Winning New Business When the Pitch is Virtual

Expert tips on keeping the chemistry high when pitching new business in the Zoom era.

Sarah Riley
Vice President

Pitching new business pre-pandemic was a familiar process to many who work agency-side in PR: Carpooling down to the South Bay, final tweaks to your slide deck via hotspot in the car and a round of firm handshakes and pleasantries from the client team.
Now, pitches look a little different: Zoom waiting rooms, someone inevitably talking on mute and an awkward two-handed wave at the end of the presentation you instantly regret. Maybe that last one’s just me but, to help you avoid any type of virtual awkwardness, I assembled a list of my top tips for nailing new business pitches in the Zoom era.

1. Focus on team synergy
The best new biz pitches I’ve been in are ones where I know my colleagues well and we’re familiar with each other’s strengths and recent wins. The chemistry between high-functioning teams is palpable, and it’s what potential clients are looking for during your presentation.
Take natural opportunities to prop each other up and use examples of shared client successes between you. This is a great opportunity to bring levity to the meeting, something like, “Mikey can attest to how difficult retail work is from his college days — he still has the scar to prove it,” or “Kristina actually got to launch a satellite for a client in her first year at Method, but that’s a story we can share when all this is over.” Show that you like working together.
Even if you have teammates new to the agency, or you’ve never worked with them before, find ways to display synergy. Pick their brains for a few examples from previous job experience, like “I know Trevor actually learned a lot about this at his last agency where he worked on a few crises himself.” New folks can reference commonalities with more tenured team members by drawing parallels between their experiences. For example, “Like Robin, I cut my teeth in-house before coming back to an agency this year.”

2. Create an organic flow between speakers
The best thing about in-person pitches is the ability to get a volley going with your team. The most engaging presentations are when people are jumping in to add color to others’ slides, supplementing the response to a question with an anecdote of their own, and generally participating more ad-hoc.
Avoid the painfully awkward “Uhh… next slide please. David, I think this one is you?” interaction by building in transitions during your prep.
If that feels new, an easy way to try to create more flow between your team members is to have people introduce one another. Avoid the stale script of how long you’ve been at your agency, what accounts you’re on, etc. by having someone else sing your praises on your behalf.

3. Sweat the small stuff about your presentation
Just as you would in-person, you want to look polished and professional during your new biz pitch, so make sure your setting reflects that. Try to be sure your Zoom background is free from anything that might distract attention. An interruption from a kid or a pet is normal, your roommate wrapping up their Peloton workout in the background is not.
Bonus points if you add your title or role into your Zoom name (even in an agency-themed virtual background) so your clients know who they can direct their questions to.

4. Ask smarter questions
Two seconds in “Zoom time” feels like 10 minutes — awkward silences are amplified online. To avoid this, ask questions that require a response, not a nod. Show a slide like your SWOT analysis or 90-day plan and ask for feedback. For example, “What’s your initial reaction to what we have here?” or “Is this in-line with your plans for the quarter internally?” Going with the expected, “Any questions?” leads to an easy out for your audience.
Keep in mind, the potential client may not know their role at this point, but asking a question that draws on someone’s specific knowledge is more likely to elicit a response.

Cooperation Doesn’t Have To Be Kumbaya
Mom was right: Always be yourself. What really makes team chemistry come through in a virtual meeting is when you can find ways to make it personal. Even better is when your team members know things about each other. Don’t be afraid to lighten the tone with a well-timed anecdote about your coworkers, it shows that you actually like working together. In my experience, when you can show that you all mesh well, potential clients feel secure that their business is in good hands.