“Creativity and psychosis often go hand in hand. Or, for that matter, genius and madness.” – The Queen’s Gambit
There was a time when chess play was strictly a face-to-face endeavor – the “remote” option was through the mail. Referred to as correspondence chess, each player sent his or her moves via a postcard, in the mail – you can imagine matches taking years to complete.
Of course, with the advent of the telegraph and telephone, long-distance matches popped up around the globe. But not until the internet and computerized gaming did the ability to truly play anyone at any time from anywhere on the planet come into being. In fact, Windows included a free chess game with each version.
Yet for all the technological transformations, the game of chess remains the same: 64 squares, two colors, 16 pieces for each color, each piece has a specific role and unique abilities. Each match starts off simply enough – there are only 20 possible moves at the beginning of every game. From there, the complexity grows exponentially.
Today, almost anything can and is done virtually – such as virtual selling.
According to Gartner: “Virtual selling is the collection of processes and technologies by which salespeople engage with a customer remotely with both synchronous and asynchronous communications. These communications are often replacing in-person, face-to-face sales conversations and have become increasingly prevalent in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Let’s focus on the phrase “Replacing in-person, face-to-face sales conversations … ”
One of my first ventures into remote selling occurred in 2007. Our programs included quarterly business reviews and our service area included most of southern California – from LA to the Mexico border, from Newport Beach to the high desert – an enormous geographical span, about 56,000 square miles. Performing on-site business reviews required logistic planning to secure internal resources, (service technicians, subject matter experts, upper management, etc.) as well as customer influencers, stakeholders and end-users.
Additionally, I’d order breakfast/lunch/snacks to be delivered before our session, for both my team and the client’s. The novelty was one thing, but the efficiency and productivity of each meeting was incredible. All parties participated, the roles were blurred and hierarchies flattened.
These sessions added tremendous value, deepened relationships and grew sales.
Here’s how we did it back then:
- We sent invites and confirmations early and often
- Detail-oriented pre-planning: Review the agenda with the team, gather questions and concerns from our side (e.g., billing issues, service concerns and usage)
- Team presentation with my entire crew: service technicians, contract/accounts payable, dispatch and ownership would participate and present
- Agenda: brief, showing milestones and next stages
- Presentation: history, graphs and onsite pictures. I would utilize employee quotes around the success of our installation and goals achieved. The presentation was brief, five to 10 slides.
Nothing in the above five points should surprise anyone in sales. These are timeless, foundational pillars of the professional selling methodology. The best ideas on how to approach prospects, build rapport and trust, present a clear and succinct message and guide a prospect through the cycle still apply. True, significant differences exist, not the least of which is the inability to be in the same room as the people to whom you are presenting. This obstacle is daunting, but take solace in the fact that although times are different, transformation inevitable, we currently possess 90% of the skillset required to succeed and thrive in a post-COVID-19, remote selling realm. We know how to maintain contact, pre-plan meetings, present in teams under an agenda and convey concepts in a simple, well organized manner – we know the right moves.
For everything that is common between then and now, here are a few of the most profound differences between 2007 and today:
- Life is more online – The online life is ubiquitous. There is no longer “virtual selling”; it is simply selling.
- Physical cues are no longer viable – It is difficult to get a “read” from your prospect, and projecting confidence and professionalism requires more than a suit and tie.
- Less formal – Work from home means kids and pets can interrupt your meeting and that is OK. In a strange way, virtual selling allows us to be more human.
- Ad hoc – You can move from the phone to a video demo or needs assessment in minutes. “Do you have time right now to see more?” is a great transition.
- Multi-channel approach – LinkedIn is now commonplace and the phone, email and social media all help supplement face-to-face communication. We need to be present on multiple social networks and create a web presence.
There are many challenges, but two stand out for me:
Body language. “Every move he made was so obvious.” In the age of virtual selling, lighting, background, a good microphone, and the right camera positioning are paramount in projecting confidence and professionalism. The camera displays everything, so projection is more nuanced in a virtual setting.
- Place the camera at eye-level or just a bit higher.
- Utilize natural white light behind the camera, illuminating your face.
- Invest in a decent microphone and camera.
- Look directly into the camera lens.
- Small gestures go a long way: nod in agreement, smile into the camera, express with your face and use your hands.
- All the normal practices still apply; sit up straight, pay attention, talk plainly, and keep it simple.
Advantage: prospect. “It’s chess sales, we’re all prima donnas.”
Since the birth of the internet, salespeople have been losing control of the selling cycle. Salespeople were once the keepers of specifications and capabilities of the products we sold. When a prospect wanted to learn about different options, they were forced to talk with salespeople.
Here are three primary aspects of how we’ve lost sway over the process:
- Decision maker can easily cancel or not show. It is more cumbersome to cancel a meeting when there is a sales team in the lobby than it is to reschedule an online session minutes before start time.
- Easy to tune out irrelevant content. You’ve seen it happen in real life — that one person who actually falls asleep during your 27-slide company introduction. Well, in the virtual world, you may never know who is not engaged. They turn off the camera, and you are running blind, literally.
- Influencers are no longer under influence of the charm and charisma of the presenter. The adept persuader utilizes biofeedback to pace and motivate action from the prospect. It is no impossible, just more difficult to perform via a camera. Your fancy watch will not impress the gatekeeper. Your beaming smile and alluring perfume will not enchant the purchasing agent. That multi-million-dollar showroom in your palatial offices means nothing.
The fluff, pomp and circumstance – the “off-the-board” mind games – melt away leaving more logic than emotion, more conscious than subconscious decisions. The client is in more control of the purchasing decision than ever before in the history of selling.
The moral is simple.
For both the new and seasoned selling professionals, proven methods – build rapport and trust, present a clear and succinct message and guide a prospect through the cycle are more relevant than ever. The stage is bigger, and the board has been leveled if not leaning a bit toward your prospect, but the game remains the same – 64 squares, two colors, 16 pieces for each color, each piece has a specific role and unique abilities. We’re just playing faster and physically apart.