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How to be more effective selling virtually

By Mark Gibson on Oct 14, 2020 4:03:28 PM

Some organizations are beginning to move their sales teams back to work in the company office in staggered shifts to avoid overcrowding of the office space.

The question is, are salespeople more productive working from home or in the office?  The answer may surprise you.  This article is the first of two articles on becoming more successful in virtual selling. The second article is How to Equip and Fund Salespeople for Virtual Selling Success. 

There is a lot of value in the water-cooler effect for salespeople in working in an office with easy access to SME knowledge, meeting people in different departments and sharing stories with colleagues.  However this social aspect aside, salespeople are more productive working from home, and part of the problem is the office itself.

From Open Plan, to Partitions and Back Again

Open plan has been around since commerce began in London in the 18th century.

shared workdesk

Open Plan Desks - the scourge of the 21st Century for Salespeople

Open plan was sold as an innovative concept for offices back in the 1940's, a Frank Lloyd Wright idea implemented first at SC Johnson Wax. Wright’s innovative design was well spaced, but open. The original idea was slowly degraded over the ensuing decades without regard for workers in the typing pool and other clerical roles. This excellent Vox video Open Offices are Over-rated gives a brief history of office design.

For those who were not around before word processing systems were invented, Mad Men was an echo-back to the noisy and impersonal work environment of the typing and clerical pool of those times from the 50's to the 70's.

Then came cubicles, an idea from furniture manufacturer Herman Miller in the 60's.  I started selling in 1981 and the cubicles were 6’ high and covered in brown sound absorbent carpeting and they were a big advance on open plan from a privacy perspective. You could have a normal conversation with someone next to you having a phone conversation without overhearing what was being said at normal volume.

Then the height of the cubicle was reduced several feet and glass was fitted to provide a feeling of connectedness. But the noise level went up drastically as the partitions dropped and the modern surfaces while looking cool, reflected noise instead of absorbing it.

Then came an open-plan work desk with the idea that salespeople use conference room or booth for making calls. I don't know who the genius was who came up with this format, but the idea was sold as a collaborative environment in high density tech-hubs in Boston, San Francisco and New York, when actually, it is a terrible environment for any customer-facing professional making calls. It was cheap though. All of these environments have drawbacks, but from a sales perspective, the open desk setup of today's tech companies really sucks.

Then COVID hit and now everyone is working from home.  While a fraction of the population has always worked from home, now nearly everyone is.

Improving Virtual Selling Productivity

The first and foremost skill salespeople must master is communication.  Great salespeople are great communicators

Whether salespeople work from home or in an office, CEO’s and CFO’s should be budgeting to equip each salesperson’s workspace to enable high-fidelity communication with customers and prospects. The fact that I am even having to mention this shows how little thought has gone into this subject from company leaders.

A quality working environment for a salesperson, whether working from home or in the company office should consist of the following:

  • Their own decent quality 4’ x 3’ desk
  • A top quality ergonomic chair 
  • A standing desk-riser (salespeople should make calls standing up)
  • An external high quality monitor
  • A quality whiteboard drawing surface either mounted directly behind the salesperson or a portable whiteboard sufficient in size to share ideas and readable by the buyer in the Zoom call.
  • A quality microphone, camera and lighting to illuminate the salespersons face and the drawing surface without reflection.
  • Sound damping to eliminate echoes from hard surfaces and from neighboring salespeople if in an office environment.

Salespeople should be more productive working from home as they don't have to leave their workstation to make calls in a small office or booth to avoid the boiler-room buzz of neighboring salespeople.

Family members make appearances from time to time in WFH Zoom calls as does the family cat for a smooch, or the dog with intrusive barking, but with zero commuting to an office and zero travel to in-person calls, it is perfectly reasonable to expect improved productivity.

How to Become more Effective Selling Virtually

Now that we have set up an office environment where salespeople can become more productive, how can we help them to become more effective?

According to several recent surveys, between 50% and 70% of salespeople surveyed believe they are more effective selling in person than virtually.  This is a huge red-flag after 6-months WFH and this is an urgent problem for sales leaders to address.  Could it be that 50% of your salespeople are underperforming on every call?

Virtual Selling Change Drivers

We have interviewed dozens of sales leaders in the past 6-months about the challenges they are facing with a WFH sales team. Here are the key drivers of change raised more than a few times:

  • Weak Pipeline
  • Low win-rates
  • Leading with product
  • Leading with Powerpoint instead of having a conversation
  • Low quota attainment
  • High attrition (voluntary and involuntary)
  • Poor differentiation v competition
  • Discounting to close
  • Deals slip from quarter to quarter
  • Long sales ramp time

Future State Vision

When asked what their vision or goals from an effective WFH enablement program we captured these comments:

  • Salespeople learn to use empathy to develop rapport and trust faster
  • True dialogue vs PowerPoint pitch
  • Acumen + insights + stories to connect
  • Create clarity in articulating value and influence buyer vision
  • Align with the buyer in their buying-process
  • Create aids to sell when you are not there and asynchronously
  • Qualify opportunities better and improve forecasting accuracy
  • Faster sales ramp.

Impact

When asked what the impact of those changes would be, we get the same answers from nearly everyone,

  • Differentiate in HOW we sell
  • Improved win-rate
  • Pipeline acceleration
  • Increased quota attainment
  • The good stuff that comes from these impacts up and down the management chain.

Introducing a Visual Dimension to the Virtual Conversation

As mentioned, salespeople are firstly great communicators.  Sometimes simple ideas can make a huge difference in communicating and that is what we have learned as a result of introducing a whiteboard drawing surface to capture virtual sales conversations.

Enableocity co-founder Corey Sommers wrote the book on Whiteboard Selling.  Corey's latest idea on the use of whiteboards in virtual meetings, combined with conversational frameworks that naturally guide the conversation is a breakthrough that sales leaders need and are embracing to improve virtual selling outcomes from every call.

Here is a whiteboard capture of the conversations we have had with buyers. When this image is embedded in the meeting summary and sent to the buyer post-meeting, it has the potential to walk around the organization and create mindshare when you are not there.

virtual selling whiteboard


Where to From Here

Enableocity is working with leading technology companies today to introduce what we are calling Customer Storyboarding which teaches salespeople the conversational storyboard technique and the conversational framework for each step in the buying process.

As a starting point for each engagement, we ask our customers to equip their sales teams with the equipment mentioned above to create an effective home environment for Remote Meeting Mastery.

Learn more about Remote Meeting Mastery