Implications for startups from a Zoom-led world
When we launched Sports Loft we had a pitch room with a big, green sofa. This was our “pitch sofa”. It was where the industry execs and investors would come and meet the companies that we worked with at Sports Loft. However, that very comfy sofa that I lovingly chose, is probably under about four inches of dust now as we haven’t been to the offices in central London since March. As many other companies did, we quickly moved to a 100% virtual operation and this meant that all our Sports Loft pitch sessions had to move onto Zoom (believe me, we’re getting our money's worth out of our subscription!).
At the sales and marketing level, the virtual operation seems here to stay. In a McKinsey study released this week, 70% to 80% of B2B decision makers now preferred remote human interactions or digital self service, to meeting in person - citing “ease of scheduling”, “savings on travel expenses” and “safety” as the three biggest reasons. And only 29% of B2B decision makers say they are now meeting in person when evaluating new suppliers (with 49% having remote human interactions and 29% using digital self serve). In the US, 74% of B2B decision makers regard the new sales model as effective and 75% said the same in the UK - an increase of 9% and 17% respectively vs April this year. These new methods of operation are not expected to go away any time soon with 89% of respondents in Mckinsey’s study saying that it was either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” the new go-to-market models would be sustained for more than 12 months.
Since March I’ve probably sat-in on over 200 pitches via Zoom by Sports Loft companies to investors and sports industry execs. I’ve seen some really good ones and a few shockers, but I’ve also seen some noticeable improvements as people have got used to the medium. I’ve also been pitched to directly by over 100 companies – in some instances this may have been the first time that I’ve met them and in others it may have a 3rd or 4th conversation. I’ve seen the founder, lounging on their couch, leaving me wondering if I was interrupting them from their snooze (it’s not a good look). I’ve had the biz dev guy sat in a full suit, shirt and tie on his laptop in his bedroom (that’s just weird). But I’ve also seen founders who have really engaged their audience over zoom as well as the best presenters could do in any meeting room or auditorium.
This recent Founders Hustle post on Medium about How VCs evaluate Your Video Call Pitch does a very good job of talking about the getting the basics right in terms of lighting, audio, how many people should be on a call etc .. However, I want to use this first-hand experience of seeing all these zoom-based sales meetings or investor pitches to talk about the implications for building fast-growing companies (and by extension most organisations who are selling an “idea” or a B2B product) in an environment when presenting to investors or industry execs over zoom is now the “norm” and getting on a plane or “doing lunch” just isn’t really happening. So, here goes…
- Find people who can sell over Zoom. Sounds obvious right, but many previously successful CEOs and sales people struggle to sell when not face-to-face. Sales people who have relied on a handshake or getting a table at a fancy restaurant aren't going to cut it if they can’t engage digitally or don’t know their product inside out. Based on the experiences of the last few months, I’d say companies need to prioritise finding people who are:
- Engaging over video calls. It’s tough enough keeping someone’s attention in normal times, let alone when they can be distracted by emails and slack messages coming in. The ability for a founder or sales person to draw their Zoom audience in with their enthusiasm and knowledge is now paramount.
- Experts. You can tell when you are talking to someone who knows what they are talking about – and this is even more clear-cut when people are remote. Genuine expertise is one of the best ways to build trust, which is also one of the hardest things to do remotely. In a recent conversation, the CTO of a major rights holder made an interesting comment: “Send an enthusiastic techie to sell to me, not a sales person”. Listen to how Nick Goggans, CEO at Pumpjack, talks about data on this podcast – surely the definition of an enthusiastic techie.
- Flexible. In the last few months industries have been turned on their heads, and none more so than the sports industry. Sales people who go on remote control and parrot the same presentational deck were not great before zoom took over and it sounds even worse now. However, the ability to able to think quickly, bring in the right examples at the right time and emphasise the pertinent aspects of a product for a prospective client’s changing needs are more important than ever.
- Be great at telling your story. In a time when we are becoming more dependent on digital interactions rather than relationships in-person, stories about the company’s founding, its mission, the people involved and the challenges it has faced make the companies much more relatable and human – and that makes it easier for potential clients and investors to want to “buy in” and get involved. Most companies have great stories to tell but the hard part is bringing those stories out. The founding stories of companies like Spalk, Slate and Satisfi are brilliant. The story of how Greenfly evolved is fascinating. They are powerful and engaging. It’s easy to think that others won’t be interested but they will. Companies need to get comfortable at telling their story and hire people who will be good at telling it. Becoming good at storytelling, it also means understanding the audience. This means clearly understanding what they are looking for, understanding where you are adding value to them, and articulating it in a short and impactful way. This has always been true, but over zoom, you’ve got even less time before the audience starts to drift, so you’ve got to get the messages across – that means working out what the key messages are and really understanding what is landing. That’s not easy but is something that founders such as Nick Pinks at Covatic have noticeably improved during their time with Comcast / Techstars.
- Get those case studies in as fast as possible. The CEO no longer has the luxury of a whiteboard in a meeting room where they can stand to show off their ideas to investors and explain complicated concepts. The most impactful presentations are showing real-world use cases and other organisations using the product. Some of the best pitches we see are when Sports Loft companies such as Fevo show how the platform is being used, live, at the Milwaukee Bucks or with the new MLS team in St Louis. Or how Getafe is reducing injury rates using Zone7. Or how Greenfly is being used in MLB. But the company needs to aggressively go after those case studies in order to give the sales teams the ammunition for their meetings.
- Make sure that you’ve got great supporting materials. This isn’t just about the powerpoint deck for the meeting (although that is very important), but rather the information available both before and after the meeting – the customer testimonials, the industry case studies, the FAQ’s, the thought leadership pieces, the 2 page summaries etc …. These all give the potential customer the re-assurance that may have been achieved previously over those pre-2020 lunches. Potential buyers are now prepared to spend more digitally than before (Back to that Mckinsey study, 70% of B2B decision makers say that they open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000) so the supporting information needs to be there for them. At Sports Loft, companies such as Greenfly have done a great job with materials such as this and Fevo have a new section on their website of case studies.
- Trust needs to be built in different ways than face to face. Tapping into established networks of advisors and investors is incredibly valuable – these trusted networks bring credibility between buyers and sellers that has been built over time and is hard to create digitally from scratch. Equally important are the referrals from industry experts or the vetting processes that imply quality for the rest of the market. The reaction of “wow, if they got investment from Fund X, then they must be good” is more important than ever. It’s no surprise that when Satisfi talk about the investment they received from Google or MLB, or Greenfly talk about the investment from Elysian Park or Fevo talk about their investment from Sapphire, HBSE or Wise Ventures, it immediately builds credibility and makes a prospective customer lean forward and listen. This is something that we are very aware of at Sports Loft. It is why we place such emphasis on the quality of companies that we work with and why we put every company through a due diligence process before they join Sports Loft. The company you keep is important.
In the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time talking with Sports Loft companies about the implications of a move to more remote and virtual business and much of this thinking will form the basis for how we support our members going forward as they build amazing businesses. According to McKinsey, “B2B leaders that commit to further digitizing their go-to-market models should derive competitive advantage in the form of more - and more loyal - customers than their slower moving peers”. Even in such a relationship driven industry such as sports and media, we have to agree. That’s not to say that the personal relationship will not have value, they absolutely will and in certain scenarios it will be crucial, but the primary channel for customer interaction and buyer research in B2B sales is going to be digital. If you’d like to find out more, please do get in touch.
Since March I’ve probably sat-in on over 200 pitches via Zoom by Sports Loft companies to investors and sports industry execs."