Today’s post is by Tom Stanfill, CEO of ASLAN Training & Development.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a defining moment for your salespeople to hit their number while working from home. At ASLAN, we’ve spent over 20 years training reps to sell remotely. Salespeople who take the right steps can absolutely learn to influence, engage customers, and close sales virtually.
We’re happy to share proven strategies that work. Start with the four tips below. You can also download our latest report, "How to Help Your Team Master Virtual Selling," for even more winning advice for sales leaders.
Tip #1: Increase Customer Receptivity by Building Trust
Receptivity to sellers is a mixed bag right now. Customers are working from home and answering the phone, but they’re overwhelmed by other priorities and taking care of their families and teams.
If you call customers out of desperation to achieve quota, your tone, word choice, and actions will reflect your self-focused mindset. To put your focus on the customer, ask yourself these questions:
- Why is it in the customer’s best interest to meet with me?
- How can I help them in this crisis?
- What problems can I solve?
The answers will give you a calm and confident demeanor, which will replace the, “Sorry to call you, but I’m supposed to be selling remotely and I need to fill my funnel” vibe.
When you call, ask (in an open-ended way) what challenges the customer is trying to solve. Your goal is to serve (we call this “dropping the rope”), not force your way into a meeting or get an order. This eliminates an adversarial relationship and allows both you and the customer to relax and collaborate to solve real problems (virtually) or agree to meet after the pandemic crisis is over.
Either way, you will distinguish yourself from the pack and move from “rep to avoid” to friend, partner, and trusted ally (aka, someone they will always want to meet with). All these actions will increase the customer’s receptivity – even over the phone! After all, they may not remember what you said during these uncertain times, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Tip #2: Land Meetings by Following a Process
If you can’t “stop by” to visit customers, how will you land meetings while virtual selling? Likely you’ve already heard customers say things like: “Thanks for calling. Family’s fine and we’re good right now. Look forward to catching up when this thing blows over.”
In the absence of the intimacy that naturally occurs face-to face, you need to follow a process to land meetings. Take the following steps.
- Lead with the customer’s whiteboard. Picture the person you are about to call sitting in his or her office or cubicle. Now picture a whiteboard displaying initiatives and key action items. Whatever it says, lead with that when you call. Response rates will soar.
- Ask permission to meet. A request puts control in the hands of the customer, giving them the freedom to choose. This may yield a higher commitment: Research has shown that, when people make small, initial commitments (like agreeing to hold a meeting), they’re more likely to follow through.
- Write fantastic prospecting emails. Pay attention to subject lines, narrative flow (how one idea rolls into the next), how you articulate value, and the supporting information you attach or link to. And you can learn more about how to include these five components of an effective email.
Tip #3: Build Rapport Virtually
With virtual selling, customers can’t see you in person, and you lose rapport and intimacy. This means customers are less likely to believe you can solve their problems – after all, you’re just another faceless voice or image on a screen.
In these situations, salespeople must be strategic to uncover the information they need to diagnose problems and offer valuable solutions. You can do so in three key ways.
- Ask questions by leading with knowledge. Demonstrate knowledge or expertise, then pose a related question. (Example: “Ninety percent of social media strategies fail because they invest in content and channels that don’t reach the intended audience. How would you assess your current social media strategy?”) Asking a question by leading with expertise causes decision makers to sit up and take notice.
- Validate the customer’s point of view (even when it’s something you don’t want to hear). Let’s say your customer says something not so pleasant, like: “Now’s not the time to explore this. We are currently working on XYZ, and that’s our greatest priority right now.” Or: “We’ve been working with (your competitor), and they seem to be doing a great job.”
How do you respond? “Tell me more.” That way, information flows freely, and you uncover the truth.
If your response is, “Yeah, but…” then the message to the customer is clear: There is a consequence to sharing negative information. So, they learn to just keep things on the surface. (Kind of like having a bad meal at a restaurant and knowing you’ll never return – when the server asks how everything was you’ll likely just say, “Everything was great. Thanks.”)
- Dig to uncover the customer’s truth. Recently, a very competent seller was presenting a solution to our marketing team. During the presentation, the seller stopped to ask, “Tom, you sound a bit skeptical; what do you think about ____?” I told her my concerns – information I wouldn’t have shared if she hadn’t asked. She knew if I didn’t have a clear understanding of what our concerns were, she couldn’t address them. Her response was perfect, and we moved forward. Brilliant!
Bottom line, customers often bury the truth and it’s your job to uncover it. Here are a few areas where “digging” is required:
- Concerns. Most customers have learned that sharing concerns leads to conflict. Therefore, gently probe to determine their fears about moving forward (e.g., value of what you offer, ability to deliver, experience).
- Relationship with the competition. Most don’t enjoy sharing bad news, and positive information about your competition is certainly not good news.
- Decision maker. People don’t jump at the chance to tell you they have limited power.
Tip #4: Present Using “Word Pictures”
With virtual selling, you need “word pictures” to help customers “see” your offering and increase the likelihood of moving the conversation forward.
Word pictures can help you sell a high-end, expensive product by conveying feel, the cost of shortcuts, or why the expensive materials really matter. Word pictures can also help you sell an offer that’s simple to understand or easy to misjudge (like insurance or medical supplies).
Here’s how to develop word pictures for your offering.
- Figure out and rank the most difficult but important concepts required to sell your solution.
- Develop three to five word pictures for your most critical but complex concepts. You need a variety so you can match your customer’s personality types and preferences: some people like sports analogies; others don’t.
- Test it. Some of the seemingly best word pictures fall flat when delivered live. Test with an audience of colleagues and refine them accordingly.
Want more expert selling insights to help your salespeople close deals while working from home? We recently partnered with Selling Power to produce a timely Webinar about virtual selling skills every sales team needs to know. Download the report today: “How to Help Your Team Master Virtual Selling.”