Virtual Selling

3 tips to get started in the novel world of hybrid selling

Massimo Pernicone
September, 2020

Massimo Pernicone, Associate Director at BTS

At a workshop on virtual selling for the Key Account Managers of a Fortune-100 technology corporation, Anna, a participant with over 20 years of experience said, “I can’t wait for this to be over and to go back to visiting my clients as usual.” In today’s environment, comments like these are not uncommon – reluctance to change is a constant of human behavior and the world of hybrid selling is challenging for even veteran sellers. At the end of a recent Sales Transformation updating the sales model of a leading pharma company, Luis, a sales representative, commented, “In our work, face-to-face meetings are all you need, all these tools (you just showed us) are no good.” The number of people resistant to virtual selling in the last several months has soared to new heights, but this is not a sustainable mindset for the future.

Virtual selling in today’s environment

Virtual selling is not new. What is new is the speed at which it is being adopted under the current circumstances – at some organizations, by force, and at others, with great reluctance, as in the examples of Anna and Luis respectively. Mindsets like theirs are present in all sales organizations and purchase departments and represent the innate human response to a perceived threat, fight or flight. Employees will either take flight, mentally checking out, experiencing denial, and waiting for the storm to pass, or they will fight, taking action to sell virtually, but longing for things to be “back to normal”. What these Salespeople don’t realize is that virtual selling is here to stay and that its adoption cycle has shortened. In fact, virtual selling can be a significant advantage if they get a few things right. Welcome to the world of Hybrid Selling, where Salespeople strategically mix face-to-face with virtual client interactions to boost their productivity and results.

Does this imply that, once the physical access to clients is back, Salespeople will hardly leave the office? Nope. Or that building a great business relationship with new and potential clients will happen online with the same effectiveness? Also, no.

Still, looking ahead to the future of Salespeople like Anna and Luis, it is easy to picture them being outperformed by more dynamic colleagues, those who keep using virtual selling as another weapon in their arsenal once the pandemic is over. But how?

3 tips for Hybrid Selling

Trends from organizations across geographies and industries where face-to-face meetings are now possible suggest that there are 3 things Salespeople need to define:

  1. Determine your “efficient” time. This is the percentage of your time that could be more productively used for tasks other than meeting clients in person. What if, instead of travelling around to visit clients, you used part of that time to look for new prospects? Or to attend more industry events? Or to craft better proposals? Or to think of insights to bring to the existing clients? You get the idea. This percentage of your time and what you use it for are highly subjective, though our early findings suggest that it should account for less than 20 percent of the total work time. To determine your own percentage of efficient time, think of how many hours in a week you wished you had available to be more productive through tasks other than face-to-face meetings. If you are still undecided go with 10 percent for now (four hours per week). Then make a wish-list of what you would use your efficient time for – two or three elements will be enough.
  2. Implement a set of criteria to determine what meetings can go virtual. Now, look at your agenda for next week and decide what client meetings should go virtual to free up your goal efficient time. There is no magic formula here, though a checklist of criteria can help you weight the pros and cons. To aid in this, organizations can create defined guidelines to help make this decision easier for Salespeople – e.g. all first meetings with new potential clients should be face-to-face, if the key decision maker for the client is attending through videoconference you should do that too, etc. In most cases, multiple variables come into play, which makes the decision more nuanced. Still, it is helpful to review a set of criteria / dimensions such as in the example below. (Note: the content of the “Face-to-Face” and “Virtual” columns is specific to each Sales organization and should be agreed upon internally).
  3. Hybrid Selling
  4. Create a checkpoint plan to learn as you go. Steps one and two are a trial-and-error process: in the new reality most Salespeople are still learning how to engrain virtual selling into how they work. Leverage the process above once or twice before assessing your outcomes and make adjustments to create your own plan. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

    a. Do you still need the same percentage of efficient time for the following weeks?
    b. What quick wins are you observing, if any, in your new way of working? Are they scalable? What is their potential?
    c. To what extent are you missing out on important face-to-face interactions? Include your clients’ feedback to get a full perspective.

COVID-19 has brought a shift in how Salespeople work and how clients expect Salespeople to interact with them. The good news is that traditionalist clients who would never take a virtual meeting in the past have now been forced to experiment with virtual communication tools and are more likely to accept some meetings as virtual interactions. Still, many seasoned account managers are dying to go back to the “good old days” of face-to-face meetings as soon as possible. These Salespeople are right to assume that face-to-face interactions will play a key role in the future, but their refusal to embrace hybrid selling is a big mistake – and will result in a missed opportunity for increased performance.

Who wants to be the next Anna or Luis? You have an opportunity to become a more productive Salesperson in the new normal, now it’s up to you to take it. If you don’t… others will.

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