Here, we bring awareness to the often unforeseen challenges in creating meaningful conversations from a distance.
Understand That Rapport Will Not Emerge Naturally
Rapport comes more easily and naturally in an in-person setting in which conversation can spark from simple observations about the physical surroundings. This characteristic of conversation is not present in a virtual setting.
Sales professionals must do more to facilitate the casual conversation that eventually leads to a formal discussion. Here, preparation is critical. Sales professionals should research current events in the customer’s business and industry to help prompt the conversation in the early moments when everyone is still getting comfortable with being on camera.
Expect a Different Level of Initial Engagement
Distractions have a greater influence over the conversation in a virtual meeting. The “ping” of emails, messages, and other environmental factors cannot be eliminated the way they are behind the closed doors of a conference room. These distractions inhibit focus and collaboration.
To overcome this challenge, sales professionals should state early in the call that they plan to seek feedback from specific participants throughout the conversation. This approach not only communicates that the sales professional welcomes the customer’s opinion, but it also alerts the participants to the idea that they may be called on at any time.
Move Beyond Presentation Mode
In a low-engagement setting, it is easy for many sales professionals to unknowingly default into presentation mode in which the conversation becomes one-way. This tendency is understandable given the discomfort many feel with silence.
Moving beyond presentation mode means first, being aware of this inherent habit, and second, proactively seeking continued engagement from the customers. Sales professionals need to ask questions, check for feedback, and gauge if the discussion is tracking with the customer’s expectations. In doing so, the sales professional is encouraging conversation mode.
Prepare for a New Kind of Schedule
Time can appear to move faster in a virtual meeting. The reason: start times almost always occur later as a result of one or several participants logging on late. Once the meeting begins, many sales professionals feel compelled to also diminish the timeline given that customers become impatient faster and can disengage without it becoming obvious as it would during an in-person meeting.
Addressing this characteristic of the virtual sale means taking two steps. First, sales professionals must choose a duration for the meeting that allows plenty of time to start the meeting. Second, it is critical to resist the urge to speed through the meeting once customers begin to show signs of disengagement. The key is to re-engage customers with participation, not acceleration.
Remain Vigilant in the Approach to Technology
More than any other factor, technology has the potential to kill a virtual sale. One failed connection can end the meeting. Rescheduling becomes difficult amid competing schedules and the underlying sense that the opportunity has passed.
Sales professionals must test and re-test their technology to ensure that everything that can be controlled is controlled. It is critical to check the audio and video quality in advance of the meeting, as well as the bandwidth. It is equally important for sales professionals to avoid over-reliance on the technology, which can lead to too many charts, lists, and slides at the cost of valuable, authentic conversation.
Remember to Use a Structured Approach
A virtual environment can initially appear less intimidating to a sales professional because the conversation unfolds behind a screen. This sense of remove can lead some to approach the meeting with a relaxed stance. Doing so is a mistake because a structure is in fact even more important in a virtual selling engagement in which the customer’s attention is more fragmented than it is during in-person meetings.
Sales professionals should take the time to prepare using a three-part structure consisting of an opening, a body, and a closing. Adhering to this framework forces the sales professional to clarify their messaging in advance of the call. If the intent is not completely clear to the sales professional, it will never be clear to the customers
Virtual selling is normalizing fast as new business conditions demand continuity despite restrictions to in-person communication. Sales professionals who are prepared for this new mode of selling will succeed and perhaps even win increasingly valuable market share. Doing so demands a clear understanding of common mistakes stemming from the misunderstanding that virtual selling is merely in-person selling from a screen.