Virtual selling is the new norm, but initiating sales conversations in a virtual environment is not simply doing what you’re used to doing face to face in front of a webcam. To deliver skillful and efficient virtual sales conversations, sellers must embrace a new paradigm and let go of the old ways.
It is true that building trust in person triggers the release of oxytocin, dubbed the “moral molecule,” which makes people more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate. However, virtual sellers can’t play off hormones and chemistry to form connections, so they must work harder to build trust, create value, and win sales!
Here are eight paradigm shifts that I outlined (with input from Maggie Chumbley, Principal at Maggie Chumbley Consulting) that transform traditional sellers into virtual sellers:
Old paradigm: Sellers look around the room, take in nonverbal cues about their audience’s engagement or interest, and adjust accordingly to add the most value. And as we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, there are a lot of invisible particles floating around between people. While those particles can be problematic in terms of illness, they can actually help sellers build rapport and trust through touch and smell!
Virtual paradigm: Chemistry is out of the picture (no pun intended!), so sellers need to build trust through listening, reliability, preparedness, and an appropriate virtual presence. I recently had a meeting with someone where I could only see half their face on their video. That does not build trust!
Old paradigm: Stakeholders can be spread across offices or locations, making getting everyone in the same room challenging.
Virtual paradigm: Online meetings save commute time (even if it’s just walking down the hall!) and make it easy for decision-makers and experts to get involved and join in on sales conversations – from wherever they are.
Old paradigm: Time together is fluid when meeting in person. If the prospect is interested, it’s easier to keep the sales conversation going to address all of their questions and concerns – and build rapport.
Virtual paradigm: In a virtual meeting, the time is usually predetermined in 15, 30, 60, or 90-minute increments. There’s a hard start and end.
Old paradigm: Body language and movement make it easier to grab, hold, and keep the customer’s attention. It’s hard to ignore a person in front of you!
Virtual paradigm: To capture attention and increase engagement, sellers must change the emotional state of the conversation, similar to using music in movies to convey different feelings. Online tools and interactions help incorporate the five senses and eliminate distractions.
5. THE SLIDES
Old paradigm: Slides are a quick way to share data, provide information, introduce terminology, and create plans. They add structure to a meeting and are used systematically throughout the sales conversation to formulate the pitch.
Virtual paradigm: Prospects receive articles, videos, and critical concepts asynchronously throughout the sales conversation to add context and understanding. The right content at the right time keeps the sales momentum and shortens the sales cycle. Social media, instant polls, live chat, etc., provide a channel for immediate customer feedback.
6. READING THE ROOM
Old paradigm: Because humans are complex and require time to integrate and incorporate concepts and perspectives, sellers rely on faces, body language, and provocative questions to help gauge interest and whether or not the ideas are landing.
Virtual paradigm: Sellers read the room virtually by inviting thumbs up/down, polling, and sampling. Small and rapid impromptu conversations in breakout rooms provide opportunities to solidify concepts and check for understanding.
7. BAGELS & COFFEE
Old paradigm: A buffet of sustenance helps persuade people into meetings and provides a place for informal connection and conversation.
Virtual paradigm: Sellers create opportunities for virtual networking and discussion before and after the meeting. Turning the video on early, being prepared with conversation starters, and engaging in the chat messenger provides opportunities to talk to people as people, not as buyers and sellers. Creating breakout rooms after the event for a debrief or Q&A also helps break down the virtual barriers.
8. ARRANGING THE FURNITURE
Old paradigm: In-person meetings require physical space and a particular structure depending on the purpose (i.e., round to facilitate discussion or facing a presentation wall if delivering a lot of visual information). And the law of meeting dynamics insists that whatever structure was used last will be utterly incompatible with the next meeting!
Virtual paradigm: Participants can arrange their seats most comfortably and productively for themselves. Sellers select gallery view to see everyone at once, speaker view, or set up a “fishbowl” by each person covering their camera so they can listen in on a conversation. No furniture moving is required, but proactively addressing the meeting layout can create a more engaging virtual selling environment.
Transforming from traditional to virtual selling requires a different approach, but top sellers will master virtual relationship development, no doubt! Since many in-person sales conversations are poorly designed from the onset, the door is wide open for modernization and improvement.
Shari Levitin is an energetic, wickedly funny sales guru, who helps sales teams bridge the gap between beating quota and selling with an authentic heartfelt approach. As the founder of the Shari Levitin Group, Shari has helped create over 1 billion dollars in increased revenue for companies in over 40 countries. Shari is the bestselling author of Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know, and is a contributor to Forbes, CEO Magazine and Huffington Post.