Some jobs are easy to do online.
Other jobs are a little trickier, if not downright impossible (no matter how good technology is, you still have to get your hair cut in person).
But … what about sales?
Right now, your sales team is probably operating from home offices, with every step in the sales process taking place virtually instead of in person. They’ve adapted, but surely this is just temporary—the current situation is going to return to normal once the pandemic passes, right?
And actually, preferably not.
Recent research conducted by McKinsey & Company indicates that the shift to virtual selling is permanent. And that’s because both B2B buyers and sellers prefer the new normal of virtual selling: Only around 20% of B2B buyers hope to return to in-person sales, even in traditional in-person markets, like industrial manufacturing.
Fortunately, many businesses are listening.
“One thing we’ve seen has been a massive number of businesses that are accepting the reality of virtual selling,” says Marcus Sheridan, founder and president of The Sales Lion and author of They Ask, You Answer. “They are talking about it very openly on their website and they are offering virtual meetings with prospects — and these are things they’d never really done before. This is across the board in many, many industries.”
Why has virtual selling won so many fans? We’ll look at the benefits, but first, let’s define what we mean when we talk about virtual selling.
Digital Selling vs. Virtual Selling
You may have seen the terms “digital selling” and “virtual selling” used interchangeably. However, there is a noteworthy difference.
What is digital selling?
Digital selling is the use of digital content and platforms (apps, social media, email, chatbots, and websites) to turn an audience into buyers.
What is virtual selling?
Virtual selling is the use of digital technology to replace in-person sales, allowing sales reps to connect with customers by way of tools like video calls, texts, and emails.
The difference is subtle, but important: Virtual selling (also sometimes called “remote selling”) still includes a sales rep and still involves the building of relationships. And it can even be done face-to-face (if everybody remembers to turn their camera on.) It just isn’t done in person.
Does virtual selling include phone calls? Yes, but only as one tool out of many. Phone-driven inside sales models have been around forever, so on their own, they don’t represent any sort of fundamental shift in the B2B outside sales environment.
Benefits of Virtual Selling to In-Person Selling (Pandemic or Not)
It’s important to understand that the new way of selling isn’t just a temporary inconvenience—it’s actually an improvement.
The top benefits of virtual selling include:
- Virtual selling is quick and convenient.
- Virtual prospecting is effective.
- Virtual selling reduces costs.
- Virtual selling delights buyers.
- Virtual selling generates results.
Let’s explore these benefits in more detail.
1. Virtual selling is quick and convenient.
A big reason why so few B2B buyers hope to return to the old days of in-person sales is that they enjoy the speed and convenience of meeting with sellers over the phone and by video call. And this convenience goes both ways: With travel time (and traffic) removed from the picture, reps can work much more efficiently, especially in geographically sprawling sales territories.
2. Virtual prospecting is effective.
Meeting with prospects by phone and video isn’t just less expensive than meeting in person—it’s also just as effective. B2B decision makers in the McKinsey study believe that online and remote selling is just as effective as in-person engagement when reaching out to warm leads and customers alike.
3. Virtual selling reduces costs.
Virtual selling helps sales organizations lower their cost per visit and reduce their cost per lead. In these volatile times, those reductions could make all the difference.
4. Virtual selling delights buyers.
Given the choice, buyers prefer virtual meetings to in-person meetings, video meetings to phone calls, and digital browsing over product demonstrations. Giving customers what they want, using the channels they prefer, is a sure way to increase relevance and improve the entire buyer journey and customer experience.
5. Virtual selling generates results.
According to McKinsey, “The amount of revenue generated from video-related interactions has jumped by 69% since April 2020.” This isn’t surprising – of course revenue from virtual sales has increased as in-person sales have decreased. But it still points to the fact that virtual selling has obviously not turned customers off and may be a powerful tool to integrate into your sales strategy even after it’s safe to resume in-person sales.
How to Pivot & Train Your Sales Force to Master Virtual Selling
Is virtual selling here to stay? Yes – in one way or another. Even once this pandemic has passed, it’s highly likely that most companies will continue to use virtual selling to some degree, even if it’s just for quick check-ins or initial discovery sessions. How often you use virtual selling will depend entirely on your business, your reps, and your customers.
In the meantime, however, capitalizing on the new normal means training your sales team to master virtual selling. Here are some tips and best practices for you and other sales leaders to take your team from in-person selling to virtual selling.
Redraw your buyer’s journey.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way buyers buy. Which means sellers must fundamentally change the way they sell.
Start by re-drawing your buyer’s journey, describing each virtual step they now take as they move toward a purchase. Remove the in-person meetings, face-to-face product demos and other real-world interactions, and replace them with the virtual equivalents that your buyers now expect, including phone, video, live chat, and email. Your marketing team can offer priceless data and analysis when it comes to how leads and customers already interact with your website and other content, giving you a window into what happens before they click “Get in Touch.”
Train for shorter meetings, more often.
Your sellers may be able to hold the attention of buyers for 90 minutes in a boardroom but doing this over a Zoom call may be a bit trickier.
As such, consider holding more – but shorter – meetings during the sales process. Break the sales process down into smaller steps with a clear goal and timeline for each of these meetings; that way, reps don’t risk running out of time before getting to the point of the meeting.
Think like a movie director.
Virtual selling requires a mastery of technology and new ways of interacting. To be effective, your team must learn how to look good and sound good on camera. This means having their webcams at the correct height, using good lighting, removing distractions from their background, and using high-quality microphones.
Product demos will also require some thought around production:
“We’re working with one client that’s a well-known national brand. What they had been doing in the past was using this “technology center” they had that was a converted tractor trailer. They would bring this to retailers and park it outside. There was a big wow factor for the retailers because inside was all sorts of interactive equipment showing the innovation of their product.
Now they can’t do that anymore. Instead, they’re using the same equipment to do a hybrid interactive sales experience. Rather than just making a series of videos, now you have a group of decision-makers sitting in a boardroom. They are watching and interacting with someone in the technology center. That sales rep can still demonstrate each element inside. It feels very much like a performance.”
– Marcus Sheridan
A performance mindset will also involve adjusting to how conversational dynamics work in a virtual setting. Just think back to the last time you were interrupted or talked over during a Zoom call, and you’ll appreciate that virtual selling requires a new set of people (and technology) skills.
The new world of virtual prospecting and selling puts your sales reps front and center when it comes to delivering content. This means you (and your marketing team) must focus heavily on sales enablement so your sellers have the content assets they need to help buyers through the sales process and have meaningful conversations. Take a look at your re-imagined buyer journey, and map each stage to the follow-up email sequences, phone scripts, case studies, sell sheets and other collateral your reps need when engaging with prospects and customers virtually.
As you adjust to the new normal of selling by phone and video, keep track of the tools and techniques that are working and which ones you can continue using once the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
Here at Durrie Sales, we anticipate that the following best practices will survive the pandemic and remain effective ways to sell in the future.
- Online meeting scheduling tools, particularly those that integrate with calendars and video conferencing tools
- Virtual meetings, particularly video meetings
- Shorter meetings, especially those meetings that involve three or more participants
- Self-serve options, namely those online tools that let B2B buyers get information, place orders, and get order updates
By paying careful attention to your numbers, the feedback of your reps, and the feedback of your clients, you can craft a virtual selling system that not only delights—it delivers.