Virtual selling isn’t new to most salespeople. But due to COVID-19, it’s more widespread across the industry, and reps are quickly having to learn the ins and outs of this method. Not to mention, reps are still grappling with common sales challenges. “Developing relationships, collaborating online, leading virtual sales conversations, gaining and keeping attention, leveraging technology, making the ROI case, delivering value; these are challenging regardless of the selling and economic environment,” writes RAIN Group President Mike Schultz.
So, just what are salespeople facing (and overcoming) now due to the “new normal” of virtual selling? RAIN Group recently conducted a study exploring this topic and shared several highlights from its research in a recent article.
Virtual selling is the norm (for now)
As you might have guessed, their research found a massive shift from in-person sales. Before the pandemic, only 27% of salespeople reported that over half of their sales activities were virtual. “Sales organizations are now conducting more of their sales meetings online,” Schultz writes. “We found a 163% increase, from pre-pandemic to now, in the number of sellers conducting more than half of their sales activities virtually.” He points out that this is a large shift in a relatively short period of time. “We’re in a challenging purchasing environment requiring sellers to be better than ever,” the report states. “At the same time, many sellers have had to completely change their sales approach. 91% can no longer meet with buyers face-to-face, creating a very different, and sometimes difficult, buyer/seller dynamic.” But, by being thoughtful and taking action to adapt, salespeople have and can continue to successfully adjust to this monumental change in strategy.
Virtual selling: Top challenges
RAIN Group’s study first looked at the primary challenges facing sellers in today’s environment. A few challenges particularly stood out as affecting many reps. For example, 91% of the salespeople surveyed said that it was very/somewhat challenging to gain a buyer’s attention and keep the buyer engaged virtually. This is a very understandable challenge, as most salespeople have perfected their face-to-face sales strategy. To keep and retain someone’s attention virtually is no small feat, especially when the buyer is likely working from home amid distractions.
SalesFuel’s Rachel Cagle recently shared advice on this topic, highlighting three ways that sellers can boost engagement when virtually selling:
- Switch things up. “Instead of having your PowerPoint presentation up the entire time you’re referencing it during your video calls, switch the feed back to your face from time to time," she writes. "…these small screen changes add an element of surprise to your presentation.” So, make it a habit to switch back and forth every few minutes to your own face, which will not only snap back any wandering attention but also encourage engagement and communication.
- Incorporate videos. Add some variety by showing a video or two during your meetings. Cagle suggests using testimonial videos, writing, “Consumers are more engaged by videos than pages of text, and yet another variety of screen change will help keep them engaged in the conversation.”
- Use special features. Consider how you can add even more interest through special features, such as a poll or other interactive element.
Rain Group adds that mastering the technology you're using for virtual selling will also help. “…using technology and tools effectively is a good way to keep buyers’ attention and engagement. It’s not only about using technology, but also leveraging it to its fullest capability to maximize collaboration.”
The second most-common challenge buyers report is changing buyers’ points of view on what’s possible or how to a solve a problem (cited as challenging by 89% of reps). This, RAIN Group points out, is where consultative selling comes in, noting that "sellers change points of view by educating buyers with new ideas and perspectives…”. Virtual selling shouldn’t be simply showcasing your product and service. Reps must integrate consultative selling strategies into their plan whether they are meeting in-person or via Zoom.
Sales professional Jeffrey Gitomer wrote about the importance of consultative selling for SalesFuel’s blog, noting that true consultative selling has these primary components:
- Finding and understanding the customer’s needs.
- Partnering with the customer and making the transition from being a salesperson to becoming a resource.
- Helping customers achieve their business objectives using your product or service.
- Belief that your business, product and service are the best.
- Belief in yourself and that you are the best.
To overcome this second challenge, be sure that you are mastering each and every one of those components. By doing so, you will be able to successfully educate the buyer, as well as guide them to the understanding that your product or service will solve their problem. Not familiar with consultative selling or where to start? Research! SalesFuel’s Voice of the Sales Rep study revealed that only 31.6% of reps prepare discovery questions based on pre-call research. In order to be able to consult effectively, you must learn all you can about the prospect, their business and their industry. This research will provide a solid starting point to your consultative sales process which you can then implement into your virtual meetings.
Finally, 88% of reps say that building a relationship virtually with a prospect is a challenge. While relationship-building has been tough in the past, it’s even more so now with the physical disconnect between buyer and seller. “Developing relationships online is much different than in person," the report notes. “There aren’t natural breaks or side conversations. You don’t meet for coffee or lunch before or after your meetings. There’s less time for personal check ins and 'getting to know you."
Rain Group explains that in your virtual meetings, you must create time and space for building rapport and treat it as an actionable goal. Below are just a couple of suggestions for proactively and deliberately making time to connect:
- Set aside specific time at the beginning of your meetings for a personal check in; a little empathy can go a long way
- Reach out more frequently to buyers to talk about non-business topics you’ve discussed in your meetings, such as children, hobbies, sports, world events, etc.
- Turn your video on during meetings because, as mentioned before, it provides that much-needed personal element
Virtual selling has been forced on salespeople, and if they want to survive, they must adapt. Use these valuable insights and suggestions to realign your strategy with today’s sales environment. As RAIN Group explains, “When you know the challenges, and know which sales skills you need to improve, you can adjust accordingly. …think about what you can do differently and how you can improve. Your buyers will thank you for it.”