Tips for Remote Selling During and After COVID-19
COVID-19 has upended a number of industries and jobs. Among the professions that have been hardest hit are sales and business development, which have traditionally relied on face-to-face interactions to build networks and relationships. People who ply those trades have had to pivot to remote selling with mixed success.
Salespeople, says Jamie Anderson, chief sales officer at Xactly, a sales performance management firm, “are the lifeblood of an organization.” They are, he says, the primary revenue drivers.
“During the economic fallout of the pandemic, salespeople were relied upon more heavily than ever,” Anderson says. “Under immense pressure to meet their targets and keep the lights on, reps also had to navigate a brand new way of selling.”
When conferences and other business gatherings came to a quick close in March at the outset of the pandemic, organizations and their sales and marketing teams had to scramble to find new ways to connect and engage with prospects and customers.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, says the No. 1 change she—like many others—has had to make during the pandemic is a shift to remote selling. “It is no longer a luxury or a nice-to-have,” she says. “Pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc., is a smart and productive way companies can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships, and move forward during this crisis period.”
It’s a shift, though, that doesn’t come naturally to all.
Doug Brown is CEO of Business Success Factors, a business revenue growth expert, and former president of the Chet Holmes and Tony Robbins companies. “The challenge for most people who have sold face-to-face is they do not understand that they need to overcommunicate when selling remotely, and building rapport is more important than ever,” he says.
Brown’s current company grew by 22 percent in 2020, which he attributes to an understanding of how to effectively sell remotely.
The key to remote selling, Brown says, “is to build high rapport and create continuous communications with personalized follow-up at its core.” He’s used a variety of communication channels and tactics, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pipedrive, GMass, email marketing, masterclass web-training, and videoconferencing services such as Zoom.
“What has worked is building a human-to-human connection and addressing the personal needs of the buyer as well as the business needs and matching those to our product and service offerings,” Brown says.
Conversely, what doesn’t work is cold prospecting without building a relationship first. Relationships can still be built in an environment where face-to-face contacts are limited. For many salespeople, especially those in business-to-business (B2B) roles, LinkedIn has become a proxy for coffee, lunch meetings, and cocktail hours.
At Fit Small Business, Casey Zuckerman, chief revenue officer and leader of the company’s sales and optimization division, says sales staff have leveraged more social ways of getting new business and engaging existing clients, by, for example, “commenting on our clients’ LinkedIn posts and reconnecting with old points of contact who have changed jobs during the pandemic and are now at new companies.”
Beyond one-on-one connections, marketers also are finding ways to replicate group experiences online.
VIRTUAL MEETINGS REPLACE LIVE CONNECTIONS
Conferences, at least of the in-person variety, went by the wayside in 2020, causing those who relied on them to find new ways to build awareness and sales to adopt new approaches.
“Due to the pandemic, our sales team at Fit Small Business had to completely scrap our conference attendance calendar,” Zuckerman says. “Instead of going out to dinners and attending industry events with our existing and potential clients, we had to make it work from home.”
Taking meetings and conferences to a digital environment doesn’t have to mean a drop in attendance, though. In fact, Xactly’s Anderson points out that his company’s annual Unleashed conference went virtual for the first time in 2020 and attendance skyrocketed, allowing it to reach its largest global audience yet. In fact, he notes that the company has been able to “engage so many people that otherwise may not have been able to travel to the event in person.”
As an unexpected additional benefit, Anderson says, sales reps found that because they didn’t need to travel and set up face-to-face meetings, they had an easier time connecting with high-ranking executives. “They are setting up meetings and landing deals they never previously thought possible,” he says.