​What Site Selection Consultants are Saying Lately - Part 2: Virtual Site Visits

Some of the top site selection consultants in the country shared their perspectives on the COVID-19 economic recovery in a series of online panel discussions. EDCUtah business development staff compiled the following summary of those discussions to assist our public sector investors.

The main message is to expect more demand for virtual site visits. The second message is to understand that virtual will not replace the traditional “boots on the ground” site visit approach. There is a need for both types. Traditional in-person site visits will remain in the “new normal” but they will require more cars to split up attendees, larger conference rooms so people can spread out, and other practices. 

Most of the consultants agreed that when conducted effectively, a virtual site visit is a good opportunity to showcase your team, your market, and your value proposition in the best light. One consulting firm has been a pioneer in using virtual site visits as a preliminary step to shortlisting communities. The consultant claims they can achieve “about 80%” of what they could do with an in-person site visit. Their virtual site visits typically take two to four hours, and you can include utility providers, landowners, and others at different times during the process.

The contrarian view: Although acceptable for the preliminary search, virtual site visits don’t cut it for making a final recommendation to a client. “Too much is lost in not being able to spend time in the market.”

One consultant has an absolute hard-and-fast rule to not take a client to a market or building that he or his team has not visited previously in person. This consultant was also extremely critical of virtual site visits given past experience.

With that said, how do you prepare for and then run an effective virtual site visit?

 

  • One consultant’s recommendation – “Follow these four steps for a successful virtual site visit.”
    • Have a “quarterback” who can make sure everyone is aligned on strategy.
    • Think like the client:
      • The big three decision factors are Labor, Logistics, and Energy (power/natural gas) so think how you stack up competitively on these three items. 
      • Identify risks (timing, cost, ability to operate).
    • Tell your story in a way that’s meaningful to the client:
      • Start big and move from topic to topic in way that’s logical and seamless.
      • Spend less than five minutes on quality of life.
    • Using technology can be tricky and clients do not forgive technical difficulties:
      • Avoid videos unless necessary or send the link beforehand.
      • ESRI & Google Earth can bring a site to life.
      • Drone footage is becoming more expected for major sites.

 

  • Another consultant’s guidance: “Make the virtual site visit a vivid and memorable experience. That’s your #1 goal.”
    • Make a good first impression by:
      • Making sure the viewer can see faces straight on, mouths moving (no birds eye view)
      • Send headshots and organizations/bios ahead of time to the client and site selector so they can better understand how everyone works together.
      • Show a video of the area that gives a feel for uniqueness of your market, showing things like interstate traffic, local restaurants, etc.
      • Embrace your role as moderator of the virtual site visit. Don’t count on the site selector to lead it. (Or at least clear up expectations with the site selector ahead of time regarding “show flow.”)

 

  • A third consultant’s view: Think about the behind-the-scene mechanics of the virtual site visit and what you can do to keep things running smoothly. 
    • It’s a best practice to have someone other than the business development (BD) lead keep track of time to keep the session on schedule and to run the technology. 
    • The BD lead can then be fully present with the client and be the moderator without worrying about glitches.
    • Things to keep in mind and prepare for prior to the virtual site visit
      • Enable co-hosts.
      • Mute participants when joining.
      • Disable “join before host.”
      • Require a meeting password to enhance security.
      • Sort out screen sharing and number of presentations ahead of time.
      • Designate one person to load and advance all presentations.
      • Conduct a rehearsal or full team run through:
        • Invite all parties participating in the pitch to:
          • Sound check (microphone and speakers)
          • Visual check (video, lighting, changing names)
          • Technology (sharing screens, remote control hand-offs)
        • Reiterate order of presentation and expectations
      • Partner Involvement: make sure they are prepared.
      • Chat function – use it and have someone on the team monitoring it.
      • Always be vigilant and ready for the unexpected.

 

  • Other comments and suggestions:
    • Ask if there’s flexibility in how you schedule the agenda for the visit. Consider stretching what was going to be one to one-and-a-half days of meetings over the course of a week.
    • This allows for adjustments, and for getting topics covered at later meetings. that were missed in the earlier meetings, as well as easier scheduling with partners.
    • Virtual site visits can benefit rural areas. “I’m seeing rural communities really stepping up. If they have good product and expertise, it’s a great opportunity for them to be recognized.”
      • Candidly one site selector admitted that flight schedules and other travel constraints in the past have affected which sites have been selected for evaluation, sometimes to the disadvantage of rural communities. But in current “virtual” conditions, those constraints don’t apply. There’s an opportunity now for rural communities to pique consultants’ interest and get a showing.

 

As you can see, there is some variation in opinion, nonetheless these insights and comments can inform your planning for future projects and site visits. Questions? Please reach out to our Business Development team at https://edcutah.org/about-us.

 

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Tue, 06/30/2020 - 08:07