COVID-19’s Virtual-First Selling Will Last Long Into the Future
There’s no question that COVID-19 has disrupted the way salespeople do their jobs. Sales has traditionally relied on face-to-face contact and in-person presentations. It’s completely understandable, then, that the abrupt shift to remote work (and subsequent removal of these touchpoints) has thrown countless sales professionals for a loop.
This crisis is unprecedented, meaning it’s tempting to treat it as a kind of unfortunate blip—a tragic circumstance that will eventually end, paving the way for things to return to normal. However, this viewpoint doesn’t have the entire picture in mind.
For one, the coronavirus pandemic will likely create permanent changes to the way people feel about in-person interactions. It also ignores the fact that even before this crisis, customers were being more selective about scheduling in-person sales meetings. Decision makers are constantly bombarded with more constraints on their time, and this is particularly true for key contacts who hold strategic positions. Additionally, more sales decisions are made by groups of stakeholders that often are spread across regions and countries (and even globally).
If you’re looking to not only weather this storm but also improve your sales outlook for the future, it’s vital to view this time as an opportunity to shift the way you do business. These virtual-first sales trends will only continue as time goes on, meaning sellers must be more nimble and ready to engage quickly, efficiently, and with greater impact.
3 Ways to Embrace Sales’ Virtual-First Future
In all likelihood, sales professionals are probably already using remote tools as supplemental ways to sell. (After all, virtual channels such as videoconferencing and email are second nature to anyone with an office job.) However, there’s a key difference now: Instead of these virtual channels functioning as a network of supporting players, they’re now in a starring role.
This might sound counterintuitive, but remote sales interactions through various channels can help salespeople grow closer to their customers. With a properly deployed strategy, sellers have the power to be flexible, react more quickly to customer needs, and better target their prospects. In the long term, clients will see that sellers can still bring value with frequent targeted touchpoints.
Of course, embracing virtual-first selling in theory is very different than figuring it all out in practice. There’s an entire host of new skills sellers need to master in order to succeed in a remote environment, and the sales professionals that will come out on top are the ones that are most open to and curious about emerging solutions.
Luckily, there are a few strategies you can adopt that will help you move toward where you need to be.
1. Understand the basics of virtual communication channels. A sales conversation can only be as strong as the medium conveying it. Make sure sellers are well versed in the capabilities of your virtual channels (such as your videoconferencing platform). This also means being well versed in the customer’s technology.
Why is this the case? Often, sellers deliver presentations using the customer’s technology and need to navigate these meetings with the same ease as when using their own platforms. The last thing customers want to see are sales professionals fumbling around with technology.
Before sellers begin each meeting, it’s important to have a clear idea of how it will go. Consider the platform in use: Which features will be employed to engage customers and prospects in a rich dialogue? There are several ways sellers can use technology to engage all participants in a meeting (chat, polling, video, annotation, and so on), and sellers need to plan how they are going to use these tools ahead of time.
A whiteboard feature, for instance, can be an excellent solution for exploring or mapping out complex subjects. It can also emphasize key points in the presentation that the seller wants the customer to retain. However, winging it or ad-libbing is a recipe for disaster when using these tools. Experimenting and practicing with the technology is critical for operating in this new virtual-first selling environment.
2. Create a high-impact dialogue. Sellers should recognize that high-impact interactions that come second nature to them in face-to-face meetings are different when using virtual channels. For example, how a seller engages in a dialogue during a discovery conversation; negotiates with a customer; or presents a solution in virtual channels is driven by factors such as distance, technology, distractions, number of people in the meeting, and so forth.
There are some drawbacks when interacting in virtual channels. For one, sellers compete for customers’ attention (because of distractions such as multitasking or technology issues). Therefore, time is constrained and sellers need to more quickly deliver value during the interactions.
Conversely, there are some inherent benefits of virtual interactions during these key selling moments. For example, when negotiating virtually, sellers can have more information at their fingertips to emphasize value or explore alternatives. The key to creating a high-impact dialogue through virtual channels is planning and preparation.
3. Be empathetic. As you navigate these difficult and unprecedented waters, understand that your customers are feeling pain and must also change what they do during this crisis. This is difficult to identify using virtual channels, so you need to be empathetic and flexible first and foremost.
Keep in mind that closing a deal is only one of several priorities you should be taking into account during this time. Instead, seek to understand the underlying interests of your customers and prospects, and ask questions to make sure you’ve understood their needs and concerns correctly.
In short, now is the time to worry less about selling to your customers and more about serving them. At the same time, develop an even deeper respect for your customers and prospects’ time amid all of this uncertainty. You can do this while still being personable, engaging, and outcomes-focused.
Although this crisis won’t last forever, the impact it has on customer interactions will last far into the future. Take this time to experiment and embrace this new era of work. That way, you’ll not only navigate this crisis—you’ll also come out of it stronger than ever. The good news is that moving forward, you will certainly have more ways of engaging your customers in addition to traditional face-to-face interactions.
Eduardo Umanzor, Ph.D., is senior director of learning design and innovation at BTS, an organization that works with leaders at all levels to help them make better decisions, convert those decisions to actions, and deliver results. Umanzor has extensive experience in sales, sales management, learning design, and training. By helping curriculums and learning programs evolve, he ensures companies can meet and surpass the demands that challenge them every day. For more comprehensive insights and skills pertaining to virtual-first selling, BTS offers a series of online modules on selling virtually.