Virtual Selling – It’s the Same, Yet Different – and Here to Stay
By Mike Esterday for the December 2020 edition of Top Sales Magazine
My last column for Top Sales World – in the July 2020 issue – was titled Successful Selling When Your World Turns Upside Down. That piece had a warning for salespeople and customer service teams everywhere: Your jobs have changed – your customers too – and it’s time to understand virtual selling in a new world.
Call it the Pandemic Effect: As nearly every business struggles to find its footing, it’s truer now than ever: Everyone has a new job – and everyone has new customers. What’s more, many changes ushered in by COVID-19 are here to stay, even after we get a vaccine.
Most of us were accustomed to decades of calling on customers in person – setting up meetings, traveling to meet with them in person, following up that also involved in-person connection, and then dropping in from time to time. Meetings, dinners, coffee appointments – they were stock in trade for salespeople. As we know, most of those are on hold now – some might be gone for good with the shift to technology platforms for connecting with people.
And there’s this: Most people we need to connect with today have Zoom fatigue, so it’s critical that you maximize your time with prospects and customers when connecting with them virtually.
How can you increase your success rate? Here are 7 tips to up your game:
Watch your mindset:
As with in-person sales, the mindset you bring to virtual selling will shape everything, including how you come across to customers and whether you’ll have success. Three common traps erode credibility and trust with virtual selling can set in before, during, and after the call.
Before: Watch that you’re not eroding your confidence by thinking “I can’t…” or anticipating “what if something goes wrong…?”. Set the right intention prior to your virtual session. Selling is about helping people and solving problems, remember?
During: Watch that you’re not feeling like you’re a pest or bothering a person. Customize your message to the prospect’s business – think more give than take. Everything doesn’t need an ask – sometimes what’s best virtually is: “I was thinking about your business and thought of something that might be helpful.”
After: Watch out for self-doubt or negative self-talk about wasting the prospect’s time after the virtual session. The best way to guard against that is to make the time productive for prospects – by being prepared, asking thought-provoking questions, offering industry insights, trends, or data, and
helping them see something with a new lens.
Prepare like crazy
Often, you may have less time in a virtual call. When that happens, enhanced preparation is even more critical. Have you done your research to find personal or professional common ground to gain rapport? Do you have a strong Statement of Intent and 1-3 high-impact questions? What is your backup plan if you have less time or if technology doesn’t work? Don’t shoot from the hip: Have a specific call plan-of-action: What you want to accomplish. One or two high-impact questions you want to ask. What objections might be raised – and how to address. Have a digital asset to share – a one-sheet PDF, a link, a something.
Aim for an effective virtual conversation
Too often, when something is new, a salesperson gets nervous and it turns into a monologue instead of a dialogue. Nobody is on the line for a broadcast from you. In fact, see if you can learn the prospect’s preferred communication style or method – maybe you can find that out from a gatekeeper or assistant. Are they more conversational, more informal? Does he or she prefer to pose questions? The more you know about them, the more you use your proven sales process to quickly gain rapport, ask questions, present your value proposition, work through concerns, and gain commitments to appropriate next steps.
Know your platform
Avoid tech hiccups whatever platform is used, make sure you know how to send effective meeting invitations and look professional on camera. Can you get people to be on camera? What if you have a co-presenter or there are multiple customers in the same room or on separate devices? Do you have all potential digital resources available and can you share documents flawlessly?
Set the meeting right
Time is precious, especially when you’re connecting virtually. Let the prospect know you are not there to waste their time. Tell them you will only need (15-20 minutes) and then honor that. And most importantly: Define what you are proposing and why ¬ make it clear what’s in it for them.
Be there – and only there
When you are in the meeting, do not have any distractions such as dogs, or loud noise. Don’t have any phone open or things to distract you. When you are there, BE THERE. It matters. Also, be concise in your message. Sometimes less is more, and people appreciate time when it is given back to them.
Leave with next steps
If you are not closing for the business, then close for the next actionable steps, and follow-up with a brief summary.
Selling virtually is the same as selling in-person … yet different! Whether we like it or not, this is a required skill for salespeople now – and for the future.