We have been talking about making the shift to digital buying for a few years now. But the pandemic has accelerated all of that. In the last year, we have shifted our focus to transitioning from offline to online selling. It’s time to get serious (and real) about virtual selling and how to make it happen.
Enabling the Seller, Engaging the Customer
When it comes to the world of sales, like most others, a lot has shifted to the virtual space. What was initially thought of as a temporary adjustment is looking more permanent a year into the pandemic.
And that can be a good thing.
The 21st century is going to be ruled by the online presence for any business. And perhaps, now is a good time to try new approaches, make mistakes and learn before the competition surges miles ahead. And if that is not appealing enough, consider the fact that taking things online can be a far more cost-effective way of selling.
According to the 2020 Survey of CSOs by Gartner Research, 23 percent of chief sales officers are game for a permanent shift. Now, it is true that a larger number of CSOs are still reluctant about such a permanent move. But if their customers respond well to the makeshift arrangements, they will have no choice but to take the leap.
And this is not lost even on those who don’t want to permanently take field sales off the table. As a result, many sales leaders are making large-scale shifts to virtual sales.
This means that sellers will no longer conduct their business through live meetings. Instead, this will move to virtual-first selling that matches the requirements of a remote culture.
This requires many aspects of the business to change—including but not limited to—using new tech platforms and rightsizing content and pitches. Sellers will also need better pre-call planning and be able to help their customers in their decision-making.
So, leaders must understand that time and again, their teams will need training sessions to keep up with the new technology and improve their sales techniques while using these new platforms.
That brings us to enabling the team and engaging the customer. Sales teams need a framework to adapt to the new strategies designed by their leadership. When it comes to enabling the sellers, the leadership needs to focus on skills, training and efficient onboarding for those who are jumping directly into the pond of virtual sales. This might also involve providing the team members with the equipment that allows them to do their job efficiently.
When it comes to customer engagement, it is important to strategize presale calls and prepare for meetings beforehand so that the virtual interactions are engaging and productive. Here are a few insights into how to make that happen.
Enabling the Seller Virtually
When we talk about enablement for sellers, it is not just about making a plan and delivering the sales interactions. This process starts by getting the sellers equipped to deal with the technology they will be using. A huge chunk of the sales force will be operating virtually at least in the near future if not permanently. So, this is actually a long-term investment.
Let’s talk about training for a brief second. The leadership is responsible for delivering training through live sessions with experts or through self-paced e-learning modules. Either way, the sellers should be able to decide on the level of advancement and if they need help in understanding a particular module, they might be provided with expert advice.
Since sales, even virtually, is a communicative skill, it is important to teach the sellers skills like discovery, active listening, social selling, managing stakeholders and delivering commercial insights effectively.
They must also be equipped to deal with consensus negotiation and facilitation virtually. These are all key parts of the job and while we would all love to get in a room and work it out, the world has changed drastically in just a year and that is no longer a safe option.
Sellers must also be taught about the new skills they will need for their job. As in, tell them what is expected of them even before scheduling training sessions to make them digitally more dextrous. One example of such a skill is their ability to track, read and understand analytics which will give them insights into changing patterns under these new circumstances.
Then there are the new recruits. While the switch can be quite difficult for existing employees who are used to a certain rhythm, those who are newly onboarded have their own set of challenges to deal with.
To make the orientation easy, it is important to organize the content of the training sessions in a way that they get a quick start with the critical points of information.
This means basic sales processes, information about the product and such. These packets of information can be passed on through e-learning modules so that the new recruits have basic information about things like product features which can be done without expert advice.
Once they finish these modules, they can move on to the next level which involves steps like tool training with a live facilitator. Complex subjects can be broken down by hosting live sessions. Make sure the size of the class is small and the sessions are interactive.
Then there is the aspect of upgrading tech support so that all the operations can move seamlessly from offline to online. This step obviously starts from assessing existing capabilities. Understand what you have and what you need to get the team where you need it to be. Only then can you introduce new tools.
You must also get rid of technologies that no longer serve the purpose, are not effectively used or are redundant. Talk to managers and train them and the sellers on how to use tools like Webex, Zoom, and Google Suite. This, along with messengers like Slack and Teams that make sharing content within the team and with customers easy.
Don’t shy away from adopting artificial intelligence and process automation that can help with analytics and improve selling capacity. The pipeline needs an upgrade right from lead development to capturing the sentiment in the market that were missed when traditional methods were used. This is a good time to reassess that situation and gap those holes.
Then comes the aspect of conducting sales events and kickoffs effectively. Let’s talk about that for a brief moment. For each of these events, you need a theme that is a mix of live and recorded sessions. These events are typically spread over one to four days. You need presentations and/or interactions with content that is concise. Make sure there are 60 to 90-minute packets that also accommodate frequent breaks to ease fatigue.
The in-person kickoff events need to be reworked to ensure that online consumer communities are clued in. This gives sellers and customers the opportunity to discuss issues, showcase examples from customers, ask and answer questions and talk about the best practices.
Engaging the Customer Virtually
Speaking of interacting with customers, there is a lot to unpack in this area. It is critical to plan efficiently for virtual sessions to maintain engagement with the customers. Sellers are well aware that this planning requires taking a few essential steps in a limited amount of time when things were being done in the field. Virtual sessions are no different.
When the planning pays off, you get the highest returns. But now, sales teams are facing several new challenges that are causing virtual selling to slow down. This means sellers are forced to collaborate with partners on sales calls to iron out these issues on a daily basis.
We are talking about live meetings that require more and better coordination. This is an inconvenience for all parties involved and eventually causes the customer to have a bad experience. Sellers need to be able to handle these live meetings and efficiently interact with customers over video conferencing platforms to deliver their message.
So, it is important to teach the sellers that on virtual platforms, customers have a shorter attention span. This can be gauged from their body language and expressions, things that are easier to read in person.
Decision-makers must learn how to delegate some of these calls to junior contacts so that they can better utilize their time. For that to happen, the junior team needs to be well prepped.
Virtual interactions with stakeholders to make big decisions are also an important part of managing similar sessions with customers effectively. Every decision you make with your stakeholders directly impacts your customers. So, the same logic about attention spans and body language is important to grasp while building consensus.
Top Priorities for CSOs in 2021
Now, a look at the future of sales leadership. There is a major shift in digital transformation and the technological needs of the sales departments across the board. And, in the last year, it has become more than clear that our reliance on online solutions is not going to go away any time soon.
As much as we would love to go back to the old ways, that might not be an option. So, whether a company is moving its operations to the virtual space for a short period of time or permanently, here are a few goals for CSOs in 2021.
Account Growth through Managers
From customer service tasks to attempts to grow the number of accounts, those who manage these accounts have a lot on their plate. This can cause a dent in your account growth. It is important for them to focus on customer improvement activities like offering the customer a critical perspective that is unique and informative.
However, research shows that 88 percent of account managers believe that above and beyond service is what generates growth. It certainly helps retain accounts but does not actually drive growth. There is a difference.
When customers get a sense of return on their investment (this includes their time), they are likely to come back for more. It also helps the word of mouth strategy.
It is difficult to keep good sellers in the market if the management is weak. When the economy and the organization are doing well, loopholes in the management become more apparent. That is because your growth starts to get affected because of bad management policies when everything else is conducive.
Having a good manager is highly rewarding because they keep the morale high, can hire good talent and retain the existing good apples. These managers are often identified by their integrity, listening skills, reliability and ability to demonstrate leadership. But, most importantly, good managers:
- Have excellent judgment when it comes to facilitating sellers’ instincts that encourage them to take calculated risks and keeps their heads in the game
- Like to encourage the team to innovate while facing challenges head on and also encourage them to learn and share those learnings
- Make room for actionable coaching and have an open communication line with their team which makes them a good mentor.
Execution: How to Deliver Effective Sales Events
Now, this opens up your brand’s ability to deal with customers directly. Needless to say, that also requires a lot of planning so that the customer is not put off.
These events are often a great opportunity for the team to bond and connect with each other. In that sense, a virtual event is not very different from an in-person one.
Sellers come together to share their best practices and put on a good show. This is also the time for CSOs to strengthen the connection between these remote participants and boost their morale. That makes all the difference.
This can be done by planning team-building activities. Encourage the sales enablement team leaders to come up with ideas that can be executed during the virtual kickoff. Here are a few concepts to get you started.
- Invite guests from the entertainment industry or have group yoga sessions
- Send gift packages to participants like you would for an in-person kickoff
- Conduct scavenger hunts, virtual karaoke sessions or trivia contests
The main goal of these virtual kickoffs is to make sure that there is a lot of formal and informal engagement. Make sure that there are chat rooms where this can happen.
- You can start by throwing a couple of questions on top and encourage the participants to discuss them
- The presenters can mention it during their sessions and give the audience the much-needed push to get involved
- Q&A sessions can also be held in these chatrooms after each session
It is very important to keep in mind that your participants and guests have other time commitments. Make an effort to find out what those are and respect them. We like to save best for last but when it comes to these events, you might want to place the best material at an optimal place so that it gets delivered to the maximum crowd.
It can’t be up top when people are still joining and it can’t be in the end when people have left. And at a well-timed point, make sure all the stakeholders stay on for a few minutes to discuss the progress.
Moving From Stage to Screens
One of the big changes when it comes to digital transformation is physically moving everything from pen and paper to the screens. CSOs must trickle this philosophy down to their enablement leaders so that those who are creating content, whether for an event or otherwise, know how to structure their presentations.
This means sellers should understand that their content must have more multimedia so that it is easy to understand and engaging. This must be done while keeping in mind that the sessions might be shorter than what they are used to.
When you move presentations from a stage to a screen, you need to remember that the flow of information is often one way. This means sellers must come together to share what they learned in training to make room for course correction.
With each event, it is important to have a follow-up and talk about what they have learned and how to apply those, either to the remaining part of the session or when handling customers after the event itself.
Then there is the transition of content. When events are conducted virtually, there are so many ways to make conversations interesting. You can conduct chats and polls during a session.
You can also ask the presenters to keep their message actionable. Each presentation (with one-way information flow) should be no longer than 20 minutes. The entire event itself should be less than a week. Add hourly 10-minute breaks to all meetings that last more than an hour.
Once the event comes to an end, it is important to conduct briefings to discuss the learnings. Many CSOs prefer seller mission sheets. You can also design activities for enablement leaders and frontline sellers to execute the learnings using the new tech in different scenarios. Basically, you design simulations and let the sellers and managers play them out. This role-playing can be accommodated using video coaching tools.
Why It Is Important to Have a Successful Virtual Event
It is not enough to conduct a kickoff well if you can’t swoop in and reap the benefits. Now, this is a critical part of a CSO’s job. And it involves understanding the intersection of technology and a sales event. For this, we need to go back to the planning stage and see what CSOs must focus on.
When it is time to create the strategy for a sales event virtually, it is important to take all key stakeholders into account. A charter must be established by the seller enablement leaders right away when the planning begins. This will be a document that outlines the scope of all planning workflows.
If this is your first virtual kickoff, you must make extra room for technology-related deliberations. You must have backup plans for every new tech tool that is being put into place. That means you need a lot of dry runs, recordings and storage options.
The Importance of Training the Personnel
Speaking of the importance of training, there are a few challenges to overcome. Training isn’t exactly an aspect that is known for its return on investment, especially if the sellers do not retain the information.
That is why self-paced sessions are said to be better so that the participants can take a break as and when they want. This keeps them engaged with the content. But it is the job of the leadership to understand what technologies can deliver these learning modules better and which ones make it more challenging.
Presently, the training scene for sales is quite complex. Every seller comes with a different set of skills and knowledge base. Sometimes, they are in different time zones and are dealing with markets of a different nature.
So, planning and executing learning modules that are useful and applicable to all can be challenging.
The Bottom Line
We now know that CEOs are focused on profitable growth. As a result, CSOs are starting to focus on better pipeline activities. The problem is that marketing and sales have different points of view when it comes to recognizing quality leads.
Sales leaders are known to reject 55 percent of the leads that marketing deems qualified. This is because marketing thinks in terms of lead quantity while sales focuses on the context and quality of the lead. CSOs need better feedback mechanisms to remove inconsistencies and get the interests of both these teams to align.
And while we are talking about priorities, let’s not forget all the tech talk that needs to be had before the next virtual event needs to be planned.