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The firm grip of a handshake. The unmistakable connection from eye to eye contact. These are the moments that happen across a salesperson's day that nourish their hunger for customer engagement. They are the unspoken, but highly contagious emotions that get these road warriors out of bed every morning.

Until they are working from home. No live customer meetings occur for days. Maybe weeks. Could be months.

It causes reflection about what makes us great at influencing others behaviour when we are in person, but can deflate us to being mere phone operators when we “virtual.”

Whilst heaps of academic research has been done on the topic of virtual sales, one only has to have sold through massive travel budget cuts (‘09 GFC), debahibiltating natural disasters (hurricanes & blizzards), or the restraints of a pandemic not yet leashed, to understand what it feels like to transition from face to face meetings to being chained to our laptops.

As a result, there is a landscape change occurring. Buyers are buying differently, and sellers need to keep pace. Those sales organizations who recognize these new needs will lead their brands to faster growth.

AGILITY
JUDGEMENT
DRIVE
ENGAGEMENT

At first glance, these competencies don’t seem surprising, they might already be embedded in your model today. But let’s take a closer look at the particular nuance these competencies offer us when they are leveraged for virtual selling.

AGILITY:

Anywhere, Anyhow, Anytime
Consistently adaptable
Efficient with Change

Picture1

We all know agility means to move quickly and easily. Perhaps you’ve trained as an athlete where this physical ability improved your sport performance. But agility for virtual selling means being able to connect with customers wherever they are, whenever their time zone allows, with whatever technology channel(s) they prefer to use.

It’s more than being tech savvy, for many it can feel like needing to speak three languages, while you are driving in traffic, and listening to the radio. But our singular job is to help customers capture our key insights and messages - every call we have could be our last.

 This means acquiring the knowledge about how they will best want a virtual meeting to occur, aligning your technology and materials in a way that they can receive and process the content, adapting to their UX needs real time - without wasting time, and auditing the discussion from start to finish to truly know if you had an impact. Then, being able to re-align to the next customer meeting, and being efficient with this transition, is where agility makes it mark.

DRIVE:

Self Motivated
Planful
Execution focused

Picture2

Have you ever heard the phrase Drive drives Drive? It refers to the dynamic that can be created when Drive is observed by others: Tim jumps up from his desk with a fist pump and announces that his sales contract was just signed which puts him over this month’s target. High fives ensue and the afternoon is lifted with a new intensity for everyone. They’ve just observed the manifestation of Tim’s unwavering commitment to his sales targets. It’s why you hear teams ringing sales bells. Yes, a “congratulations”, but also a “Who’s next?” is left reverberating throughout the office.

But what office? Teams are working remotely these days. A ringing bell on Slack won’t cut it, so how do we get those intensity bumps? Layer in the multitude of distractions in our home offices (baking bread? Home schooling?) and we can no longer count on Drive driving Drive.

Salespeople with inherent drive, drive that runs through their veins - will come out ahead in uncertain work environments. They have a rigorous critical thinking capability to determine the prioritization of their work as measured by outcomes. They develop a plan that meets deadlines. Their drive will focus them to do the work, without allowing distractions to get in the way. This often means having the discipline to turn off email and cell phones. And with this focus, they consistently deliver on time.

ENGAGEMENT:

Right Time, Right Content  
1-way and 2-Way
Personalized with Understanding

Picture3-1

You’ve heard this, “I’m sure you are great at sales, you’re so outgoing...such an extrovert…” These are traits that might improve likability, but “people buy from people they like '' had a shelf life. Today’s buyers buy from people who provide insight about their own business, help them to think about a problem differently, and plan a new way forward. But in order to do this virtually, salespeople need to be able to engage virtually - a much tougher bar to chin - and doesn’t have anything to do with charisma.

Salespeople need to consider what is the most relevant thing for the customer at this moment in time - not what the salesperson wants to talk about. This will mean they need to take their current commercial messages and customize it to their individual discussions - even for different people at the same company. This has to happen in real time two-way communications, or sequenced back and forth on email. Without body language cues, we also have to take a more thoughtful approach to confirming what we think we heard. It’s difficult to interpret intent virtually, and this means salespeople need a pragmatic was to capture agreement on action to move a sales cycle forward. 

JUDGEMENT:

Active listening
Stakeholder and Self-Aware
Informed Decision Making

Picture4

Judgement for virtual selling is about taking your past experiences, while actively listening and making “in the moment” decisions to get to real time better outcomes. This doesn’t sound original - but the dynamics are changed once we put our headsets on, load up a presentation deck to the video call, and start talking to (at?) our customers. The risk of virtual selling is that in trying to translate our in person meetings to digital meetings, we can accidentally fall into the “show and tell” trap. Worse than that, we might think we accomplished our objectives just because nobody hung up on us.

Judgement is a skill that is often hard to teach, and even harder to be self-aware about. it requires us to recognize how the stakeholders are reacting to the discussion, and the salesperson himself. We usually have “happy ears” and the absence of a customer interrupting must mean things are tracking along - which is not often true. Worst case, the customer is multi-tasking, and often they are just being kind, by not interrupting. We need to immediately reflect on what is causing the disinterest. In order to progress, there needs to be an in-the-moment review of options, and then an agreed upon plan to resolve where we went off track. If sales people can’t exhibit this judgment in the moment, it may be too late to re-engage after the fact. Customer time is precious, and we won’t always get multiple shots to get it right.

This is not a recommendation to redesign your competency matrix. Instead, consider the following first steps on the journey:

  • Observe virtual sales calls with the specific intent of looking for the presence of these behaviours? What is missing from your team in aggregate and how can you create awareness around this necessary skill?
  • Share best practices across the team from real customer stories on where you observed Agility, Drive, Engagement, or
  • Provide pragmatic direction on how your sales team should repurpose their travel time - even if it is just their driving time. Do they know how to customize a pitch deck for relevance?
  • Encourage salespeople to record their virtual meetings, and do “playbacks” to review and reflect on their performance? What did they observe or hear differently in a play back? What feedback would their peers give them?

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