By Andrea Grodnitzky, CMO at Richardson

Recent global events have accelerated the use of video-conferencing technology to conduct virtual meetings with customers. Though global circumstances have precipitated this sweeping change, it is likely that virtual selling skills will become an established and ongoing practice, even when the normal economic cycle resumes.

Virtual selling skills require a significant shift in the use of traditional selling skills to create a more engaging and connected buyer experience. People behave differently in a virtual setting in a few key ways:

  • They are more easily distracted.
  • They behave more informally.
  • They feel less connected.

These behaviors open the door for sales professionals to find themselves falling into unexpected traps, including:

  • Interruption or delays as a result of technology breakdowns
  • Defaulting to presenting rather than engaging clients in dialogue
  • Loss of rapport-building opportunities because of the mediated nature of the conversation
  • Dissolution of meeting structure

To avoid falling victim to these traps and ensure that your customers are fully engaged in the virtual conversation, sales professionals must understand that selling virtually requires exceptional preparation, enhanced communication, and careful meeting facilitation.

Prepare for the Camera

Preparation is important for any sales conversation, but it becomes even more important during planning for a virtual meeting.

The first step in preparing for a virtual meeting is getting comfortable in front of the camera. It is common for people to feel uncomfortable on camera just as they often are when hearing their own recorded voice. This can be a challenge for both the sales professional and the customer. The sales professional can make everyone feel more comfortable on the call by taking charge of the meeting and appearing confident on camera.

The best way to get your sales professionals to feel comfortable being on camera is to ask them to practice using the technology before the meeting.

At a minimum, the salesperson should test the camera and carefully frame their shot before the meeting. The background should be free of distractions. They could also practice leading the conversation with an internal resource, either a peer or coach, to get feedback on their non-verbal behaviors, such as eye contact and voice tone, prior to the meeting.

Because virtual selling requires the sales professional to manage new challenges, preparing for the actual conversation is critically important. The sales professional must be well versed in the client’s needs so that the conversation flows naturally on the call.

Prior to the meeting, sales professionals should be sure to utilize Salesforce.com to revisit any past notes and carefully plan with tools available in your platform so that they have a clear strategy set for the call.

Engage Every Stakeholder

Just because a person is on the call does not mean the person is engaging in the conversation. In fact, a decision maker facing numerous other responsibilities, many with high priority, may choose to log in and tune out.

Seller skills have to be at a higher level to display virtual Presence and engage in meaningful discussions while holding the customer’s attention. The sales professional needs to have a plan for communicating with every decision maker when selling over a virtual medium.

They can do this by asking questions directed at an individual decision maker rather than to the group. These questions should speak to the unique needs of the individual based on their responsibilities within the company. This approach keeps each stakeholder engaged throughout the sales dialogue.

Own the Meeting

Sales professionals need meeting facilitation skills to orchestrate and manage the group process and virtual dynamics. Virtual meetings often get off to a slow start because of technology or late arrivals. Similarly, it is easier for customer stakeholders to drop out of a virtual meeting without signaling their departure.

Sales professionals must manage the informal opening by remembering that interaction does not happen as naturally in a virtual room. Stakeholders may sit on mute with their cameras off, in silence while multitasking, unless the sales professional engages them. Therefore, the sales professional should encourage people to unmute by asking rapport questions. Then they should pivot to a formal opening in which they create a positive tone, set the context, and align on the agenda.

Following both the informal and formal opening, the sales professional should take charge of the conversation by leveraging a questioning strategy by which they call on individuals by name. Communication in a virtual environment is often less clear, and people may be less likely to fully engage and speak out. Sales professionals should check for feedback more frequently in virtual settings.

Finally, the sales professional should formally close the meeting by concisely emphasizing the value of the solution while asking for the customer’s commitment to next steps on both sides of the conversation. Finally, this is the time to leave a lasting positive impression by deepening rapport and articulating personal commitment.

Virtual selling, whether out of necessity or convenience, is a new way for sales professionals to engage their clients. Despite some of the unique challenges associated with selling in the virtual environment, virtual selling can be just as effective as traditional face-to-face meetings, especially when sales professionals use virtual presence to instill energy and drive engagement to more closely replicate the interactions that occur in a face-to-face sales meeting.