A digest of recent web posts and trends related to the rise of the hybrid office and remote selling skills.
The pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already emerging before remote work became the norm: today’s sales meetings with a prospect are more likely to be 45 minutes with a slide deck on Zoom than an afternoon with lunch and coffee breaks. Outside salespeople in particular have new norms to adjust to: reading the body language that comes out over a screen rather than in-person, creating pitches that are shorter, more direct, and with less build-up, and building relationships with customers remotely.
Jack Keough writing for Industrial Distribution discusses how the market disruption we’ve seen over the last 18 months is driving businesses to morph outside sales into more of an extension of inside sales roles, with a growing emphasis on remote selling skills.
“What is clear is that both distributor management and customers have discovered that phone and video technology are far more efficient than face-to-face live visits.”
“With fewer chances to interact with prospects in person, many sales teams are turning to social selling. Social selling is the art of prospecting and communicating with leads on social media platforms like LinkedIn. This strategy allows reps to build relationships with prospects in a less formal environment. While it’s not the same as grabbing drinks after a conference, social selling can work as a way to gradually nurture new leads.”
Developing Remote Selling Skills
With a majority of meetings now conducted remotely, sales teams need to prioritize and hone their skills to be able to “read the Zoom room” and successfully help a prospect move along the sales funnel. But as Ricky Cookson at Scale points out, it’s not as easy as shifting sales calls to virtual meetings:
… if sales hasn’t changed that much since moving to an almost entirely virtual sale, why are sellers having so much trouble?
What has changed and thrown many salespeople through a loop is the ability to keep customers engaged over Zoom, read the Zoom room, and build trusting relationships in an era when customer (and sellers) are tapped out when it comes to another virtual meeting.
Fortunately, closing deals over Zoom isn’t so much about reimagining the sales process or virtual interactions; it’s about resurfacing in-person habits to build customer rapport.
Cookson offers several tips for improving your Zoom game. Do your research beforehand, use your camera during your meeting, and follow up with notes and articles about your customer’s industry and needs. Check in often with your sales team, be flexible, and set aside time for the casual conversations that used to happen in the hallways or by the coffee pot—the kind of conversations that lead to creative solutions and collaboration, but don’t often happen in meetings.
Writing for Predictable Profits, Charles Gaudet offers a few practical tips for remote sellers: focus on helping rather than selling; stay in touch with your prospects, and work hard to understand what they need. Make communication as personal as possible, and don’t rely on email alone: use video chat and phone calls to build stronger, more personal relationships with your prospects than email can provide.
“The digital realm still allows you to nurture personal relationships with your clients, and can even help build trust and connection on a global level. Use these techniques to boost your sales and navigate the new economic environment.”
There are very real challenges for experienced outside sellers to adapt to remote selling—mostly because the social skills good sales people have learned to excel at reading a room to identify decision-makers and overcome objectors are emasculated by virtual meetings. But as Snjezana Cvoro-Begovis and James Hartling explain for Fast Company, the solution isn’t to dismiss virtual meetings, but to learn new ways to accomplish the same results.
Our current lack of in-person interactions translates into missed opportunity, regardless of personality type. We’re missing the ability to discover new and transformational ideas and products together, ones that will elevate our business and the relationship. For the most part, these eureka moments rarely occur in regular meetings. Instead they occur at side conversations in the kitchen, or a white-boarding session over lunch. These are the meetings that lead to innovation and breakthrough, and, more importantly, partnership and trust.
Because remote work is likely to persist in some form, all business leaders, but especially those charged with nurturing customer relationships must find a new way to build and grow transformational partnerships.
Mikko Honkanen offers some solid tips for mastering remote selling skills, from how you set up your remote office to how you follow up after sales meetings. Among other useful insights, Honkanen points out that remote work requires more frequent and intentional communication for sales reps than was possibly the norm pre-pandemic.
Overcommunicate. Working-from-home employees won’t bump into each other by the coffee machine and have a chance to chat. Therefore, communication becomes key. Write, chat, and call much more than what your natural tendency would be.”
Developing Remote Working Sales Teams
Managing a remote sales team comes with many challenges: bringing people back together after they’ve been working at their own pace, to building a healthy work culture when some people will be in the office and others will still be remote. It will be essential to develop your own style for communicating effectively with your in-person and remote teammates, according to Amanda Meade at the Center for Sales Strategy, without micromanaging or leaving too many gaps.
“Two-way communication is key… More than ever, employees need to feel informed and understand where the company is headed. Heightened communication and increased transparency can help them feel anchored and secure.”
Finally, Ray Makela writes in Forbes about the unique new challenges involved in motivating and directing sales teams faced with navigating all these disruptions to their normal way of selling. He quotes Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella seeing a “hybrid work paradox” emerging: employees want the flexibility of remote work with the benefits of in-person collaboration. Successfully leading your sales team through a hybrid environment will require having a clear vision, communicating it to your team well, and checking in often.
Even if the team isn’t in the same office, we can have shared goals and visibility around progress and accomplishments. Creating healthy compensation and celebrating success can have a huge impact on motivation and performance.