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Virtual selling has changed the way that customers are choosing- or not choosing- to interact with salespeople, often in significant ways. While the fundamentals of selling aren’t different in a virtual setting, the dynamics are, and many salespeople are struggling to adapt.

Businesses often struggle to make big changes, but as we learned quickly in 2020, sometimes they literally have no choice. As the pandemic unfolded and social distancing measures were put in place, not only did the economic landscape change almost overnight, so did the selling environment. Suddenly, salespeople who were used to working with clients in person had to immediately shift focus to start selling and interacting with them virtually. At the same time, their clients and prospects were more distracted than ever, dealing with the upheaval in their own businesses and personal lives.

The Shift To Virtual Selling

Virtual selling has changed the way that customers are choosing — or not choosing — to interact with salespeople, often in significant ways. This disruption has created new challenges for rookie and veteran salespeople alike across industries. While the fundamentals of selling aren’t different in a virtual setting, the dynamics are, and many salespeople are struggling to adapt. Maintaining motivation in isolation, being focused despite the distractions of working from home, dealing with technical issues, and keeping easily distracted prospects engaged during online meetings are some of the challenges that virtual selling creates. And all of this demands a higher level of expertise from sales professionals.

To adapt to this new environment, many sales enablement teams have focused on ramping up technical skills, from learning the ins and outs of web conferencing platforms to finding the best audio equipment and video backdrops. These technical aspects are important, but they’re really only a small part of what it takes to sell successfully in a virtual environment.

Examining the 3 Traps of Virtual Selling

Let’s take a look at three common traps that can sabotage a salesperson’s virtual selling success and how you can help them avoid them.

Underestimating the Power of Beliefs

Years of research and observation have taught us one truth about sales success: Performance tends to be consistent with a person’s inner beliefs. Those inner beliefs unconsciously dictate a salesperson’s actions, behaviors, abilities and productivity.

For example, some salespeople welcome the shift to virtual. They see an opportunity to reach more people, spend more time at home instead of on the road, and use technology to engage customers in new ways. But many salespeople quietly have an entirely different conversation going on in their heads.

These reps may be worried about what they look like on camera, that they don’t know how to interact, that their prospects are distracted — or that they’re distracted and probably shouldn’t even be “bothering” their clients in the first place. They may have decided that virtual selling just can’t be as effective and that it’s impossible to build relationships virtually, so they’ll bide their time until they can get back to those in-person visits and “real” selling.

This negative self-talk is a trap that’s easy to fall into. As a first step, salespeople need to take a step back and examine those inner conversations:

  • Do I have the same view of selling I used to have?
  • How do I view my abilities in this new reality?
  • How to I bring value?
  • How truly committed am I to doing the activities it will take to be successful?
  • Do I have confidence in my skills?
  • Am I showing up mentally prepared?

Answering these questions requires ongoing self-reflection, because the environment is constantly shifting. But if salespeople aren’t willing to do this work, they will be unconsciously held back by their own self-imposed limits.

Underprepared to Perform

In any selling situation, preparation is critical to performance, but it’s especially important now when salespeople need to humanize their outreach while still interacting remotely.

The difference when selling virtually is that there are more things to consider in your preparation. Researching your customer, understanding their organization, interpreting their Behavior Style, and knowing your call objective are still all critically important. But now you have to consider many other factors as well, like:

  • Are you video-prepared?
  • Is your lighting, camera and sound optimal?
  • Do you have a strong Statement of Intent with immediate interaction to begin the meeting confidently?
  • Have you practiced slide-sharing and virtual handoffs with team members?
  • How will you keep the customer engaged throughout the meeting?
  • Will the customer be on camera, and if not, how might that affect your preparation?
  • Have you eliminated any distracting mannerisms that will be magnified on camera?
  • How will you make a personal connection using a medium that can tend to be more impersonal?

There are many more opportunities for a sales meeting to go poorly in a virtual setting. Working through the expanded preparation factors like these will help salespeople ensure the meeting starts well, progresses smoothly and ends well.

Under-Skilled to Execute

In sales, you’re always battling distractions; being virtual only amplifies them. As a Harvard Business School article put it, “Attendees often interpret virtual meetings as a license to multi-task.”

On a video call, a customer can appear fully engaged, looking you in the eye and nodding her head as you present, while in reality, she’s checking her email or scanning a web page. There are numerous practical actions that a salesperson can take to fight the battle against distraction. Here are three that can have immediate impact:

  • Make it a conversation not a presentation. In virtual meetings, salespeople tend to fall into the trap of too much talking and one-way presenting — especially if the customer is not on camera. Make sure you have planned questions that engage around the most important challenges and needs that your customer has. Collaborate, don’t pitch.
  • Set the expectation for engagement. Let customers know at the start of the meeting that you will be seeking their input and calling on them. For example: “After I walk through the three recommendations for about a minute each, it would be good to get feedback from Sally and Dwayne before we collaborate on timing.”
  • Amp up the visuals, pace and variety. Seeing is believing, so show them how the desired situation that you can help create for them is better than their current situation. Don’t just talk about it; show them something visual. But keep it brief and keep it moving. The longer a slide stays on the screen, the easier it will be for a customer to mentally switch off. To create variety, alternate the use of slides with just you on camera.

Technical capabilities are useful in virtual sales, but sometimes the biggest obstacles to success are internal. By helping your salespeople avoid these three traps, you can make sure they’re progressing opportunities and driving more client value regardless of what the selling environment looks like.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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