Business-to-business sales organizations in every industry are dealing with a profound transformation of buying behaviors. For most companies, the pandemic spurred a flip of the switch from field to remote sales, and customers have responded in kind by embracing digital buying. As the digital buyer’s journey rises to the fore, mastering the fine art of virtual selling is essential for B2B sales reps who want to succeed.
For some time, data has shown that sales reps are often not the initial provider of product and buying information. B2B buyers prefer to explore and compare products, their features and their benefits, on their own without the assistance of a sales rep. Among millennials, for example, 44% prefer no sales rep interaction in a B2B purchase setting.
According to Gartner, “As baby boomers retire, and millennials (the first digitally native generation) mature into key decision-making positions, a digital-first buying posture will become the norm.” Their research shows that a mere 17% of the total purchase journey is spent interacting with sales reps.
From Making Sales to Making Sense
Staying in tune with buyers that are increasingly comfortable with a digital-first learning and purchasing journey is critical. Sales reps who are stuck in traditional, single-channel sales engagement will find it difficult to compete.
Gartner, in its 5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling report, predicts that sellers will primarily help make sense of what customers are learning, and that this mindset can dramatically outperform classic sales methods. To do this, sellers must merge their capabilities with marketing to create a seamless digital go-to-market strategy. According to the Gartner report,
“Progressive marketers have shifted from spec sheets and product overviews to digitally rich buyer enablement. They are helping customers manage the complexities of an end-to-end purchase decision and navigate the implications for their business.”
In other words, the omnichannel sales model calls upon reps to assume the role of educators, navigators, and guides… knowledgeable specialists who aid customers in a journey of discovery. In particular, reps must be able to assure customers by transforming uncertainty into certainty.
Digital sales experiences should be designed to assist customer self-learning and drive clarification and understanding of the various complex considerations associated with sellers’ products and services. The knowledge customers gain should gradually educate them in ways that build confidence in their decisions and propel them forward along the customer journey.
Priorities for Enabling Virtual Sales
What does it take to be effective at virtual selling? A Gartner research team offered some answers to this question in two reports: Framework to Enable Effective Virtual Selling and Adapt Your Sales Force to Meet Current B2B Buyer Trends. Below are highlights of the actions sales leaders should consider to optimally restructure their sales teams for virtual sales success.
Invest in Virtual-Supportive Technology
Switching from a sharp focus on making sales to helping customers make sense of information constitutes a sea change for sales reps. For B2B sales companies that do not recognize that today’s digital customer is now in charge of the sale and have not made the necessary adaptations to successfully engage with them in new ways, the switch will be more challenging.
Strategic planning that includes making technology choices that adjust to this new sales landscape will be critical to B2B sales competitiveness over the next few years. Although a discussion of virtual sales enablement technology is a topic for another day, here are a few key tips from Gartner.
Constantly evaluate current and emerging technologies and be willing to invest in technology with virtual selling functionality.
Selectively retire technologies that are redundant or obsolete.
Deploy AI-based conversational and predictive analytics to capture buying signals and sentiments that are lost using traditional selling methods.
Invest in diagnostic tools that provide data to interactively help customers dive deeper into the nuanced differences between solutions.
Train managers and sellers on how best to use current technologies designed to foster collaboration and content sharing, both internally and with customers.
For more on building a tech stack that enables virtual sales, read the blog, How to Build a Kick-A$$ Sales Tech Stack.
Train Sales Reps for Virtual Interactions
Initial onboarding and ongoing coaching should lead to assurance that every sales rep is adept at using digital tools and leveraging data to their best advantage. A combination of synchronous (with a live facilitator) and asynchronous (eLearning) training works best.
Let sales reps’ achievement of onboarding milestones determine how to build on their foundational knowledge and basic understanding of tools.
Deliver short, concise training sessions, mixing live streaming with e-learning and recorded modules. Reserve live sessions for small groups to discuss complex concepts.
Training should include application exercises so sales reps can practice what they are taught.
Use conversation intelligence tools for call analysis to help reps continuously improve, and freely share recordings of well-done calls to serve as examples for the team.
Create online seller communities for knowledge sharing and to showcase customer examples.
Instruct sellers how to spot and address buying signals in a way that differs during virtual selling.
Preparing for Virtual Meetings
Many of the classic techniques of traditional sales calls are still applicable in a virtual world. For instance, focusing on the buyer’s needs and problems and demonstrating value. But, because remote meetings may make it more convenient for various stakeholders and decision makers to “be there” at the same time online, planning calls with today’s digital buyer requires some additional finesse.
Encourage sales reps to develop a high-quality personal brand on social media platforms, starting with a profile that attracts views and highlights customer support capabilities.
Use information available on social media to understand the buyer, identify pain points, and prepare messaging. Curate relevant content and present solutions organically through third-party sites or other SEO-optimized channels.
Meet with your internal team to plan objectives for the call, assess the information customers already have, and confirm stakeholder participation.
Agree on topics to discuss and divergent conversation paths that adapt to changing stakeholder focus during the call.
Assemble and be ready to share relevant, bite-sized, highly tailored messages and content in appropriate formats for 30-, 45- and 60-minute virtual meetings.
Set a cadence for more frequent but shorter calls.
Discover how to improve sales training with the right technology in the blog, Optimize B2B Sales Training and Coaching with the Right Tech Stack.
Strengthen Relationships During Virtual Meetings
Interacting with customers via video and teleconferencing demands behaviors that differ from in-person meetings. For instance, customers may have lower attention spans, and the lack of body language and other visual cues limits the ability to “read” the audience. Key purchasing decision makers may relegate virtual calls to juniors. Furthermore, the open listening arena may cause stakeholders to clam up, hindering consensus.
Keep the agenda narrowly focused.
Limit the number of supplier participants to a few with tightly defined roles.
Pause frequently to ensure buyer attention and comprehension; deploy polling questions to encourage collaboration and uncover potential roadblocks.
Request that the senior customer stakeholder remain on the virtual platform for five minutes to discuss progress; debrief with mobilizer to assess stakeholder engagement and plan next steps.
Follow up with additional and more specific details via email or text or the buyer’s preferred method of contact.
Use buyer intent and behavior data, rather than seller intuition, to set the stage for effective selling motions and to ensure conversations and messaging will contextually resonate with the buyer’s priorities at every touchpoint.
Be buyer-oriented. Stay sensitive to buyer preferences. Let buyers choose how they would like to interact with your team.
Align Marketing Content to Meet Virtual Customers
Now more than ever, it’s important for sales and marketing to unite in an effort to accelerate sales and help customers make sense of sales information. Unfortunately, many B2B buyers feel overwhelmed with the volume of seller information they receive, and distrust it because it is often contradictory or downright misleading. This lowers customer confidence, drastically reducing their likelihood of making a purchase.
A Gartner survey of nearly 1,000 B2B customers reveals that those who report a high level of decision confidence are 10 times more likely to make a high-quality, low-regret purchase.
Connect with Marketing to develop a pipeline of high-quality, easy-to-grasp, and continually updated information, formatted for different channels.
Create digital sales experiences designed to educate customers about your products and services in a way that helps them simplify complex considerations, and melds with where customers are at in their changing buyer’s journey.
Allow sales reps to customize content and personalize messaging, which can double response rates.
Ensure content is of value to the customer and is supportive of their decisions.
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Author: Karen Salamone
Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.