Virtual selling is the process of selling services or products to customers through digital channels. These channels can range in scope from virtual conferences and webinars to email outreach, social media engagement and much, much more.
Because of its digital, on-demand nature, virtual selling doesn’t need the heavy coordination traditional selling methods require. For example, a salesperson doesn’t need a prospect’s mailing address in order to send a pamphlet or brochure — an email or a guided webinar can easily relay the same information at a time convenient for the prospect.
Not only that, but the salesperson can use the data generated from those interactions — such as time spend in a webinar, resources downloaded and more — to either help nurture the lead or accelerate them to a close.
It’s those digital interactions — and the engagement data they provide — that give virtual selling a unique advantage over traditional methods. In fact, according to a late 2020 survey by McKinsey and Company, 79% of companies say they are likely to maintain their new digital-centric sales model.
And business leaders aren’t complaining. In fact, in the same survey, 65% of B2B decision-makers believe their new sales model is more effective than before the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Conferences, summits and general networking events are powerful venues for generating sales. However, these events are costly in time, money and resources and often don’t provide salespeople with the insights needed to know whether a visitor is interested in a product, ready to close a deal or simply enjoying a working vacation.
While any type of networking is important for sales teams to build and maintain relationships, virtual networking has a few added benefits and advantages to consider:
The lack of geographic barriers provides a sales team with access to a larger group of potential customers.
Asynchronous conversations are possible, allowing representatives to connect with multiple people simultaneously instead of being limited to one spoken conversation at a time.
A wealth of research information about an account is readily available, cutting down on research time.
These are only a few benefits of virtual networking, but there are many other ways to make it worthwhile for your specific situation and business goals. Virtual networking will likely be a valuable skill even as in-person events resume and hybrid events grow in popularity.
What Are the Best Practices for Virtual Selling in a Remote Setting?
Making the initial connection with a buyer and nurturing that relationship over virtual channels isn’t difficult, but there are several best practices to consider while in the discovery phase.
Video is particularly important as it helps create a genuine connection with the buyer and can help provide context the seller would normally get in person, like body language demeanor and overall interest.
When setting up these meetings, confirm with the customer or prospect that a video tool is okay and schedule the appointment and stick with standards of rapport building. Make sure you:
Be your authentic self – Putting on a face during a sales meeting doesn’t impress. Be upfront and honest — it helps to build genuine connections with buyers.
Ask how buyers are doing and feeling – Be empathetic with your account. Ask how they’re doing and how they’re handling a virtual landscape – this not only builds rapport, but can help reveal pain points that would otherwise be missed.
Actively listen to customers – According to a 2020 report by Rain Group, only 26% of buyers say sellers are competent listeners. Beat expectations by actively listening to customers and following up on any insights gleaned from conversations.
Create an experience they enjoy – Virtual selling isn’t just about emails and meetings. The sales operation in an organization will need to team up with its partners in marketing and create on-demand digital experiences that buyers can visit and consume in their own time.
Personalize communications – A personalized email to an account contact is more than just mentioning a name. Review account activities on your CRM, review your notes and ensure each outreach takes into account a buyer’s activity and interactions with your brand.
Use Video to Connect, Build Relationships
Virtual selling lacks a lot of the context salespeople rely on to build rapport. Body language, facial expressions and even the overall tone of an office helps to build context.
Still, there are some best practices to keep in mind when using video in virtual selling scenarios. Let’s take a look at a few now:
Set your goals
Not all video meetings are the same. Introductory and 1:1 calls, for example, are best suited to virtual conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts. Live and personalized demos, by contrast, are better served by tools like webinars.
Think about the goals you need to accomplish and suit your video usage accordingly. For example, if a rep is still in the discovery phase, then a casual video conversation can help illuminate needs and take pressure off.
Conversely, tools like webinars are best suited for situations where there’s either a large group of people who need to attend — like a buying committee — and the presenter needs to control the pace of the presentation or when some attendees cannot attend a meeting and need to consume content on-demand.
Know your tools
There are a lot of video conferencing tools out there and most of them share the same basic feature virtual sellers will need. These features include screen sharing, live chat and window selection to name just three.
The sales organization should pick one tool that suits its needs and stick to it. This can help organizations deliver a consistent experience on each call and cut down on technology creep throughout the organization.
Regardless of the tool you choose, create a best practice or “how-to” guide to ensure the sales team knows how to use the tool and make the most out of its features during a call.
Ensure a good connection
Virtual selling and remote work has opened a lot of opportunities to drive more efficiency. One constraint, however, is bandwidth — and bandwidth is especially important for video calls. These can range for different solutions — especially if you use a lot of features during a live presentation.
Check your preferred video conferencing tool or tools for bandwidth requirements, write them down and circulate those minimums with your sales and IT teams. Once shared, develop a plan to improve bandwidth for remote employees — such as compensation for a more expensive, but faster, internet connection.
Put an end to “can you hear me?”
An often overlooked, but equally important, aspect of video conferencing is audio quality. Make sure your sales team knows how to troubleshoot any audio issues they may encounter — such as a muted microphone — and encourage reps to invest in quality headsets for maximum clarity.
Set up a room for video
Often, virtual selling means selling from home. As we’ve discussed before, sales should take the time to prepare their workspace for being on video. That means ensuring a clean background, making use of good lighting and finding a quiet area where potential interruptions can be minimized.
Virtual Networking & Social Media
Conferences, summits and general networking events have gone digital at the cost of traditional networking opportunities. Sales professionals used to use these in-person events to meet, interact and demonstrate products and services with prospects and current clients.
Now, sales must find alternative ways to network, make new connections and foster existing relationships.
Any type of networking is important for sales teams to build and maintain relationships, but virtual networking has a few added benefits.
You can access a larger group of potential customers because you no longer have geographic barriers to overcome.
You can connect with multiple people simultaneously instead of being limited to one spoken conversation at a time.
You have the ability to look up information about the people you’re connecting with in real-time instead of having to do research on them and their organization before or after the conversation.
Depending on the site you use to connect with people, you may even have a record of your past interactions to reference at a later point.
These are only a few benefits of virtual networking, but there are many other ways to make it worthwhile for your specific situation and business goals. Virtual networking will likely be a valuable skill even as in-person events resume.
As you’re deciding on your virtual networking plan, know that building connections and engaging with audiences depends on a few elements and requires a little bit of homework.
Who to Connect With
The first step is to determine who you want to connect with. As a salesperson, you should keep buying personas in mind and identify the types of people and organizations to focus on. Every person or group may not be of equal value in terms of how likely they are to convert to customers, so it may be worth prioritizing some over others.
Where to Start Making Connections
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are powerful channels and great places to start. But be careful of which channels you choose to connect with a prospect on.
While Facebook alone has almost three billion active users around the world, trying to connect with a prospective customer on what’s considered to be a personal webpage may cross a line with some. Instead, reach out first and ask if it’s okay to connect on a site like LinkedIn or, if they feel it’s okay, Twitter.
Nearly every major social network has groups to join or threads you to follow that are relevant to a specific industry or interest. Follow these as nearly everyone in that group is looking for insights to share with like-minded people.
If you want to get more specific or focus on a certain industry, look for niche social channels or forums. These channels can include sites like SpiceWorks for the Information Technology field or Behance for creative and visual artists.
There are themed social networks for just about every topic, interest and hobby you can think of. Similar to marketing practices, you need to network where your prospects and current clients spend time online so you can find others who are similar. Think beyond the well-known channels.
What to Know Before You Reach Out
Once you’ve found a few places to network, do some quick research before jumping in. Here’s what you should consider:
Research, Prospect and Connect
You need to know what’s going on in the market you’re targeting. Do some general research on the overall field, but also look into the people and organizations you plan to connect with.
Know what prospects and clients expect from you and your product or service. There is usually a minimum threshold they expect you to meet. Know what that is so you can show how your product or service is above it.
Also try to learn about the specific person you’re going to connect with. Do your best to learn how long they’ve been with their company, what role they’re in, any responsibilities they may have and their viewpoints on any relevant topics.
Know that social research is not a once and done activity. Stay in the loop by regularly reviewing industry news and consuming media intelligence reports. Also keep tabs on the people and organizations you’re connecting with. Whether positive or negative, if something happens or changes you want to know so you can reach out with an appropriate message.
Discover Relevant Content and Influencers
Every industry has its heroes and often those heroes are on social media. These heroes are the field’s well-known bloggers, influencers and thought leaders. Connect with these high-value personas on channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. They’re usually in-the-know about the latest industry trends and happenings, so connecting with them allows you to stay up to date with the latest news and expert perspectives in your field.
Because these thought leaders are well tapped into industry events, they’re often producing and sharing the best, most relevant content in your industry. Share this content with your social networks and ask their perspective on the article. This is a great way for you to casually reach out and helps you get a better understanding of their viewpoints so you know what content and themes are important to them going forward.
Don’t limit your content sphere to only these influencers, though. If you find interesting or relevant content on your own, share that too. Be active on social media by engaging with your company’s posts and like, share and comment on posts regularly.
If you’re looking to add a bit of visual appeal or give your posts a uniform look, reach out to your marketing team for tips and suggestions. They may even have some creative elements you can use.
Get Speedy Research with Content Discovery Engines
Like marketers, sales professionals often have an abundance of fast-paced, time-sensitive responsibilities. Often, there’s a limited amount of time available to search for the right type of content to share with social networks. Avoid going down the social media rabbit hole by knowing where to look for interesting and relevant content.
Content discovery engines can help you cut down your search time by identifying new and relevant content for you. RSS feeds like Feedly are great resources for collecting the most interesting content on the web. Tech platforms like Taboola and BuzzSumo can also help refine your searches, should you have access to them.
Discovery engines can also help you identify industry-related questions your prospects and customers may have. You can use sites like Quora, Reddit, SpiceWorks and TechTarget or you could start with Google.
Principles of Social Selling
As you’re thinking about expanding your social networking, remind yourself that this is about social connections. It’s not about selling. That will come later.
Your goal with social selling is to target the right people at the right companies and build a relationship with them. Listen more than you speak and use the information they share to figure out how you can provide a solution to their problems. Find ways to help them without inserting your product or service into the conversation.
As you work to build connections, focus on being consistent and personable. Be a positive resource for your connections or a friendly ear they can reach out to. Building relationships requires a level of trust and that takes time to nurture. Expect to work on a relationship with someone over the course of months.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
If you want to be detailed and analytic about how you nurture your relationships, keep records of your connections and the conversations you have. Since you’re networking online, you’ll most likely have a conversation you can go back and read through.
To make this record-keeping easy, jot down any notes about a contact that are relevant to you or your organization in a notebook or file. Details should include things like who they are, what they do, what organization they’re with, what buying persona they fit, what their pain points are and so on.
Make it a habit to look through your connections regularly to keep tabs on how long it’s been since you were in touch with each connection. Some people like profiles in a notebook or Word doc that they can look through. You can even keep your networking notes as a repeating event in your calendar, so you don’t forget or lose track of time.
Just make sure you remember to update the notes every time you’re in contact with the person. Use whatever system works best for you. You’ve worked hard to build these relationships so don’t let them fall through the cracks.
There are many parts of virtual networking so start small by picking a few key targets. Picking too many people at once can feel daunting to keep up with. Just like your pipeline, quality matters more than quantity.
Providing On-Demand Engagement
Not all virtual selling will take place over scheduled meetings. In fact, a good deal of opportunities will take place without direct interaction from a sales representative. Winning by Design’s Jacco van der Kooij calls these opportunities “Meetingless Interactions” and they encompass basically any sort of digital interaction between a representative and a buyer that doesn’t require communication at a predetermined time or place.
Meetingless interactions can be understood as simply on-demand experiences that include any digital touchpoint a seller creates for a buyer to respond to. Emails and chatbots are good examples, but experiences can also include specialized landing pages, pre-recorded demos and content hubs designed for a particular account.
Creating and curating these digital experiences is essential to virtual selling. By providing more touchpoints for an account, a sales representative can provide more educational resources, more content and more guidance to more buying committee members than they would in a one-off meeting. By providing more on-demand opportunities to interact, the sales organization can increase its selling opportunities to 24/7 and create a system of engagement that compounds conversions and interactions and increases win rates.
So, what can the sales organization do to set up these systems of engagement for virtual selling? Here are a few best practices to keep in mind.
Assess the on-demand experience and meet with marketing
List out the assets available to sales to create on-demand experiences. These can include pre-recorded videos, webinars, specialized landing pages, chatbots and email sequences. Then meet with the marketing team to discuss how to optimize these assets to scale to sales’ needs. Items to discuss include:
Design best practices for experiences
Chatbot copy and targeting
How sales can use customer branding to inform an experience
Relevant content needs
Once sales and marketing agree on fundamental best practices for on-demand experiences, it’s time to actually set the experience up. Usually, creating an account-specific experience will be a joint effort between marketing and sales, but the sales team can also set these experiences up if they’re familiar with the technology and can conform to brand guidelines.
Personalization and Virtual Selling
There are a lot of benefits to creating on-demand digital experiences while virtual selling. One of those benefits is that you can pre-record educational videos and demos to connect with various members of a buying committee. If you have a high-profile account you want to win, it may be worthwhile to sit down and record personalized demos for on-demand consumption.
Here are a few things you can do to make a demo more relevant to an account and a buying committee member:
Make use of the account’s logo in the banner of the demo and any landing pages designed for the account
Tell the account the demo is available on-demand — and that any questions asked through during the demo will be answered
Update demos with new, relevant content as it becomes available
Consolidate your resources into a specialized landing page and share it with the buying committee
With on-demand experiences in place (and integrated with your CRM), you’re ready to make the most out of “meetingless interactions.” When you do so, make sure your account knows it can connect directly with you. Make sure you:
Highlight engagement opportunities at key touchpoints – After an initial kick-off call, let your account know it can find more information by visiting a specialized landing page, a demo or to reach out to you over email or a chatbot.
Create additional content – Buyers will have questions. Make sure you answer those questions in one or two formats. While email is fine, recording a short video showing a solution and sharing that video an account-specific experience is better.
Ask for feedback – Using on-demand experiences for virtual selling is a relatively new phenomenon. So, ask your accounts for feedback to ensure you’re on the right track and answering their questions. This will help improve future iterations of the on-demand virtual selling experience as well.
Crafting a Virtual Selling Strategy
At first glance, it would seem virtual selling — and selling of any sort — rests squarely on the shoulders of sales. This is wrong. While sales is responsible for converting prospects into customers, success depends on tightly coordinated activities between sales, marketing and customer success teams.
Part of the reason why virtual sales is so dependent on cross-team alignment is because — in virtual environments — the buying process is accelerated. Content is consumed faster and prospect decisions are made faster. To coordinate with your teammates in a virtual world, keep these aspects in mind.
Realize Every Touchpoint Is an Opportunity
Buyers consume a lot of content — from white papers and e-books to webinars and podcasts. As a consequence, each department needs to understand that every touchpoint is an opportunity to accelerate deals.
Interactions with marketing activities should signal an account’s interest in a solution, qualify a lead or inform sales of next steps to accelerate a deal. Inquiries from a customer to customer success should help with cross-selling, upsell, retention or all of them at once.
Sales, too, needs to provide feedback to both departments. Marketing needs to know which collateral drives results, the quality of the leads they share with sales and generally any sort of real-world feedback they can use to optimize their content.
Similarly, customer success teams need to hear from the sales team to provide the best service possible. During a handoff, reps should inform the customer success team of any potential pain points the buyer had during the purchase process. Common issues can include resistance to pricing to early-stage pain points the buyer may face further down the line.
Use your (quality) data to delight
Virtual selling means there will be a lot of digital touchpoints between your buyer and your brand. Fortunately for your organization, the more touchpoints a buyer makes the more likely they are to generate quality data you can act on.
But simply having the ability to generate data isn’t enough. Data must be organized and must be in service of overarching goals to have a real impact on revenue. Once again, sales will need to align with marketing and customer success departments.
Make Sure Your Data House Is In Order
The first step to making the most out of your data is ensuring your data house is in order. That means coordinating with marketing and customer success to integrate technologies with your organization’s preferred CRM. Doing so will give your sales team a comprehensive overview of accounts — from where they are in the buying process to where they’re looking for improvements as a customer.
The importance of having a tightly integrated and accurate data cannot be overstated. Done right, this data will inform the targeting, personalization, segmentation and communications that’ll help you to move prospects along the buying cycle. Good data will also help assess how well your sales and marketing departments are performing — and help identify problem areas requiring attention.
Establish measurable goals between both departments so your organization has integrated its various technologies with your CRM. Your sales team has a holistic view of accounts and any interactions are logged in your CRM automatically and inform any additional communications with a prospect. That’s it for alignment, right?
Not exactly. If sales is going to be truly aligned with other departments, it needs to set up established, measurable goals.
Establish revenue-oriented goals like net-new customers, retention or a simple revenue goal.
Agree on a set of metrics that’ll help track performance and drive optimization actions.
Make these metrics are easy to access so sales, marketing and customer success can measure performance.
Assess Success and Plan for Improvements
Buyers who turn into customers will need to be introduced to the customer success team. A smooth handoff between sales and customer success is important as it creates delightful interactions for customers and turns newly acquired clients into brand advocates.
Ensuring sales and customer success is aligned is essential because customers expect a seamless transition from the buying experience with sales to being an active client needing product support. To make this happen, both departments should meet regularly to discuss priorities and establish shared goals to tighten interdepartmental relationships.
Alignment between the two departments must start at the top. Sales and customer success leaders should meet once a week to discuss the top priorities facing each department and assess any challenges in the handoff process. Ensuring both departments are on the same page is essential to customer success and ensuring your customers are educated on all the solutions your organization provides.
Sales and customer success need to be invested in one another’s success. To make this a reality, create some shared goals for both departments to pursue. These goals can include nurturing and retention to upselling and cross-selling services and products a specific account could actually use.
What’s essential to virtual selling today is ensuring your teams — marketing, sales and customer success — are available as resources for customers and prospects. Make sure your teams set aside time to regularly interact with one another to optimize handoffs, share insights and update each other on any issues they may notice.
Align with Marketing
Marketing and sales must have a relationship if sales is to be successful in its virtual selling efforts. The two departments need to coordinate content creation, agree on lead qualification and set measurable goals the two departments can work towards and have a handoff plan in order. When working with marketing, make sure your sales team:
Has a key understanding of what goals are shared between the two departments and why.
Is aware of the marketing team’s capacity to take on additional work with sales.
Keeps up to date with design and brand guidelines.
Has easy access to brand messaging assets, often provided by marketing.
Provides the marketing team with actionable feedback to drive improvements in content and digital experiences.
In addition to these elements, sales and marketing leaders will need to sit down and develop a revenue strategy the organization can align to. These strategies are essential, as they’ll inform the tactics that marketing and sales will coordinate on and impact the overall prospect experience.
Virtual selling tools to consider
CRM – Customer relationship management solutions, such as Salesforce, ZoHo, Pega and Sage CRM, provide sales with a unified source of truth. These tools allow teams to see an account’s buying journey, from where they are in the process to current contracts and more.
Digital Experiences Platforms – Digital experiences, like webinars, content hubs and virtual events, provide sales with the engagement data needed to assess a prospect’s likelihood to buy. Platforms, like the ON24 Digital Experience Platform, often provide organizations with the ability to easily integrate within a tech stack and seamlessly send data from an event to a sales representative in near real-time.
Social Media and Amplification – Social media platforms play a critical role in virtual selling. They empower sales to share insights and messaging and allow them to connect with customers and more. Organizations can centralize and enhance social selling efforts through social amplification tools like PostBeyond, GaggleAMP, Hootsuite Amplify and more.
Virtual Meeting – The goal of any sales outreach is to set up a meeting with a prospect or customer. To conduct meetings virtual, consider powerful meeting tools like Microsoft Teams, Join.me and Google Meet. Alternatively, you could consider integrating meeting availability within virtual events and webinars with ON24 Breakouts.