Salespeople and the companies who employ them need to be innovative to navigate the “new normal.”
Salespeople have been engaged in virtual sales activities for decades, but such activities were not necessarily viewed as mission-critical to business growth until recently. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, virtual selling has accelerated almost overnight to become a primary lifeline for business-building activities. Increasingly, sales leaders are adjusting to the “new normal” by incorporating virtual selling into their repertoire of doing business. An emerging consensus among sales researchers and industry experts is that virtual selling skills will be necessary for success even after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Others conclude that while virtual selling may not become the exclusive approach to sales, it is likely to remain a permanent part of most salespeople’s routines.
Challenges to Going Virtual
As many sales leaders have summarized, there are two main challenges associated with virtual sales. One is the virtual part and the other is the selling part. Virtual sales are generally considered more challenging than traditional sales because of the added skills that are needed, including:
Given these extra skill requirements, it is not surprising that research by Bain & Company found that only 25% of salespeople wanted to switch completely to a virtual sales model. Moving forward, it is likely that sales organizations will need to adapt to some type of hybrid sales model that incorporates both virtual and in-person communication modes to satisfy the preferences of the clients they serve. Some clients may request in-person meetings, product demonstrations and/or presentations.
“The salespeople who are likely to succeed in the virtual economy are those who can excel in both virtual and traditional sales.”
Conversely, there are other corporate clients who have found that the virtual sales process is not a hindrance to acquiring information and making buying decisions and therefore have less need for face-to-face communication. There are also other clients who are accustomed to phone communications, but now prefer video calls to simulate in-person communication. The salespeople who are likely to succeed in the virtual economy are those who can excel in both virtual and traditional sales.
Selling is Still a Contact Sport
While there is always some uncertainty associated with future trends in sales, there remains a constant factor required for sales success. Regardless of sales models, technologies or market conditions, salespeople must consistently fill their pipelines by initiating contact with new and existing customers. However, it’s true that most salespeople experience some degree of fear or discomfort with initiating customer engagement. This tendency is referred to as Call Reluctance. Salespeople with higher levels of Call Reluctance tend to avoid opportunities to interact with potential buyers, limiting their ability to meet sales revenue goals and expand their customer base, regardless of contact modality.
A comparative study was conducted to examine whether levels of Call Reluctance differed significantly between salespeople who are equally comfortable engaging in both virtual and in-person sales from those who are less adaptable. The results indicate that salespeople who are more adaptable in their sales approach have less Call Reluctance as compared to others. Those individuals who experience the least amount of fear or discomfort when contacting potential buyers are salespeople who are comfortable engaging in both virtual and in-person sales. The results obtained in this study support the findings obtained by other researchers examining virtual sales activity.
As reported in the RAIN Group’s recent publication, Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely, salespeople who are more adaptable to virtual selling are averaging two to three times more client meetings than they had in the past. These individuals are converting time previously spent on flights, airport delays, traffic and other travel-related time-consuming activities to increase their sales activities.
Develop Skills to Defeat Any Challenge
Although some salespeople have been successful in these challenging times, others who are less adaptable continue to struggle. Accordingly, some of these salespeople have adopted the strategy to simply wait until things return to “normal.” However, that is not likely to happen. Forecasts have been supported by repeated studies which suggest that even after the current pandemic has passed, the shift to a more virtual work model is here to stay.
Investing in opportunities that strengthen new sales skills that can overcome any obstacle—especially for salespeople who are struggling with virtual selling—could be an important step in developing new and existing talent for companies and a difference-maker in a salesperson’s career path.
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Trelitha R. Bryant is the Director of Research & Field Testing at Behavioral Sciences Research Press. Known worldwide as the original source of ground-breaking discoveries about how fear inhibits individuals’ abilities to make themselves visible, or “Call Reluctance®” in salespeople, BSRP has developed a variety of behaviorally anchored assessments and training interventions to assist in the hiring process and to help today’s professional “Earn What They’re Worth.”