How can virtual selling coexist with face-to-face selling?

How can virtual selling coexist with face-to-face selling?

For many of us accustomed to dynamic and vibrant face-to-face selling, the pandemic-fuelled brave new world of remote selling can seem somewhat confusing, frustrating, or both. As society begins to recover from the disruption of COVID-19 and moves towards the 'new normal', can virtual selling and face-to-face selling find a way of coexisting?

If your sales techniques seemed much more comfortable in the realm of real-life interactions, handshakes, and establishing personal networks, these global shifts can seem like a mountain to overcome. Likewise, the notion of adapting your face-to-face sales techniques to a landscape that will have changed dramatically will also be a considerable challenge.

(Image: McKinsey)

Most countries have seen businesses shift their sales models from face-to-face based interactions to predominantly online. 

Over the coming months, businesses will find the world beginning to reopen, offering a path towards returning to some form of face-to-face selling. However, with more firms set to retain some portion of remote operations for the future, we may find that a more hybrid approach to sales will bring prosperity for those who master this forced dimension. But, how can such a blended approach take shape? Let's explore how it can be possible to balance virtual selling and face-to-face sales in a 'new normal.'

The challenges for Sales Leaders and Teams today

The opportunity to build relationships through face-to-face interactions is mainly unavailable at present, meaning organisations have to be more reliant on virtual selling methods to drive growth. But, according to a recent study from Corporate Visions, nearly 70% of B2B sales reps surveyed believed that remote selling is not as effective as face-to-face.

This feeling of ineffectiveness is likely one of the leading factors behind salespeople's discomfort across the industry in the wake of the pandemic; this is common throughout the selling landscape worldwide. Elaborating on these negative feelings, Aslan CEO Tom Stanfill stated that "for me, the reason I feel vulnerable is that a lot of the time I feel like I'm talking to a wall versus to a person - and that just feels awkward."

Adjusting to virtual tools and technology can make some professionals feel vulnerable in a similar vein. When selling remotely, technology is the driving force behind leveraging sales rather than the salesperson's personable attitude. We can also be susceptible to technology's vulnerabilities, such as the loss of the internet, interruptions to video streams, platforms' limitations and many more.

However, the same study showed some hope for companies looking to recreate the buzz of real-life selling in a virtual environment. For instance, 89% of salespeople agreed that they could improve audience interaction and avoid multi-tasking if all participants turned on their cameras. However, 82% of those surveyed claimed that they were hesitant to ask customers to show their faces virtually.

The critical challenge is for salespeople to recreate a face-to-face environment similar to those before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this hurdle will most likely reduce soon as more users become used to remote working and become more comfortable with video conferencing.

Establishing a face-to-face connection within a virtual environment will be vital for ensuring that salespeople find common ground to adapt to coexisting virtual and face-to-face selling scenarios.

Benefits and drawbacks of virtual selling

Firstly, selling online is an incredibly scalable proposition. Although you can hire more salespeople if the business picks up, this will still involve an onboarding and coaching process, training, and people management. All while ensuring your new employees feel valued and see for themselves the difference they make for your business as early as possible. 

If you have an online presence, sales can be leveraged long-term regardless of the industry. Whether transactions are made, meetings are booked, or virtual seminars are attended, conversions can occur across any market at any time.

Notably, it's worth remembering that virtual selling is already a predominantly online form of business. Even if you're interacting with salespeople, you'll likely have gone online to research a company before deciding on a face-to-face arrangement. 97% of people will look up a local business before choosing to make a conversion, so virtual sales is simply an extension of a pre-existing process.

One key drawback of virtual selling is the distractions that come with online communication methods. Ads, social media, and rival websites competing for attention can dilute your pool of prospective sales and the cooperation of those who initially express an interest in your offering. Over half of users spend fewer than 15 seconds on a website, meaning that there's a short period in which to resonate with prospective customers before losing their interest.

Furthermore, many people are still unsure about sharing their bank information online. Even when it comes to online sales, it's essential to ensure that some form of one-to-one contact still exists to ensure that the trust between the customer and the salesperson is maintained. Even if you utilise a chatbot to create a sense of support online, it is vital to replicate legacy sales approaches in a virtual environment.

Achieving coexistence

The most successful businesses following the pandemic will adopt approaches that complement virtual and face-to-face sales best practices. While this coexistence level may concern salespeople who have only just become accustomed to operating in a solely virtual environment, several measures ensure cohesion without much more disruption. Here are some critical steps to take when accommodating both virtual and face-to-face selling:

Look to Find Common Ground Between Virtual and Real-World Environments

The beauty of face-to-face selling is that you can foster relationships over the course of multiple interactions. This is something that the best salespeople will be able to find common ground in online. 

Although you may have fewer chances of interaction with prospects, be sure to make your impression count and do your research ahead of scheduled meetings. In real-world environments, conversations can flow naturally. It is important to replicate this process online by exploring what personal hobbies and stories you can share to help relax your prospect and build a stronger rapport with them.

By borrowing this core facet of face-to-face selling, you will optimise your virtual sales and make your real-world approaches more standardised and efficient.

Utilise Visual Information

The online selling experience can be filled with distractions for your prospect. So, to capture and hold your customer's attention, your sales deck needs to utilise technology accordingly. Make the information you share more dynamic with animations, movements and slides that will engage your prospect. According to research, salespeople online need approximately three times the number of slides to communicate the same amount of information in virtual selling than in-person.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you should come up with three times the level of information - after all, buyers will only remember around 10% of what you've communicated to them 48 hours later. This is more about hitting home your message to make a more significant impression online.

This can also mean that you'll be able to create a better quality of data for your face-to-face sales. Whether you convert your sales deck into an infographic or share your dynamic slides online for prospects to refer to, this can be an excellent way of enhancing your approach to both virtual sales and face-to-face sales at the same time.

Generate Better Feedback

Moving your processes online means that you can gain a platform for inviting customers to share their views of your processes and receiving more precise expressions on where you can improve. This form of feedback is harder to access in face-to-face environments, but it can be an ideal way to improve your processes across the board in a non-intrusive way

Whether you seek feedback as part of an automated aftercare message or invite virtual prospects to fill out a feedback form following a meeting, you can take on this advice to optimise your sales process in both digital and in-person situations.

Aligning Marketing and Sales

You can't mention the importance of virtual and face-to-face selling coexisting without stating the significance of your Marketing and Sales teams operating as one unit.

Your sellers will need more tools, content, emails, educational materials, and videos to support their virtual selling efforts. In most companies, marketing is a critical player in creating these tools, and Sales need to provide marketing feedback on all of these tools.

Creating marketing and sales alignment isn't easy but is critical to every company. Without this alignment, it is unlikely that a company will reach its revenue potential. To drive revenue, a company needs a single revenue team. This team should have talented people from both marketing and sales. If you want to know more about this, you can learn more from our blog on this important topic.

Moving forward

Irrespective of the pandemic's continued recovery, we believe virtual sales will be an integral part of all businesses. Once markets are open again, most companies will accept a sweet spot for virtual selling and face-to-face selling to coexist.

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