Gone are the days of onsite meetings and handshakes to close the sale. In are the days of the virtual sale.
And it won’t be so bad.
Salespeople were already spending half their time selling remotely before the coronavirus pandemic, according to an InsideSales.com survey.
Most salespeople had done some aspect of selling in a virtual environment. Now salespeople will want to embrace – and master – all aspects of the virtual sale.
Here’s help: A 13-point guide to virtual selling, with proven strategies and emerging trends.
Salespeople will have to build and maintain rapport in unorthodox ways (that are becoming the norm, though).
“In a face-to-face setting, rapport happens fairly organically. How you generate rapport and develop relationships is entirely different in a virtual world,” says Bob Croston Vice President, RAIN Group. “You must be deliberate and proactive in your relationship-building efforts. When selling in a virtual environment, you must consciously create space and time for personal discussion and connection.”
Open your mind, ears
Be ready: People are struggling in ways they never have. Buyers will want to talk about unprecedented territory, challenges they never imagined and uncertain futures. Talking with them – person-to-person, not salesperson-to-buyer – about what’s going on around them will build relationships that last, whether they buy immediately or not.
If one customer struggles in an area where another of yours has struggled, try to connect them virtually. Or invite a group of customers to a town hall kind of virtual meeting to share experiences and talk about overcoming challenges.
Be consistent with that same level of empathy throughout all of your remote messaging – email, social media posts and blogging.
Remember water cooler moments, too
The circumstances that drove everyone to virtual sales can be all encompassing, fueling nearly all conversations. It’s important to recognize the difficult times and their impact on your buyers’ lives and businesses.
But you’ll still want to add some levity to build rapport. Sports, arts, pop culture and travel have always been good fodder for lighthearted conversations. In the absence of those, try some old icebreaker questions such as: What’s your favorite part of the job? If you could spend the day not working, what hobby would you chose to do?
Salespeople’s expertise might be one of the most valuable tools they can offer customers when selling virtually.
Hit the ground running
You can skip the “what’s keeping you up at night?” kind of questions when selling remotely. Most people are up at night for a laundry list of reasons that aren’t related to business.
Instead, hit the ground running by creating value before you start discovery in the virtual sale. Offer a unique perspective based on your experiences with dozens of companies like the one you’re working with. Or talk about the challenges you see trending in their industry and how leaders are already overcoming those.
Be super-organized, researched
Many buyers don’t love virtual sales – and most buyers have limited tolerance for aimless conversations in virtual meetings. Salespeople need to be super-organized with discovery questions, presentation plans, proposals, etc.
Do extra research ahead of time so you can ask targeted questions. Croston suggests something like these: “I see the stock prices of five of your major customers have dropped about 20%. How is this affecting you?” Or “I’m watching the supply chain interruptions in our industry closely and see the hold in your area can be up to two weeks. How has it impacted your inventory?”
The best part: You don’t have to wing this at all. You can keep prepared questions and other reference material in your sight and out of buyers’ sight to guide conversations.
Mastering the process
Every stage of the selling process will have a different twist when done virtually. But fundamentally, salespeople will need to rely on the same skills and habits that helped them succeed when selling in a more personal way.
To get a hold of the virtual process:
Find unique ways to fill the pipeline
In tough times, salespeople want to call, visit and email prospective customers more. But that’s difficult when buyers aren’t working in their offices all the time. You won’t likely track them down at their remote work sites.
Now’s the time to try unique – even counterintuitive – approaches for filling your pipeline. Try to:
- Set up a series of online webinars with your colleagues, each offering a session in an area of expertise. Invite the C-suite to talk on topics that can help customers in different ways – for instance, the CFO might share ideas on cost containment or the IT chief might do a session on data security.
- Partner with other companies in related businesses – the companies you recommend customers use for something you don’t provide – to market together to buyers.
- Create strategic alliances with sellers who call on the same decision-makers you do, working together on social selling campaigns and group presentations.
Lean in to in-depth content
Many buyers have more time and less money now. They’ll research products, services and expertise like a doctoral candidate working on a thesis.
So before you meet, give them your long-form content such as ebooks, case studies, white papers and research reports. Buyers will want to understand key issues and complex solutions better than ever before making a purchase decision.
Focus on the future
As salespeople work virtually with buyers through all phases of the sales funnel, you’ll want to empathize with the present and focus strongly on the future. The new reality and how you’ll get them there.
One way: Try the RAIN Group’s Convincing Story approach. Your Convincing Story should answer these questions
- What do I want them to learn?
- How do I want them to feel?
- What do I want them to do?
You can build your story around these four principles:
- Why act? (Help them recognize that change is inevitable.)
- Why now? (Help them recognize that if they don’t make a change, they could fail.)
- Why us? (Home in on benefits, not features, relevant to each buyer.)
- Why trust? (Show them your value through research, case studies, proven ROI in their industry and history with other customers similar to them.)
Salespeople will hold online meetings throughout the process, and it’s imperative they get virtual meetings as right as in-person meetings.
Try these virtual meeting tips:
Defer to video
Not all prospects and customers will be comfortable with online, video meetings (at least, not at first). But as much as possible, you want to defer to video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting or Skype.
- It’s better to see the emotional cues that come from facial expressions and body language so you can respond appropriately
- Video allows everyone to be engaged, especially when you’re dealing with multiple decision-makers
- Buyers are less likely to miss important information and more likely to ask questions when you can see each other.
Know your tools
Pick your virtual tools and get trained on how to use them and troubleshoot technical glitches (online tutorials are helpful) before you try a virtual sale. You don’t want hiccups to interfere with limited screen time and buyer patience.
Practice executing and presenting a meeting with colleagues or family a few times. Don’t get on video conference calls with prospects until you’re sure you know exactly how to share screens and control the audio and video.
Add some friction
Salespeople sometimes try to make online meetings as effortless as possible for buyers, inviting them to a web link to browse through a slide deck or connecting them to a Power Point.
Problem is, buyers can easily tune out when they don’t have to do much.
Researchers at Corporate Visions, found salespeople were more effective when they asked prospects to write a few words or draw a rough sketch of something: Buyers thought the salespeople were more credible and recalled better what the information they were told.
Ask them to write, draw or participate in some kind of interactive visual – such as a survey – while you meet virtually.
Add more visuals
When shifting to virtual selling, you don’t want to completely rely on existing sales enablement tools. Sales and Marketing will likely need to work together to change some formats and resources to be more vivid and compatible for virtual meetings.
Most importantly, you’ll want to add more visuals to online meetings. You’ll need almost three times the number of visuals to communicate the same amount of information as you would in an in-person meeting, according to a Memzy study. But remember: You don’t need to add more information; you just need to identify the most important information and back it up with engaging visuals.
Know when to pull back
In virtual meetings, it’s tougher to read your audience. You need to verbally check in regularly to make sure you aren’t overwhelming them (or, worse, underwhelming them!)
A good rule of thumb: Check in every six minutes if no one else is talking. Ask things such as: How’s this going for you – too much detail? Too little? What about the pace – are we on target? Are you learning what you want? What am I missing?
Control the environment
For effective, well-run virtual meetings, follow these “housekeeping” tips:
- Mute yourself when you aren’t speaking. It cuts down on background noise caused by our tendency to give verbal cues when we’re listening such as, “yes” and “uh-ha.”
- Be professional. Dress like you would if you were meeting onsite. Make sure your background is tidy and appropriate. Turn off alerts so no one is distracted when your email or social bells ring.
- Get the right position. Avoid sitting in front of a window. Use a corner or blank wall behind you. Set your device’s webcam at eye level.
- State the purpose and keep it in focus. Identify and share exactly why you’re meeting (much like you would in a face-to-face meeting). Start the meeting with “Today’s goal is to … It’s critical because …” Restate it if or when things get too far off track.
- Close other apps, confidential documents or anything you don’t want others to accidentally see.