Article

Virtual selling: What success in virtual sales looks like

As the sales world becomes more familiar with virtual selling, former “road warriors” have had to learn best practices for a digital-first approach.

By Patrick Grieve, Staff Writer

Published September 20, 2021
Last updated October 15, 2021

Remote sales have become increasingly common, but it took a pandemic to truly establish virtual selling as the new normal.

A McKinsey survey conducted in the wake of Covid-19 found that over 75 percent of buyers and sellers alike now prefer virtual sales meetings over face-to-face interactions. And just 20 percent of B2B buyers said they wanted to go back to in-person presentations of the past.

This would seem to be the evolution of the classic “road warrior” salesperson. Today’s sales reps are spending less time living out of their suitcases, and more time in their home offices (or repurposed guest rooms, walk-in closets, and kitchen corners). And as a result, they’ve needed to adopt new virtual selling skills and tools for success.

Preparing for virtual sales meetings

As sales presentations move from boardrooms to Zooms, sales reps have had to adjust their game plans. Certain relationship dynamics get lost in translation when moving from in-person to virtual sales meetings.

But with the right strategizing, sales reps can overcome these obstacles and still have productive calls in this new virtual world.

Prioritize process over speed

In an increasingly digital-first sales terrain, prospects have more information at their fingertips than ever before.

“Every virtual sales meeting that we go into, we have to assume that they have already done tons of research,” says Monica Telles, Vice President of Zendesk Sell. “The plus side of that is that decisions are being made quicker than ever before. But the downside is that we’re getting away from that standard sales process that we used to run through because things are moving so quickly.”

Most prospects can independently read up on your product and compare it to your competitors. By the time you meet with a potential customer, they may have already run through the sales process in their mind and might be close to a decision. That momentum can be good if they’re leaning towards a purchase, or bad if they’re developing negative preconceived notions.

“At Zendesk, we’ve been enforcing MEDDPIC, and making sure that we still slow the sales process down,” Monica says. “Because customers are ready to move so fast that we can miss a lot of steps. And suddenly we don’t know what happened, because we didn’t take the time to slow it down and do the proper discovery upfront that you would typically do if you were planning an onsite meeting.”

Ask your sales champion for insights

A sales champion is the point-of-contact within the organization you’re selling to who will advocate hardest for the solution you’re providing. Champions are often instrumental during closing, but they can also be tremendously helpful when planning a virtual sales meeting.

“We continuously lean on sales champions that can help us build the presentation that will best meet their company’s needs,” says Monica. “Because every company is different. I came from Amazon, where it’s all narrative-based and you don’t really present. So you wouldn’t want to go into a meeting with them presenting a whole PowerPoint, you would adapt to what that company does and write a narrative.”

You can also ask your champion for additional pointers on what buttons to push, what topics to avoid, and how to make the virtual sales meeting run as smoothly as possible.

Conducting virtual sales calls

As you’re engaging with prospects through virtual sales calls, it’s important to power past the Zoom fatigue and get their attention.

“Everybody is on these calls far too often, everybody has their camera off, everybody is just trying to get through the next half an hour,” explains Andrew Hansen, Zendesk’s Director of Commercial and Enterprise Sales. “And our job is to get an unfair share of the prospect’s time and mindshare and get them to prioritize us. The only way we can do that is by creating a back and forth conversation.”

Make time for conversation

Hansen’s approach to virtual selling is to consciously carve out time to build relationships.

“As far as structuring a good virtual sales call agenda, I think it’s very important to leave an ample amount of time at the end of the meeting for debrief and setting next steps,” he says. “And make sure that as the account executive, you give your prospect enough room to share their needs or talk about their situation, rather than just presenting on what your tool does.”

Though it can be challenging to cover everything, Hansen recommends leaving at least 10 minutes at the end of the presentation to listen to the prospect and establish next steps. It’s also a good idea to take a few moments up top to break the ice.

“Some of our top agents will not only schedule 10 minutes to talk at the end of the meeting, but they’ll also pad the beginning for small talk,” Hansen says. “When you’re trying to get somebody in the headspace to have a productive conversation, that small talk at the beginning can be pretty effective at getting them to open up.”

Something as simple as asking about a prospect’s weekend or referencing something local can make a virtual sales call feel a bit more casual and personable right off the bat.

Use fewer slides to spark more interaction

The conversation shouldn’t end after you start your presentation.

Instead of going through your slides and reciting the text verbatim, try to use each one as a jumping-off point for more discussion. And be sure to keep the slide count fairly low to allow room for that sort of engagement.

“Generally, the fewer slides the better,” Hansen advises. “The best presentations that I see are five to ten slides, and on each slide, a sales agent is spending two to five minutes talking about it in more detail and having a back and forth with the prospect.”

In other words, each slide should function as a conversation starter. And the longer your presentation, the less time there is to talk.

“If you’re showing up with 30 slides and going through them one by one, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Hansen warns.

Document and analyze each virtual sales call

One way to get better at leading virtual sales meetings is to document yourself and then study the tape.

Some revenue intelligence technologies can record, transcribe, and analyze every virtual sales call that you have. That essentially automates the note-taking process, allowing sales agents to focus all of their attention on the conversation. It also turns all of your virtual sales meetings into data that can be leveraged for valuable insights.

“At Zendesk we’ve started using Gong, which does a really good job of taking the virtual sales meeting and building an analysis of it based on historical results that have occurred,” Hansen says. “So if you’re forecasting a deal and pricing doesn’t come up, Gong will capture that. If you’re talking more than your client is talking, Gong will capture that.”

By reviewing your performance after every virtual sales meeting, you can continually find ways to make the next one better.

Employing virtual selling skills and tools

Beyond planning, leading, and learning from virtual sales meetings, there are other practices that sales teams should adopt to succeed in a digital-first environment.

Road warriors who have had to evolve throughout the pandemic need new strategies for engaging prospects. And when it is safe and feasible to meet in person, they need tools that will help make life on the road easier than ever before.

Get creative with video outreach

The more crowded the virtual selling space becomes, the harder it is to make yourself heard. If you want to be noticed by prospects, you likely need a more unique approach to outbound lead generation.

“Everyone gets emails and everyone gets phone calls, so you’re just getting buried in a long, long list of terrible sales prospecting efforts,” says Tom McConnell, a Senior Sales Manager at Zendesk. “I have a sales team that is incredibly personable and creative, and one way they’ve been able to bring that quality out has been video making.”

Companies like Vidyard and BombBomb allow sales agents to record, edit and send a video of themselves delivering a personalized message to their prospect or customer. These short clips add a personal touch to the prospecting process, while also showcasing the agent’s personality and knowledge of the prospect’s business or industry.

“That has become incredibly fruitful for us because people would rather watch a thirty-second clip than read through a trove of like terrible emails,” McConnell says. “It’s a way to make virtual sales a more personal experience. Because you can no longer just do a drop by and say, ‘hey, I’m flying into town to see a customer, would you like to grab a coffee?’”

Video messages can also be used for other stages of the sales cycle, such as proposals. And the technology allows you to see who watched what, so you know which leads are interested and worth pursuing.

Establish more personal connections

Another advantage of using video for virtual sales is that prospects are more likely to respond to you when they attach a face to your name. But when people think of you as only an email address, they may not feel guilty “ghosting” you.

“Typically when customers meet with you in person, you get to build that type of personal connection where they feel some sort of onus to get back to you, even if no decision is made,” Monica says. “And I think we have found more in this virtual selling world that customers will just disappear.”

Video is one way to establish a more personal connection with someone. But it’s also wise to develop more than one foothold with the prospect’s company.

“The biggest thing that we’ve been focused on is exact alignment,” explains Monica. “Getting lots of people within Zendesk involved in connecting with different people within the prospect’s company. Just peeling off the relationships and having, for example, our customer success person meet directly with their ops person, and having someone from professional services build a relationship with someone high up in IT.”

By cultivating a host of different relationships, you can help develop the sort of personal connection that would traditionally come from onsite visits.

Use a mobile selling app for occasional in-person sales

While the traditional “road warrior” archetype may be outdated, sales agents will never completely and permanently abandon travel. Even now, companies are closely monitoring the evolving Covid-19 situation and scheduling face-to-face sales meetings when they’re deemed safe and necessary.

In that sense, the modern road warrior is a sales agent that can seamlessly transition from virtual selling at home to in-person selling as needed. That requires flexibility on the part of the salesperson, as well as a flexible tool that they can take out into the world.

Zendesk customers use the Zendesk mobile selling app for iOS and Android, which puts all the functionality of a full-fledged desktop CRM right on your phone.

The mobile app allows sales agents to contact a prospect or customer, get directions to their location and identify other prospects that are within the same area. Agents can also pull up their customer notes in the app and effortlessly create new notes with voice to text. When salespeople make a call through the app, it will record the conversation for future use.

In short, it does everything you’d normally need your laptop for if you were out in the field.

“If I parachute down into my territory and I open up the mobile app, I’ll see a map that shows all of my prospects and customers in the area, and directions for how to get to them,” McConnell says. “Let’s say I meet with one of them and my takeaway is, ‘Hey, just had a great chat with so-and-so, they’re looking at pricing and they want to have a call about an integration.’ If I just speak that into the app, that gets saved to a note in the CRM, and I’m off and away.”

Equipping yourself for a hybrid sales world

The transition to virtual selling creates new opportunities as well as challenges. Though the vast majority of buyers and sellers are comfortable with the change, it would be premature to declare the death of the handshake.

“I’ve always been a believer in building relationships and working deals remotely as much as possible because it allows you to be more effective with your time,” says Andrew. “But if you have a big opportunity, meeting a prospect face-to-face is extremely helpful—especially at the beginning or towards the end of a deal. And if the customer is comfortable with that and you can set safety parameters around that meeting, I think there’s still room for that.”

Zendesk’s CRM is capable of generating leads, tracking prospects in your pipeline, automating and recording customer communications, and much more. And the mobile sales app comes at no additional license costs, allowing you to take all those virtual selling tools with you on the road.

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