This should not be big news:
…More and more organizations are now conducting nearly all of their sales activities virtually. Without the ability to do business as usual, i.e., face-to-face selling, how will you arm your sales team to sell in this new atmosphere effectively?
Regardless of the sales and economic environment, developing relationships, collaborating online, leading virtual sales conversations, gaining and keeping attention, leveraging technology, making the ROI case, and delivering value is hard to do. The pandemic added a whole new reality to selling.
Our New Realtiy
We recently did a study that found prior to March 2020, only 27 percent of respondents reported conducting more than half of their sales activities virtually pre-pandemic. Now, 71 percent are conducting more than half their sales virtually. That’s a 163 percent increase—a major shift in a very short period of time.
What about your sales team? Have they made the shift?
According to studies by firms like Bain and McKinsey, virtual selling will continue to be the new normal even when face-to-face is an option. I agree; it’s my belief this is a permanent change that will challenge organizations to pivot and embrace it because customers are now normalized to it and expect this option more than ever.
Virtual selling is here—and here to stay, but adapting to it must occur with the right foundational elements in place. The trial and error method will only delay success and allow your competitors who make the change effectively to gain market share and hit your sales plan targets.
Top Virtual Selling Challenges | THE NEW ENVIRONMENT
I’m surprised by just how challenging salespeople find the new sales environment. We’ve heard them describe their challenges in the following ways:
“Changing the feel of sales calls to be less awkward virtually
“Not being able to meet for coffee and then uncover.”
“Technical competency of sellers and buyers.”
“Gauging the temperature of a customer, how they’re feeling toward your opportunity/t There are the things you’d pick up on in the office or walking around the corridors.
“No emotional/behavioral reaction—it’s like a play with a wall since the buyer is protected behind the computer screen.”
To succeed with virtual selling, sales teams must overcome these challenges and excel in each area. From keeping prospects engaged during virtual meetings and leading a virtual needs discovery to educating them with new ideas, negotiating, and using technology and tools—salespeople must be better than ever.
The top challenge sales teams are facing is gaining prospects’ attention and keeping them engaged virtually. It’s much easier for them to lose focus in a virtual setting and much harder to get it back.
We’re all going to have to embrace virtual selling. But that’s quite doable. Let’s start by looking at virtual selling benefits and detriments.
The three main benefits of virtual selling are its efficiency, scalability, and effectiveness. Here’s a look at each one.
Efficiency. What’s immediately noticeable is that it’s cheaper to run an inside sales team than a field-based salesforce. Some organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel every year. Now, they don’t have to. As long as they’re still winning deals, their sales cost will have dramatically dropped.
With travel budgets no longer in the mix, organizations now have additional budget resources to invest in sales and management tools that help salespeople work from home more efficiently. They can also spend that budget on something close to my heart: training.
Scalability. Organizations have also seen that virtual selling is scalable. Now that salespeople do not have to drive or fly for hours a day to visit clients in person, they spend that time having conversations with prospects. A sales team not being on the road or in the field creates a significant amount of additional productive time during the day. If spent properly, this extra time can lead to more leads being prospected and closed.
Effectiveness. Having your video on when you’re on a call seems to be the new normal. Before the lockdown, most people would have their video off, but now most are happy to show themselves on screen. This makes it a lot easier to build rapport.
It’s also easier to get ahold of people and get more than one stakeholder into a discussion. This makes your conversations more productive. Virtual selling is turning out to be an effective way to sell. Because of all this, many of my sales training clients are making much more productive presentations, leading to higher close rates with customers.
Despite the benefits I just mentioned, selling in a virtual environment is more challenging than face-to-face selling. This is especially true if salespeople are forced into virtual sales meetings with little training and confidence.
During the startup of your new virtual selling approach, you risk damaging your reputation. Your sales team may be fumbling these virtual meetings without proper training and processes. Or, worse yet, avoiding them altogether due to a lack of confidence. This allows your competitors who may have invested in the training and practice for a highly polished virtual interaction to leap ahead in your prospect’s mind.
In addition to these challenges, selling virtually makes it more difficult to build relationships and establish personal connections. Let’s dive into those two detriments.
Your virtual sales team must be focused on new ways of building relationships. Your team members must learn to be more dynamic than ever. They have lost the 3D advantage of their actual presence. It used to be possible to make strong first impressions through proper eye contact and a firm handshake. Your sales team must now develop new skill sets to make positive first impressions on a computer screen or phone call.
ESTABLISHING PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
Making a connection was far more comfortable when seated in a prospect’s environment, with visual clues all around to create small talk. Your sales team must now spend time preparing to meet someone virtually and planning for some type of virtual connection. Unfortunately, many salespeople are not doing this.
Remote selling requires a higher level of preparation to manage the environment, project professionalism and credibility, build rapport, effectively use the technology, set expectations for being on camera, and thoughtfully create materials that enhance and help engage while not distracting from real conversation.
Again, you have to immediately get your team members out of their old routines and provide them with skills training and practice for a new, more effective approach to being impressive. Sales organizations cannot allow their salespeople to use a trial and error method to figure out this critical step.
Your team needs to bring its A-game: be dynamic, be curious, be prepared, and have an agenda.
Many traps exist during virtual sales meetings. Avoiding these critical pitfalls requires the use of selling skills, techniques and tools that must be executed with a heightened sense of intentionality. When meeting face-to-face, salespeople would never leave their phone ringer on or be distracted by notifications or Facebook alerts.
However, those dings, bells, and alerts are so tempting when they’re on a virtual sales call. They’re tempted to take a quick look—the prospect won’t notice, right? Wrong! They will, and they do. Your team members must be sure to turn off their phones, close their email, shut their doors, and focus on their prospects.
What technology are you using? In many cases, virtual meetings have become the modern-day version of a séance. “Bob, are you there?” “Bob, can you hear me?” “Bob?” “Does anybody hear Bob?”
As a sales leader, you must ensure your team is competent and confident with virtual tools like Zoom. Big tip: don’t have them practice on your prospects.
Have some training sessions where each sales team member roleplays starting a meeting so they can all do that without looking like an amateur. Make sure they can share their screen; transitioning from gallery to shared screen and back to gallery smoothly sends a subtle but strong professional signal to prospects.
Invest the time to choose a platform that suits your needs and budget. Then, ensure your team gets familiar with it before their first calls to avoid fumbling and distracting prospects from what they’re striving to accomplish. It’s important to look polished and professional.
Invest in an upgraded HD computer camera and a separate microphone. Prices on these essential upgrades have dropped and are very affordable.
Please do not force your sales team to use what is installed on their laptops or use their smartphones. The professional look and sound from upgraded equipment is a value builder and sets you apart. Take the money to purchase these tools out of the now-nonexistent travel budget.
THE “MODERN APPROACH”
This concept of virtual selling has been around for years. This “modern approach” has actually been embraced in some industries for years, but there are a variety of misconceptions about it, leading many to resist the approach. Arguments against selling products and services using virtual methods include:
We run a very relationship-based business. This will create a decline in close rates if we don’t meet with prospects face-to-face.
Our targeted prospects just aren’t familiar enough with the technology to conduct the sales process.
These paradigms have also served as a justification, providing a reason to feed into our own insecurities about using the virtual approach in the sales process.
Interesting, isn’t it? Though many companies and sales professionals have been thrust into a virtual selling environment. It is proving quite effective. And it’s not new, though it seems like it is for many people and companies. Please don’t assume it will all go back to normal.
QUICK TIPS FOR SELLING VIRTUALLY
- Set expectations. Specifically, refer to meetings as video calls, so prospects are prepared to use their camera, set an agenda to provide an organized first impression,
- Keep in mind authenticity (being personable) and value over perfection (your hair looking good or your background looking professional)
- Provide them with the audio and video tools they need to improve their virtual interactions quality.
- Build a connection and rapport. Your team must show empathy before expertise. Make it about the prospect and their needs before there is ever even a whiff of a “pitch” Take the time to get to know the person; don’t hurry that portion, then dive into the discovery of pain points and needs. Then tailor a presentation to only what their challenges are.
- Facilitation skills are critical. You must engage prospects early and often. Do not let more than five minutes pass without some interaction with the other party. The underlying mission is that it is always about them.
- Provide value to prospects early, and remember this every time you make contact.
Your audience will only remember 10–20 percent of what you say, so close by summarizing the most important one to three points to anchor that in their memory.
- Consider using Calendly or other scheduling tools.
- Prepare for the logistical aspects of making a sale, like signing a contract, so consider using Docusign, Pandadoc, etc.
- Salespeople should invest in their online brands. What comes up when a prospect Googles them? What does their LinkedIn profile look like?