Virtual Selling: How to Connect with Customers

Remote Selling

These days, we receive a lot of inquiries about how to help sales reps improve their ability to engage with clients effectively—given the constraint of not being able to meet in person.

Suddenly, improving Virtual Selling Skills has become the number one priority for many sales leaders. A key area of concern is how do their sellers make the shift from face-to-face selling to virtual selling.

Some things as simple and subtle as a handshake have gone away, maybe for good. The idea of sharing the same air and possibly sharing germs through contact with a stranger has become something we are advised to avoid. Selling is different right now, and we don’t have a choice but to adapt.

In a (pre-COVID) study, management experts at the University of Iowa declared handshakes “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 when we can’t meet in person?

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 connecting virtually: 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 even more important now—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 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 minutes to step outside, get some fresh air and sunshine, 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 sales people 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 much more comfortable in virtual meetings and on video than they were even a few months ago. Having an open dialogue on two-way video is 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 as important in a virtual world as it is in person.

In a virtual world, 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. How has the pandemic affected their company and them personally? Can you ascertain how they’ve been impacted by the loss of access to customers or the shutdown of certain areas of the economy? The pandemic affects people and companies very differently, and having some perspective of how they may have been impacted can improve how you show up, how you ask questions and listen, and how sensitive you are to their situation.

How have their needs changed from before the pandemic? What can you do to meet those needs?

Looking them in the eye, asking questions, practicing active listening and attempting to understand their perspective 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 some new challenges, but the skills highlighted above are applicable in the current and post-COVID-19 world. Just like improving your selling skills should remain a continuous goal, you should commit to learning and maximizing your virtual expertise.

The virtual world is constantly changing, and there are new techniques and technologies to leverage all the time. It’s difficult to predict how the sales landscape will change over the coming months and years, but showing up with energy, engaging your customer, and demonstrating empathy will serve you well and never go out of style.New Call-to-Action

About Ray Makela

Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). 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.