If there’s one thing we have learned since 2020, it is that remote work is here to stay. In the sales world, this means that many teams have migrated to either hybrid or 100% virtual selling. As it turns out, “the way things have always been done” isn’t the way things have to be done.
But we already knew that, didn’t we? Sales is a profession so closely tied to humans and the way they interact, that it evolves quickly, just like we and our preferences and institutions do.
Back in the late 19th century, door-to-door sales was the approach du jour — which has mostly fizzled out by now; then telemarketing reached a record-low popularity in 2016.
Sellers don’t have to fear fewer trade shows, in-person meetings or networking events. Sales has lived on, and adjusting to the times is all just part of the game.
As Jeb Blount says in his recent book Virtual Selling, “Most of the mental hang-ups about virtual selling are with you, not your stakeholders.”
Let’s look more closely at what virtual selling really means, why you should care, and how to adjust your sales approach to account for new channels and different challenges.
What is Virtual Selling?
Virtual selling refers to any processes and technologies salespeople use to engage prospects and customers outside of in-person, face-to-face conversations.
Increasingly, virtual selling techniques are replacing traditional in-person engagement, both in reaction to buyer preferences as well as in adjustment to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtual sales communications can be either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous communication happens in real-time — think phone calls, video chats, or live chat. Asynchronous communication does not. Examples include email messages, SMS/MMS, and recorded video or voicemail messages.
It’s not new
Just because you haven’t only used virtual selling techniques, doesn’t mean you haven’t been augmenting the sales process with them for decades. Phone calls, emails, and social media had already become part of the sales cycle. The imperative now is to understand how to best approach your sales process with a higher proportion of virtual technologies versus in-person communication.
It does require a mindset shift
Virtual selling isn’t about replacing everything you know about sales with machines. It is, quite simply, leveraging different communications channels in the place of in-person meetings. There are some unique challenges to that, which we’ll discuss more in a bit. Sellers today have to reorient the way they connect and build relationships to center on virtual communications channels.
It’s here to stay
Even as the pandemic slows, organizations have seen benefits from some of the changes made as a result of lockdowns. Buyers report preferring digital communication: a report from McKinsey found that 70-80% of B2B decision makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service. In a Bain & Company survey, a similar question earned a percentage as high as 92%.
Add in the cost savings of less business travel, and CSOs now reportedly expect 58% of the sales force will remain operating virtual by the end of 2021, up from 24% pre-pandemic.
Challenges of Virtual Selling
Even though you’ve certainly been using various virtual selling tactics as part of your sales process, there are specific challenges that come about as you start to shake up your communications mix with more asynchronous methods and less face-to-face activity.
Keeping buyers engaged
When was the last time you were on a call, as opposed to an in-person meeting, and didn’t check your email, maybe scroll through the news, and sneak-peek at your Slack messages? This is becoming more and more common with the proliferation of online or phone meetings, and that means you may be competing with more distractions than ever to get your buyers’ attention.
There’s also so-called “Zoom fatigue” to contend with. Excessive video chatting can be exhausting, and Stanford University researchers laid out these four reasons why:
- The intensity of excessive close-up eye contact
- Watching yourself in real-time is fatiguing, partly because it’s so unnatural
- Video chatting reduces mobility
- Cognitive load is higher due to higher difficulty in giving and reading gestures and nonverbal clues
Building rapport and trust
Build rapport and trust can be more challenging without the benefit of eye contact and emotional contagion — ”the process in which an observed behavioral change in one individual leads to the reflexive production of the same behavior by other individuals … with the likely outcome of converging emotionally,” according to Science Direct.
You’ll also have fewer opportunities to pick up non-work-related details about buyers’ lives (and vice versa), all of which will make it more difficult to discern their deeper needs and motivations.
“Can you see my screen?”
“I can’t hear you — you’re breaking up.”
“I can’t open the file you just sent.”
These are all common frustrations in the virtual world, but they can be all the more frustrating when you’re accustomed to just, you know, having a frank face-to-face conversation without the need for technology to augment. Snafus like this can also mire conversations in frustration from the get-go, reducing your ability to achieve a positive emotional response from your buyer.
Reading the room
As you may know, the best salespeople can intuit their buyers’ thoughts in the snap of a finger — when they’re in the same room together. But the lack of in-person contact provides much less data to work with.
Are your buyers following along? Are they confused? Are they distracted? Which messages are resonating? It’s so much more difficult to determine the answers to those questions without the ability to see facial expressions, nonverbal cues, sideways glances, shifting feet, etc.
Virtual Selling Tips
While virtual selling tactics may require a mindset shift from in-person sales, the biggest “secret” to virtual sales is better preparation. No virtual engagement is merely an off-the-cuff conversation. Salespeople must craft every touchpoint with care.
Use the right tools
To make the best use of your and your buyers’ time, you need the right infrastructure and tools to do your work well. These include prospecting tools, a CRM and a sales engagement platform — which can help you sync all your sales activity to your CRM and give you the ability to make calls and send SMS/MMS messages via the cloud, for connections you can count on.
Explore new prospecting methods
Don’t just rely on what worked for you last month or last year. Continue to identify the best sources of prospects for your business. Then, figure out how to engage in a personal, engaging way that demonstrates your products’ value quickly.
Build genuine relationships
Without the energy of in-person meetings, you’ll have to work a little harder to build relationships with your buyers. A couple of tips are to use active listening and to share any presentations or marketing materials before the call. This gives you and your buyers an opportunity to have a deeper conversation rather than skim over sales presentations or delivering demos without specific, targeted use cases.
Create more educational content assets
More and more, buyers want to do their own product research before they talk to sales. According to McKinsey, 70-80% of B2B decision makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self service. In addition, Bain & Company reports sellers underestimate the extent buyers have already made decisions prior to engaging with reps, writing:
“Customers doing online research on a category should be able to find a potential supplier quickly, find an offering that fits their needs, and experience the product or service through web-based demos and videos. They should then be able to quickly and easily engage, whether through a chat bot, live chat, or a sales rep.”
Have a repeatable process
Reinventing the wheel every time you reach out to a prospect or nurture a lead isn’t just inefficient — it’s ineffective. Use the data you have on hand to identify the best performing process and codify it. This gives salespeople more time back in their day and more energy to spend on building the relationships that drive a deal to close.
Monitor buyer interactions
Keep up with what’s resonating with buyers and what’s not — from messaging and objection handling to particular channels and outreach formats. With this data, you can continue to refine your sales process and make sure every sales rep knows how to reach their target segment.
Just like we’ve let door-to-door selling and mass telemarketing go by the wayside as sales tactics, B2B sales keeps evolving with technology and buyer preference. With virtual selling here to stay, it’s worth addressing its common challenges to set up your sales strategy for success in the 21st century.
Your tech tools play a big role in your ability to sell virtually. It impacts everything from your ability to present yourself professionally to being able to keep buyers engaged and building rapport even without in-person meetings.
But more than that, it’s really all about how you can use the skills you already have to enable a different kind of sales cycle. You may have to shift your mindset, but it’s a necessary shift to keep your business moving forward.