
Meeting your prospects and customers in person is a huge opportunity. But like I said at the beginning of this post, it only makes sense if you do it in the right way and at the right time.
So how do you know if it’s worth it to meet in-person? A simple test is to ask yourself these two questions:
- How big of a deal is this? In-person selling is expensive, both in time and money. And it should only be used when the expected results match the effort.
- Is it the right time to meet in person? You’re going to get the best results if you meet in-person later in the sales lifecycle. Are you facing a crisis right before the deal’s supposed to close? Are there too many stakeholders involved to answer everyone’s questions and concerns? When the time is right, you want to elevate and escalate to an in-person meeting.
Once you’ve decided the situation warrants an in-person meeting, you can use one of the best hacks I know.
The “show up follow up” hack
When a high-value prospect goes quiet or sends you a message at the 11th hour to say they went with someone else, a call or email won’t do. You need to show up.
It’s a classic sales tactic, but simply come by the office and tell them:
“I was just in the area and wanted to drop by and say hello.”
If that feels too forward, you can give them a quick heads up beforehand and say:
“I’m going to be in the area tomorrow and wanted to drop by. We’ve been speaking for months and I’d like to be able to meet in person, shake hands, and drop off a small gift for you and the team. Even if we don’t get to work together, I value our relationship.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This strategy is old school. It only works for the typical loud, outgoing, extroverted salesperson. You’re more technical and this won’t work with your customers.
But in-person selling doesn’t have to be aggressive. It’s about persistence, not insistence. You’re showing your prospects that you value the deal so much that you’re taking time out of your day to be there with them and do whatever it takes.
In fact, this is the exact technique Sam Altman—current president of startup incubator Y Combinator and former technical startup founder—used to save his first company, Loopt.
Loopt had built one of the first location-based mobile apps. Yet as the story goes, after months of negotiating a company defining contract, the prospect backed out at the last minute, choosing a competitor’s app instead.
So what did Sam do? He knew this deal was too important to let go, and so the mild-mannered, soft-spoken, technical founder bought a bunch of tickets, flew his team to Orange County, and “happened to be in the company’s neighborhood” the next day.
After just 15 of meeting in-person, the company had completely changed their perspective on Sam and the deal was saved.
The secret to sales is (and always will be) building better relationships
I know showing up at someone’s office can feel desperate, overwhelming, or over aggressive. But drastic times call for drastic measures.
If a high-value prospect disappears or ditches you at the last minute for a competitor, you need to make yourself undeniable. You can’t be archived or ignored if you’re in front of them. And I’ve seen time and again how companies and careers have been revived just by using this technique.
As long as there’s a human being on the other end of your deal, selling in person will never go out of style. It takes courage. It takes guts. But showing up in-person can turn around a deal in a way an email or call could never do.
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