Virtual is a part of everyday business now and it’s here to stay – even once the pandemic passes. Virtual meetings are how buyers are connecting with suppliers and whether you are meeting with a buyer you met through RangeMe on your own via Teams or Zoom, or if you are participating in ECRM’s Virtual Sessions and Supplier Introductions, it’s important to make sure your game is strong and that you deliver a memorable experience through the screen.

To discuss how you can perfect your next virtual buyer meeting, Alli Ball, Founder & Principal of Allison Ball Consulting, met with Joe Tarnowski on The ECRM Podcast, where she outlined five key steps to holding a perfect virtual buyer pitch.

Ball is a former buyer from award-winning, San Francisco-based independent grocer Bi-Rite. For the past several years she has been helping emerging food and beverage brands succeed at retail. She’s also host of the Food Biz Wiz podcast, which provides in-the-trenches, practical information for brands. 

In the podcast interview, Ball provides details on the five steps to the perfect virtual pitch, which are: identify your why, prepare your materials, set the scene, script it out, and practice! 

We highly recommend watching the full interview below, but here’s a quick summary of the steps, along with some commentary from Ball:

Step 1: Identify the why

There has to be a clear, succinct, and compelling reason as to “why” the buyer would spend the time and resources needed to bring in your product. Be sure your “why” is buyer-focused, not consumer-focused. Buyers need to know what’s in it for them. 

“It’s common for brands to make the mistake of identifying the wrong why,” says Ball. “They may speak about how delicious the product is, or how sustainably-sourced its ingredients are, and all of that is wonderful, but buyers bring in new products to enhance a particular category in their stores. It’s to increase sales, increase margin, reduce spoilage – typically a numbers-based reason. So if your product doesn’t help the buyer meet specific category goals, it’s not worth the work to bring it in.”

Your pitch can’t just be a simple one-for-one swap, either. Your product must be an improvement over what they already carry in some way. “Let’s say that you make almond butter,” says Ball. “When a buyer says yes to your product, they are making a bet that your almond butter is going to out-sell and out-perform the current almond butter they will be discontinuing to put yours on the shelf. So you have to exceed the current sales velocity of the SKU you are replacing.”

Step 2: Prepare your materials

Suppliers need to have a sell sheet (or your RangeMe profile), price list, and promotional plan that will knock the socks off a buyer. It should include all of the information that a buyer could ever need about your brand, how they can order and receive your product, pricing, promotional offers, marketing support, case counts, pallet configurations, distributor information, shelf-life, and so on – all in one place. Buyers don’t have the time for back and forth emails with a supplier to gather missing information, so you want it to be as complete as possible. 

“I’ve seen thousands of sell sheets, and many of them are mediocre, at best,” says Ball. “I was on a webinar with a category manager from KeHE recently who said that they hear pitches for 200,000 products every year, and only bring in about 19,000. So you need to ask yourself, ‘Would your sell sheet stand out in a crowd of 200,000 others?’ That’s how good it needs to be.”

This includes stellar images and product dimensions, as well. The buyer needs to be able to envision what your product will look like on the shelf and whether it would fit in the available space. (Click here for more details on the value of hi-res 3D product mockups for virtual presentations).

The same applies to RangeMe profiles, which often function as a sales sheet for many brands. Make sure that your profile is complete, includes as many details as possible with descriptive, compelling text, and includes sharp, hi-res images of your products. 

Step 3: Set the scene

In the buyer’s eyes during a virtual meeting, your entire world consists of the area in your room or office that’s visible on the buyer’s screen, so make that space work for you. Be creative and be memorable. 

“One of my Retail Ready clients who makes popsicles actually did her pitch from her freezer, wearing a parka and a fake fur hood,” says Ball. “It was cheeky and wonderful, and definitely stood out.”

Additionally, as mentioned above, make sure that you have all the basics down, especially tech-wise. Good lighting, audio, and a fast Internet connection are critical for a successful pitch. Don’t let bad tech be the reason that a buyer loses interest. (Click here for some products that Ball recommends on her website.)

Step 4: Write your script

Write out the entire script of your pitch – word for word – with a particular emphasis on the opening sentence, the one that includes your WHY. “Most people skip this step,” says Ball. “I always suggest that my Retail Ready students write out the entire script, and use a timer so they can see how long it takes. They can then reduce it down to bullet points as they commit it to memory. This helps you to have a concise and impactful message, reduces the chance of rambling on, and results in the pitch sounding more confident.”

It also helps ensure that you get your pitch completed in enough time to leave room for Q&A with the buyer. You may also want to write some answers to frequently asked questions the buyers might ask, so that your answers sound confident.

The opening sentence should be designed to get that buyer to sit up a little straighter in their chair, and completely focus their attention on you. One recommendation from Ball is to lead with some relevant data that will grab their attention, such as “Do you know that the gluten-free category is up by 35% led by shelf-stable yeast?” (Note – this is just an example, we made up the numbers). It should set the stage for the rest of your pitch. 

“Buyers are numbers people, so it’s always good to start with a stat or some data,” says Ball. “As a buyer, if you told me that your category is trending up, or that your products sell on average six cases a week, that’s something that captures their attention right away.”

The “body” of the pitch should be aimed at providing all of the basic information the buyer needs to help with their decision – consider it your verbal sell sheet. It should include:

  • Sales and category data
  • Brief origin story or mission (don’t go too heavy on this)
  • Distribution capacity
  • Promotions or intro offers: What sort of money are you putting behind your brand?

Above all do not lie or pad information to sound good in the meeting. Be honest about your products and capabilities, because the buyer will eventually find out anyway. 

Step 5: We’re talking about practice!

This may sound obvious, but we can’t overstate the importance of practice! Many of us are new to being in front of the camera, and virtual meetings are much different than sitting across from someone in a meeting space. 

“You can get really creative on how your system is set up, but you need to practice with that setup to know what works,” says Ball. “For example, if you are practicing and notice that you have mediocre light or your camera angle is off, you can get a lamp or a ring light and put your laptop on a stack of books if you need to. But you’re not going to know if you need these things unless you practice and do some test runs.”

Fortunately, practice runs are a part of the prep for each participant in ECRM Virtual Sessions. But if you are meeting on your own, it’s important to practice your virtual meeting with some colleagues, or even with friends and family. Ask for their honest feedback and incorporate it into your pitch. This way, there are no surprises when it counts. 

Also have a backup plan. What if your wifi goes out? Do you have a mobile hotspot you can use? Can you do the meeting from your ipad if there are issues with your computer? In this tech-dependent world, things can happen that are beyond your control, so have a back up plan in place, and practice that as well. 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, virtual is here to stay. The efficiencies it delivers are just too great to ignore, so it will remain an essential part of our business even when in-person gatherings are back at full capacity. By following the above steps, you’ll be sure to stand out from the crowd with a memorable and impactful virtual presentation!

This article was originally published to ECRM’s blog on November 4, 2020. 

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