The sales landscape has transitioned in many ways over the past decade. One of the most obvious shifts has been the rapid transition of in-person sales appointments to online meetings. In fact, Ken Krogue recently noted in Forbes that research has shown inside sales are growing at a rate 15 times faster than the traditional outside sales model. Growth of inside sales is largely a result of technologies that make the challenges of distance obsolete—like screen sharing technology. Certainly this transition from an in-person to online conversation has its benefits. Technology enables sales reps to be more efficient and book more meetings, since travel time is eliminated. But at the end of the day, the nonverbal, face-to-face interaction so inherent to sales is lost.
There have been many opinions on the value of nonverbal communication that can be applied to sales. For example, we have the well-known yet disputed communication study by Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D., that stated that 7 percent of communication is based on the words we use, 38 percent is based on how we say those words, and 55 percent is based on facial cues and body language. Or take the late Michael Argyle, a psychologist and professor, who noted in the British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology that nonverbal cues have an estimated 4.3 times the impact that verbal cues have.
The main point here is that the most critical element of communication, nonverbal communication, is lacking when we communicate over the phone or via email. The ability to inspire and persuade, which is what sales is all about, necessitates effective communication. So when building a technology-enabled inside sales organization, how do you offset this massive communication gap? By understanding and perfecting the art of the screen share.
Perfecting your screen share, online meeting, and conference call capabilities involves honing in on skills you may not have previously focused on, or even acquired, from in-person meetings. Despite the fact that our industry is moving faster toward inside sales, many reps aren't aware of the simple steps you can take to ensure an effective online conversation. While many of the rules to creating an engaging conversation are the same for online and in-person conversations—speak clearly and deliberately, don't simply read off the screen, ask great questions—there are other considerations that aren't necessarily taught in sales training.
I've spent the majority of my career selling in person, and started shifting more to the online selling experience over the last few years. Along the way, I've picked up on a number of ways to make an online meeting as or more impactful than an in-person conversation. Following are some tips on how to make the most of your online client communications.
1. Preparation is more important than ever to build rapport. It used to be a little easier to "fly by the seat of your pants" when going into a client meeting and trying to build rapport. You could comment on the weather outside, ask about a picture on the wall, or get a tour of the client's building. Today you need to spend time preparing by reviewing the client's Web site and social media presence, learning about your contact via LinkedIn, and doing some Google research. Start strong by doing your homework.
2. Use a great screen-sharing tool. I wonder how much online meeting time is wasted waiting for people to download screen-sharing software or work through technical difficulties. If it's more than about eight seconds, it's too much. If you're doing a screen share, find software that is wickedly easy to use. There are several products that require no software download and can work completely through a Web browser. IT departments tend to want to use more robust systems that work in many scenarios, but when it comes to sales, you have to use something really simple. For team members that need to do screen swaps, take control of someone else's screen, for example, you probably need something more robust. But for your sales conversations, Web-based is the way to go. Our favorite is Join.me by LogMeIn. One of my favorite new features of their software is the ability to create a custom landing page. What a great opportunity to make a strong first impression with good creative.
3. Get your prospect engaged. How many times have you been on the viewing end of a screen share and seen it as a great opportunity to check your email? Your prospects are doing this, too, if you don't keep them engaged. You could have the greatest demo in the world, but if your prospect isn't paying attention, it doesn't really matter. The key here is to ask a lot of questions throughout the exchange. If the responses to your questions are "Yeah" or "Sounds good" or "Uh huh," it's likely you're losing your prospect. Ask very specific, open-ended questions. For our team, this means things like, "Tell me more about how your team is using Salesforce.com" or "What are some of the key sales behaviors you want your team focused on?" Those are questions that make someone think and can't just be answered with a yes or no. After you get answers to the questions, try probing one or two levels deeper.
4. Pay attention to mouse movement. When prospects are looking at your screen, there is often a lot of information in front of them. Use your mouse to help your contacts know where you want them to be looking. Their eyes will generally follow whatever is moving on the screen. There is some cool technology out there that can create bursts or targets around what you want someone to look at, which is great.
5. Use your Web site as much as possible. The more you can direct prospects to your Web site, the better you are able to show them how much of a resource it can be. When a prospect sees this, he'll want to spend more time there and encourage others to visit it as well. If you are pulling up slides in your meetings, ask yourself if they can be put on your Web site to be viewed by anyone. This will help with general content development, which will give you more content to share via social media, and make your business more attractive to the search engines.
As the venue for sales meetings and the way they are facilitated continues to evolve, leaders in the industry need to transition and train their sales reps accordingly. Not only being familiar with the process, but also being comfortable pitching a customer over the phone and via screen share, is imperative to make it in today's sales industry. Effectively communicating and connecting with people without seeing them face-to-face is something new we are all trying to grasp. In the absence of an in-person meeting, adequately sharing your screen can help your sales reps to close deals more effectively.
Bob Marsh has worked in sales and management for 18 years. Prior to becoming the CEO at LevelEleven, he worked for ePrize, where he was a top sales producer and secured such clients as Delta Airlines, Ford, American Express, General Motors, Comcast, Target, and General Mills. In 2010 he led the implementation of Salesforce.com for the ePrize sales team, which led to the establishment of LevelEleven. Follow him on Twitter @bobmarsh5.