Virtual Selling: How to Survive and Thrive in the Virtual Sales World
Sellers and buyers alike are coming to terms with the fact that changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are not just “for now”— they are part of a lasting shift, a “new normal.”
If you’ve been selling remotely all along, you may be thinking, “I’ve got this!” But here’s the thing: buyers’ expectations and environment have changed — even if yours haven’t. Whether you are experienced at, or new to virtual selling, you need to meet buyers where they are.
Things look different today. In recent research, McKinsey1 reports that two-thirds of buyers prefer remote interactions with suppliers. Additionally, 83 percent of B2B leaders believe a mix of selling across channels — in-person, remote and digital self-serve — is a more successful way to develop business compared to in-person.
Challenges in virtual sales
Most sellers experience difficulties with virtual sales. Of the 18 virtual selling challenges2 studied by the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, 62 to 91 percent of sellers rated each as very or somewhat challenging.
Buyers agree — they report sellers are making mistakes handling technology, communications, preparation and more:
Figure 1. Top Virtual Selling Mistakes According to Buyers
Experienced at least sometimes by buyers
Take the lead and thrive
The question is: how do you successfully adapt to the changed conditions and meet the challenges of today’s environment?
You need to take the lead in four key areas:
2. Case making
Too often, sellers are reactive in their sales efforts: from generating leads, to leading conversations, to developing relationships, to running the sales process, to growing accounts.
When selling in person, there is a very different rhythm to interactions. You can let things happen naturally and unfold over time. (Though even in person, it is better for the seller to take the lead.)
In virtual selling, you can’t wait for things to happen, it is essential for you to be proactive and take the lead.
Take the lead in meetings
Be aware of the common problems that sabotage virtual sales meetings, so you can portray yourself more professionally to buyers.
• Preparation and Purpose – This is a basic piece of advice—but every meeting should have an agenda. If you control the agenda, you influence the outcome.
• Environment – Review the setting where you hold virtual meetings. Your background should be free of clutter. At the same time, you should dress in professional attire, have the right lighting and appropriate audio quality.
The call-and-response of “hello?” and “can you hear me?” is likely painfully familiar by now. Poor audio or video quality distracts from a virtual meeting. It is worth investing in better equipment — an HD webcam and external microphone are a good start. Test all equipment prior to a meeting.
Make sure you are properly framed in the video. Keep your head roughly 10 to 15 percent from the top of the screen. Pay attention to lighting. Sit in front of a window so your face is naturally lit or invest in an inexpensive ring light. Check in advance to avoid glare or shadows.
It can be tempting to do away with professional attire or attitude when you’re working from the comfort of your own home. But your clothing, posture, and expression can subconsciously affect a buyer’s perception of you.
Use the virtual selling checklist3 to project a professional image and environment.
• Listening and Presence – In virtual meetings it may be tempting to check your phone or email, glance at your second screen, or multi-task. Avoid doing these things. Stay in the visual and keep your eyes on the camera.
Use facial expressions. Don’t overdo facial expressions as that can be distracting, but also don’t sit like a statue as that comes across as being disengaged. Most sellers are too understated and should project more in their virtual meetings.
Finally, demonstrate active listening by taking notes on the screen and screen sharing, or by summarizing what the buyer is saying.
Take the lead in case making
Selling is about change. You need to get buyers from where they are now to their desired future state and see you as the best person to help them get there.
You must make a series of cases4 to drive this change. While the cases are the same ones you need to make when selling in person, how you make these cases virtually is very different.
For example, leverage technology to make the ROI case. Before the meeting, use email or a survey to gather data to calculate ROI. During the meeting, use screen sharing, whiteboarding, and annotating to collaborate with the buyer and build out the case together.
When you master virtual collaboration, you’re more influential and you can make the case for change much more strongly. Again, it is up to you to take the lead to learn these technologies and use them appropriately to guide buyers through the process.
Take the lead in relationships
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. This is especially important in a virtual environment where building immediate rapport is vital — and challenging.
The psychology of rapport is simple — if somebody likes you, they are more likely to talk to you, share with you, and buy from you. Use the four principles of rapport5, EASE, to build a better relationship with your buyers.
• Empathy – People want to talk about themselves. Get them talking and demonstrate you’re listening to build empathy.
• Authenticity – If you’re talking to somebody who feels like you’re faking it, they’re less likely to trust you. Be friendly, but also be yourself.
• Similarity – Find common ground with whoever you’re talking to, even if it isn’t directly related to the meeting. Discovering a connection can instantly make another person more amicable toward you.
• (shared) Experience – Collaborate and actively engage with others during meetings, this creates a memorable and positive experience. The more shared experiences you have with buyers the greater the rapport you’ll build.
Take the lead in self
Working from home and selling virtually opens the door to distractions and disruptions. It is important that you proactively manage your time, environment, and goals.
You can start each day off on the right track with a consistent morning routine.
Try RAIN Group’s Extreme Productivity five-step morning ritual so you get off to the best possible start:
1. Read your short-term objectives and actions daily. Have these in a written action plan that includes what you want to do this quarter, month, and week. This keeps you grounded and focused on what’s most important.
2. Ask, “How’s my mindset?” If it’s not good, you won’t be productive. If you’re in a bad mood but catch yourself early in the day, simply recognizing that is often all you need to shake off negative energy and have a more productive day.
3. Ask “Will I?” for critical tasks. You know what you need to do—it’s on your action plan for this week. Yet sometimes people don’t do what they tell themselves to do. But if you ask yourself if you will do it, there’s a significantly higher chance you will.
4. Ask, “How will I be better than yesterday?” The most productive people not only seek to accomplish their daily tasks, but they also seek to improve. Focus on areas that may not have gone as well as they could have the day before and put plans in place to improve.
5. Start with your greatest impact activity6 (GIA). Identify one greatest impact activity for every day and focus on it first so you can devote as much of your energy as possible to it.
Follow these suggestions to take the lead and you’ll be more likely to survive and thrive in the new normal of virtual selling.
About the author
Andy Springer drives the design and delivery of client results as Chief Client Officer at RAIN Group. Andy is an expert in sales high performance and has worked with hundreds of sales teams to drive long-lasting sales improvement for SME, mid-market, enterprise, and government clients. He is the co-author of Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely (2020).