Over the last few months, we’ve talked to over a hundred buyers, salespeople and leaders about the challenges they are facing since face-to-face meetings have become difficult or even impossible.
Despite virtual meetings now becoming the norm there is little doubt that sales calls over Zoom or Teams present significant new challenges – particularly when you are trying to build rapport or influence buyers who you have not met! Even if your clients were already used to online demos, the complete switch to virtual meetings and calls can cause them to act differently – for example…
- They are more easily distracted.
- They behave more informally.
- They feel less connected with the ‘you’ in the window, then in real life!
These behaviours, plus the sheer logistics involved in setting up and running a virtual meeting, can cause unexpected traps, including:
- Defaulting to ‘presenting’ rather than engaging clients in real dialogue
- Failure to build rapport – it’s easy to treat the call much more as a transactional experience
- Unstructured meetings that don’t achieve the results you are looking for
To avoid falling victim to these traps and ensure that your customers are fully engaged involves a key first step – understanding that virtual selling requires exceptional preparation, enhanced communication, and careful meeting facilitation.
Many of our clients have done a great job here and have shown that virtual selling can be just as effective as traditional face-to-face meetings. This article reflects both our own experience and the growing body of research on this subject – the result is designed to be an brief up-to-date summary of accepted best practice plus practical hints and tips. I hope it is useful for you!
Before the Call
Preparation is obviously important for any sales conversation, but this discipline is even more important for a virtual meeting – partly because it’s all too easy (as you perhaps sit in your bedroom) to treat it too informally.
Let’s be honest, you have likely been doing this for ages now and we risk telling you the obvious – however, the vast majority of buyers we spoke to have told us they are still seeing some of the suggestions below being ignored. So, while we’re sure you are perfect, your colleagues might not be. (Its always worth having a refresh yourself though!)
Setting the Meeting Up
- Propose a meeting duration. There is a temptation to keep this shorter than a F2F – after all, you don’t need to politely accept/decline an offered beverage or discover someone has stolen the one remaining meeting room. Resist this! Trying to squeeze a 60-minute face to face into a 30-minute zoom call will almost certainly lead to a call which is more ‘tell’ and transactional and won’t help you build the relationship.
- Offer to set up the meeting and use the subject heading in the invite to summarise the ‘Purpose’ of the meeting – eg “To progress the new product launch’ – You should have definitely been doing this anyway but this clarity ahead of the call is even more important in a virtual meeting to encourage participation and help get everyone mindsets aligned!
- Avoid booking back-to-back calls and set an alarm on your phone for 5-10 minutes before the meeting …. It’s easy to get carried away and you don’t want to be flustered by coming in late (or end up rushing a close!). We have noticed a general trend toward people being bang on time for virtual meetings, so bear that in mind.
Addressing the Technology Risk
More than any other factor, technology has the potential to kill a virtual sale. One failed connection can end the meeting and rescheduling might be difficult amid competing schedules. So, consider these basics….
- Source up-to-date Technology: a full HD Webcam and a good headset – remember, using your laptop audio/speakers can cause problems – a headset also helps to block out the background sounds of your housemate/partner/child having a tantrum in the next room.
- Internet connection: Hard wired if possible and try and avoid family members streaming Netflix at the same time as that important sales call! This, of course, is one that may be largely out of your control – so remember, everyone will have internet problems at some point, so stay calm, recognise it and move on.
- Platform: Become a real expert in Zoom, Teams and Google. Maybe also Adobe, Skype & Webex – in particular the AV settings. Assuming you are setting up the meeting, use the ‘lobby’ function to let the client’s in when you are ready and have everything set up. Note this means using your virtual room rather than the clients, which we recommend where possible…
- Test all AV beforehand using the specific platform for this call – your preferred microphone that works fine in Zoom might not work in Teams. Even if you only use one platform, just check it before! I’ve personally had a solid, reliable platform decide that my headset is suddenly an affront to its operation moments before an important call.
Preparing for the Camera
- Dress Code: Again this seems to be a moving trend, but we have noticed that people are increasingly wearing smart casual rather than t-shirts as virtual calls become the norm. A good starting point here, as with any other sales interaction, is to dress equal to (or maybe 1 level more formal) than your client…
- Camera position:The first step in preparing for a virtual meeting is getting comfortable in front of the camera – this can be a challenge for both you and the customer. You can make everyone feel more comfortable on the call by taking charge of the meeting and appearing confident on camera.
At a minimum, you should test the camera and carefully ‘frame’ your position. Make sure that the camera lens sits at or above eye level, no higher than your hairline. Make sure you position yourself far enough away to capture your shoulders and your entire face, leaving enough room around you so your face is at the centre of the screen
If you are using 2 screens then make sure your camera is on the screen you are going to be mostly looking at – you might have a wonderful profile, but clients would really rather see you from the front and make eye contact!
This is almost worth an article in its own right, but our summary guidelines are…
- The background you choose will project an immediate message about you – so choose it wisely
- Vitally, it should not be a distraction, stopping the client from focusing on you
- Given you want to build rapport, using your home background can be a great advantage to sellers as it both humanizes you and levels the relationship. Instead of vendor-to-prospect, it becomes more human-to-human. Personal elements, like books, pictures, or furnishings, can stimulate conservations and deepen connections.
- So ideally use your real background, but organise it so it supports the image you are trying to project – for example professional & organised, yet warm & human….
- If you can’t control your natural background or its too cluttered, then consider a virtual background, but maybe avoid beaches or the Starship Enterprise….a modern ‘perfect’ office environment is absolutely fine and sends the right message for a b2b sale.
- If you use a virtual background, test it out and get the lighting right – vitally, avoid moving too much. Even the best technology can create very distracting shadows with just a small amount of movement and I have recently been in calls where whole parts of the client’s body randomly disappeared into the oscillating shadows of a Swiss mountain behind them…
The Call itself
The importance of structure
A virtual meeting can often appear to be more relaxed than a face to face. You are probably in your own home, as is the prospect and you have a screen between you. This comes with risks, the customer may have additional distractions (checking emails, Teams/Slack messages etc..) and a salesperson can pick up this which can lead to rushed and incomplete discovery questions. Because of this, its even more important to ensure you are following a solid meeting structure.
Consider using the following 4 steps:
- Engage (introductions, build rapport, clarify meeting purpose)
- Explore (focus on the client, asking questions, active listening)
- Demonstrate Capability (summarise how you can help them achieve their needs)
- Next Steps (agree a clear action that progresses the sale)
It is helpful to keep a visible timer on your desk, or at least a checklist of exploratory topics to cover.
Understand that rapport will not emerge naturally
Building rapport is a pretty important step in any sales meeting and in a face to face meeting conversation will usually emerge naturally – helped by the shared physical surroundings.
In a virtual call, you don’t have this shared environment, so you will have to work a bit harder to create the casual conversation that comes before a more formal discussion – and this is where great preparation comes in, if you want to avoid just another chat about coronavirus… Research current events in the prospects company or industry – use the rapport element of the meeting to build up your own credibility while everyone is getting comfortable in front of the camera and remembering to un-mute themselves.
Following rapport building you should move to a formal opening and set the out the context and agenda. Encourage them to turn their cameras on and spend time on proper introductions including what they expect to get from the meeting.
Engaging every stakeholder
Just because a person is on the call does not mean they are fully engaging in the conversation! The simple fact that the client is using their laptop for the virtual call, means it’s very likely that emails and messages are coming in during the call, which can distract them.
If you detect a degree of low-engagement, it is easy for you to unknowingly default into ‘presentation mode’ in which the conversation becomes one-way. This tendency is understandable given the discomfort many feel with silence. So avoid talking too much – and especially don’t fall back on any generic presentations!
Of course, the simplest way to keep their attention is to ask questions to specific people “Helen, given your HR role, how does this fit with other initiatives you are currently running?”. Our top tip here is to prepare beforehand a number of open questions you are going to ask…and have those visible to you during the call.
Another tip is to state early in the call that you plan to seek feedback from specific participants throughout the conversation. This alerts the participants to the idea that they may be called on at any time!
Close & Next Steps
Its always good of course to close the meeting by concisely re-iterating and emphasising the value of the solution while asking for the customer’s commitment to next steps. Virtual calls end more abruptly than face to face meetings (indeed, at the click of a mouse…) so make sure not to rush this, take your time and ensure any agreed steps are unambiguous and are have an agreed timeframe.
Finally, this is the time to leave a lasting positive impression by articulating your personal commitment to the project and next steps. Leave the call on a positive note!
While effective preparation is vital for any sales meeting, it is even more so during a virtual discussion. Customers have been getting comfortable being sold to online and there are some great benefits (no travel, easier to organise, often more efficient if booking regular meetings) but building rapport and maintaining attention of all customers is key.
p.s. and getting a good headset! Please, please make sure you have a good headset!
Some Final Words – and how we can help…
Many of our clients recognise that building excellence in virtual sales calls is a great way to differentiate themselves from the competition. Even as restrictions ease, its likely now that Zoom and Team calls are here to stay – so why not become the best??
Greenbank are an innovative global training and coaching consultancy, focusing on leadership, sales and negotiation skills development, all 100% relevant to today’s business world. We offer a truly blended learning approach via virtual interactive training and when possible, face-to-face workshops
We have over 19 years global experience in working with Sales Directors to drive productivity and sales excellence, particularly in complex and consultative sales and we would be delighted to explore ideas with you on how we could help you accelerate your approach.
If you would like to have a friendly, relaxed discussion, then please contact me and it would be great to share ideas!