How to Conduct a Virtual Sales Call & Connect with Customers
We receive a lot of inquiries about how to help sales reps improve their ability to engage with clients effectively—especially now that many important meetings are regularly taking place online.
Improving Virtual Selling Skills is a top priority for many sales leaders. While many sellers have made the shift from face-to-face meetings to virtual selling, it has been challenging to create personal connections and build long-term relationships.
Many people have hit pause on the simple and subtle act of a handshake.
Management experts at a University of Iowa study found that handshakes “are more important than agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability” when analyzing interactions during job interviews. Countless other studies have shown that a handshake can improve the quality of an interaction, producing “a higher degree of intimacy and trust within a matter of seconds.” This applies to sales as well.
So how do we replicate something as subtle and ubiquitous as a handshake?
How do we create a personal connection, build a relationship, and exchange sensitive information with someone whose picture is the size of a postage stamp on the other end of a virtual call?
To increase our chances of success, in addition to all of the traditional selling skills, we need to focus on the 3 E’s of virtual connecting: energy, engagement, and empathy.
1 | Energy
Zoom fatigue (and virtual meeting fatigue in general) is real. A Harvard Business Review article, How to Combat Zoom Fatigue, suggests that being constantly on camera, focusing directly on the other person, and being forced to be “always-on” can be emotionally and mentally draining. Yet we’re doing more virtual meetings than ever.
The relative ease of booking a virtual meeting, and the growing popularity of online calendaring applications make it too easy for our colleagues, clients, and prospects to book us into back-to-back meetings—often not even allowing for a break between calls. As sales professionals, the need to show up like you’re there in person is important—even if you’ve been on six hours of virtual meetings with no breaks
So how do you show up with energy?
The first step is to take back your schedule. Block out 10 to 15 minutes of transition time. Don’t allow your calendar to be booked back to back with important meetings. Quality over quantity will win every time with online meetings.
Take a break and take time for yourself. Use that 15 minutes between meetings to step outside, get some fresh air and sunshine, and breathe. Time away from the screen will help you stay more alert when you are in front of it.
Move around before important meetings. My colleague has a mini-trampoline and has been known to bounce aggressively before a video shoot or important virtual meeting. It gets the blood flowing increases energy and changes how you show up. A set of air squats, pushups, or jumping jacks can do the same thing.
If you have a standing desk—consider standing for important meetings. According to the Forbes article Why You Shouldn't Give A Presentation Sitting Down, you really do think better on your feet—and you present better too.
According to the article, students focus better and longer when they stand. This goes for salespeople too. Even though you may not be physically in the room with your customer, standing to present changes your physiology, mindset, and posture. Turn on your camera before the call (more on this later) and look at yourself. Practice smiling. Smiling is a choice; it’s contagious, and it demonstrates interest and energy. Look at yourself in the mirror (webcam) and ask whether you look engaging and like somebody you’d buy something from.
More than ever, it’s important to get a good night’s rest, hydrate, and eat regularly. Especially when such a large portion of sales professionals now work from home, it’s easy to work too much and forget to take care of yourself. Your routine is incredibly important to remain focused and energized.
2 | Engagement
Engaging a customer or prospect in a virtual meeting poses unique challenges. The tendency for people to multitask and get distracted makes it particularly challenging to keep the meeting focused—especially when you can’t always read the audience.
Whenever possible, turn on your video camera and encourage customers to do the same. They may decline, but our experience is that if you turn your camera on, most of the time, customers will do the same.
The good news is that people are now more comfortable in virtual meetings and on video than ever before. Having an open dialogue on a two-way video is still the next best thing to being there in person.
Once you’ve got your video camera turned on, ensure you know where your camera lens is located on your computer. Looking into the camera gives the person on the other end the impression that you’re looking directly at them.
On the other hand, looking at your second monitor, or even looking at the thumbnail image of the person you’re talking to may make it appear like you’re distracted or not paying attention to them. Turn your camera on before the meeting, either in the meeting application or by simply typing “Webcam” into your start menu. This way, you can test your camera, lighting, background, and overall image before you engage with your customer. The basics still apply: Join the meeting on time (if you’re hosting ideally log in early) and be prepared. Making a great first impression is still just as important in the online world as it is in person.
When you're meeting online you need to work even harder to create meaningful engagement opportunities with your customer. Asking open-ended questions helps assess whether you are meeting the mark.
Instead of asking typical close-ended check-in questions like “Does that make sense?” or “Do you have any questions?”, you should spend even more time planning open-ended questions that really invite dialogue and solicit feedback. “How do you see that working in your environment?” or “What challenges do you see that presenting during implementation?” If you have a larger audience, consider using a poll or chat feature to encourage everyone’s participation. Don’t be afraid to call on participants by name and ask for their opinion. For example, “So, Bill, what additional questions or concerns does that bring up for you?”
3 | Empathy
Making a point to build a more personal relationship with a customer or prospect, even over a virtual call, is extremely important. Understanding where the person is coming from—literally and figuratively—can help you make that connection. Spending time before a meeting to familiarize yourself with their background, their company, and their potential challenges and opportunities can go a long way toward helping you connect more deeply.
Empathy is about trying to see things from the other person’s perspective. The ever-changing environment of the last few years has affected people and companies very differently. Gaining some perspective on those changes can improve how you show up, how you ask questions, and how sensitive you are to current situations. Understanding how needs have changed helps you better meet those needs now.
Looking them in the eye, asking questions, and practicing active listening to understand their point of view will help you build a relationship with that individual, and ultimately put you in a better position to help them in the future.
Selling in a virtual world presents can be challenging, but the skills highlighted above can help you build personal connections online. Just like improving your selling skills should remain a continuous goal, you should commit to learning and maximizing your virtual expertise.
The online world is constantly evolving, and there are new techniques and technologies to leverage all the time. We can't predict the future sales landscape, but showing up with energy, engaging your customer, and demonstrating empathy will serve you well and never go out of style.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is the General Manager of the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation, and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.
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