Virtual selling created the first level playing field in sales since the playing field existed.
New, veteran and every sales professional in between were practically neophytes to virtual selling when the coronavirus hit. And now, nearly every sales professional has been forced to do it.
“Building relationships, collaborating with buyers, leading sales conversations, making the ROI case, delivering value – these are hard to do regardless of the sales and economic environment,” said Mike Schultz, co-author of Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate and Win Sales Remotely, and president at RAIN Group. “The data confirms that these are even more difficult to do when selling virtually. Buyers have expectations that aren’t even close to being met. It’s challenging enough to sell in this environment. If sellers don’t adjust and learn to showcase the skills that influence virtual buyer decision making, success will be very difficult to come by.”
Very few sales professionals have virtual selling right at this point. And almost everyone has screwed it up a time or two.
Fortunately, prospects and customers will forgive small foibles because virtual meetings are new to them, too. But the benevolence won’t go on forever. And sales pros will want to avoid the major mistakes of virtual selling.
Here are 11 virtual selling mistakes and how you can avoid them.
Mistake 1: Talk too much
Many salespeople feel compelled to carry the meeting conversation almost completely because – at least at first – it’s a space that’s even more uncomfortable than a first-time, in-person meeting. So they present and talk more to fill any silence. In fact, many salespeople talk much more than they would in a normal meeting situation.
Avoid it: Collaborate. Go into a virtual meeting with a bigger list of questions you want answered than the list of things you want to say. That should keep you on target to hear more, and talk less.
Mistake 2: Go all business
Because most people are new to this many virtual meetings in their professional lives, salespeople (rightfully, so) often try to keep meetings shorter than they would if they were in person. Problem is rapport-building gets shortchanged.
Turn’s out, that’s actually damaging to virtual sales. More than half of buyers say they’re highly influenced by the relationship they have with sellers when they choose to buy. But just 25% of buyers say sellers are very effective at building rapport and developing relationships, according to the RAIN Group’s Virtual Selling Skills and Challenges study.
Avoid it: Schedule time into your virtual meetings to build rapport. It’s still important to pursue genuine conversations on topics buyers care about – which is almost always something they’re passionate about such as hobbies, sports, family, travel, books … or, for some, business!
Mistake 3: Plan poorly
Virtual meetings need more organization than traditional face-to-face meetings. But some salespeople make the mistake of handling them informally because they don’t want to potentially make an already uncomfortable situation even more stiff and awkward.
Not a good idea. Virtual meetings need orchestration. Buyers will get frustrated and lost in an aimless meeting.
Avoid it: Guide the discussion by sharing an agenda before the meeting and asking customers to make any additions or subtractions based on their needs. Then get everyone to agree on the agenda – which should allow for flexibility on topics, timing and discussion.
Mistake 4: Forget a dry run
Lots of things can go wrong in a virtual meeting – and most of them start with a technical difficulty. Customers get quickly frustrated with salespeople when screens freeze, videos don’t play, audio is unreliable or sales decks don’t line up.
Bottom line: Salespeople need to master the technology they use for virtual meetings before they meet.
Avoid it: Do a dry run for every technical element of the meeting shortly before the meeting. Ask a colleague or even a family member to join you on the virtual meeting app you’ll use to be sure that what you’re doing technically is showing up on their end, too.
Mistake 5: Follow, instead of lead
In a face-to-face meeting, it’s often easier to take and maintain the lead because you stand in front of the group or near the head of the table. When virtual selling, a buyer can more easily grab the lead from you because you’re all physically equal – talking heads on a computer monitor.
When that happens, salespeople’s presentations become mostly reactive to the whims of aggressive buyers.
Avoid it: In addition to the shared agenda, set one or two objectives buyers agree to so if things get off track in a direction you don’t want you can refer back to the agreed-upon objective(s) and lead the conversation back to it.
Mistake 6: Stare at yourself
Zoom meetings have created a strange phenom: We tend to watch ourselves on the screen, rather than the others in the meeting. And if salespeople are keeping an eye on their movement and appearance while they speak, you can guess who they’re not watching: Buyers.
In that case, salespeople fail to pick up on customers’ and prospects’ body language, which still speaks volumes in virtual discussions.
Avoid it: Watch buyers on your screen for distraction, disengagement or resistance – for instance, wandering eyes or crossed arms (just like they’d do in personal meetings). If you sense anything but clear attention, ask questions or invite them to share insight to reengage buyers.
Mistake 7: Stay still
While salespeople don’t want to watch themselves on the screen all the time, they do want to practice their video appearance (just like you would for an in-person presentation) and monitor it during the virtual meeting.
That means, make sure you stay as animated as you would when meeting face to face.
Avoid it: Use appropriate hand gestures, head nods, smiles and facial expressions – and avoid total stillness – when virtual selling. Also, lean into the lens – rather than lean back in a chair – to create a more personal conversation.
Mistake 8: Forget manners
Virtual selling should be considered the same as in-person meetings. Yet, people sometimes forget the same manners they’d use if they were in person – such as dressing appropriately and listening closely to speakers. Salespeople want to give all meetings and attendees a high level of respect and attention.
Avoid it: Dress as you would if you met in person. Make sure the colors you choose work with your surroundings (and don’t blend in or stand out too much against the background). Avoid distractions: Don’t check your phone, look at a second screen, answer email or order Amazon.
Mistake 9: Allow extra noise
Many a virtual meeting runs afoul with distracting noises. It’s important to manage noise as much as possible – so attention stays on the agenda and objectives all the time – before and during meetings.
Avoid it: Take a few steps to handle noise:
- Manage mute. Let customers and prospects know before you start that you’ll mute yourself when you’re not speaking so you don’t interfere with what they say. Invite them to do the same, if they like.
- Block the background noise. Put yourself in the most sound-proof area you can so barking dogs, giggling kids and lawnmowers don’t distract meeting attendees. You might even try noise-canceling mics.
- Turn off alerts. Remember to turn off the dings, buzzes and reminder alerts on all the devices in the area where you are during virtual meetings.
Mistake 10: Look unprofessional
Your surroundings in a virtual meeting affect buyers’ impression of you. A sloppy, bright, dark, unclear or otherwise messy onscreen image will distract customers and prospects from paying attention to you and your content.
Avoid it: Build and maintain a professional setting. Tidy your office, if that’s where you sit. Use a neat book case, monotone wall or virtual wall (available in most meeting apps) as your background. Avoid too much back light, which makes your face hard to see, and over head light, which creates glares. Go for mainly front light.
Mistake 11: Don’t ask
More than 90% of sales professionals say it’s difficult to get buyers’ attention and keep them engaged when selling virtual, the RAIN Group study found. They work so hard at those details, they forget or back down from asking buyers to act.
And then virtual meetings end with little accomplished.
Avoid it: Make a call to action in every virtual meeting. Keep visual reminders around you – and out of buyers’ sight – to make the ask.