Today's post is by Ben Taylor, MBA and content marketing manager at Richardson, a global sales training and performance improvement company. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
As more businesses embrace virtual selling an imbalance is beginning to occur. Sales professionals are becoming fixated on form rather than content.
Form refers to the way in which material is presented. Content refers to what the material says.
As more selling conversations unfold in a virtual setting the form of the communication is commanding an outsized role at the expense of content. As a result, many sales professionals have embraced the look of selling rather than the logic of selling. This trend may be leading to a norm in which the medium, rather than the message, drives the sales process.
In a virtual environment it is easy to succumb to one-way communication in which the customer’s gaze is repeatedly turned to slides and data. It is more effective to use the opportunity to learn more about the customer and their needs. Simply, success lies in avoiding the missteps that prevent two-way communication. Here we look at the three most common mistakes and how to overcome each.
Develop a Buying Experience That is Meaningful, Not Just Memorable
Virtual engagements are a visual medium. Therefore, it is easy to get lost in the visual aspect of selling and prioritize what is memorable over what is meaningful. Doing so is a mistake because even the most memorable content is no guarantee that customers will buy. We know this to be true because even the $5.6 million price tag of a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement will “fail to increase purchases or purchase intent,” according to findings from the research firm Communicus published in the Harvard Business Review. The solution is to build messaging that is designed for resonance, not merely recall.
This process begins with active listening, which is the act of concentrating on another person’s words to fully understand the intended meaning. The listener must resist distractions that pull their focus away from the person talking. A presentation-focused approach to virtual selling undermines this crucial step. Active listening works because it allows the customer a forum to express their goals and concerns. These details become critical to success later when the sales professional is preparing to position a solution.
Seek Collaboration That Rises Above Cooperation
The customer’s collaboration in the buying journey is more valuable than their cooperation. The reason: Cooperation signals agreement with the solution, but collaboration signals ownership. This sense of ownership comes from the act of participating in the process, underpinning the solution’s worth. Or, as research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology states, “labor increases valuation.”
This conclusion came from a small team of professors at Harvard Business School, Yale University, and Duke University. They learned that when a consumer exerts effort by participating in the creation of a product, they hold the outcome in much higher esteem. Simply, “consumers believe that their self-made products rival those of experts.” The researchers call this the IKEA effect because so much of the do-it-yourself furniture from IKEA requires the customer’s participation.
This finding has important implications for sales professionals. When the customer is involved in the process of shaping the solution, they will have a greater allegiance to the product. This happens when they engage in a dialogue that reveals underlying needs and challenges. In this setting the customer is doing more talking than the sales professional because they are not only articulating their requirements, they are also crystalizing their own conception of an ideal solution.
Create Conversation Rather Than Control the Customer’s Focus
Visuals are clean. They are safe and comfortable. They are also a shield. In the volatile business environment of today, it is easy to see why some feel that this shield is necessary. It provides an alternative to asking the incisive, sometimes uncomfortable questions that reveal the customer’s underlying concerns.
Questions, not visuals, will reveal the path to the sale. The digital tools available in virtual selling have made it too easy to bypass this initial first step. Sales professionals, eager to demonstrate their value, leverage the visual medium to its fullest extent. This approach, however, circumvents the opportunity to capture the details of the customer’s needs. Sales professionals need to work in close contact with the customer and shape the customer journey.
Succeeding in a virtual setting means avoiding the common pitfalls of digital engagement. At Richardson Sales Performance we are working with sales leaders to discover the consultative path to the sale. Learn more about our approach with our eBook Success in the Era of Virtual Selling.