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Successful Consultative (Virtual!) Selling – Our Top 7 Tips….

Successful Consultative (Virtual!) Selling – Our Top 7 Tips….

By Ian Hirst, Greenbank CEO

Even though many sales teams and their customers are gradually returning to the office, regular face-to-face interactions are probably many months off.

The Covid-19 ‘compelling event’ has forced organisations to rapidly change their business approaches and most organisations have found that they can survive perfectly well with a more flexible approach. Indeed, many are currently re-evaluating whether their expensive office space could be rationalised to help pay for the costs incurred over the last few months…

So – what does this mean for sales professionals?
Well – let’s start with the obvious – salespeople no longer have the benefit of meeting and connecting face to face. Whilst this is nothing new to product-based telephone sales teams, highly-paid, solution salespeople are now faced for the first time, with finding new ways to develop relationships and trust – often via Zoom calls and emails. In doing so, they are already finding that they need to fundamentally adapt the way they prepare for, engage in, and follow up on customer conversations and selling opportunities. And whilst there are some challenges here, there are also real opportunities for those sales teams who can quickly adapt and refine their approach.

In the last 3 months we have been working closely with several of our clients sales teams as they work their way through this maze – we have run virtual skills workshops and coaching sessions, have developed revised sales playbooks for the new virtual world and consulted on how best to re-organise their teams. This short article is an immediate reflection on some of the issues they are facing and offers some thoughts as to what the top sales teams are doing to be successful.

Some of the issues…

  • Buying cycles have slowed down – largely because of re-prioritisation of budgets and risk avoidance, but also because of the difficulty of getting stakeholders together to make decisions.
  • As we have seen in other economic downturns, the finance team is taking a more prominent role in buying conversations – in fact, participation in sales calls by CFOs is up 91 percent over pre-pandemic levels, according to an analysis of sales calls by This has been prompted, of course, by an increasingly cautious atmosphere around spending.
  • In this environment, salespeople are often encouraged to ‘create urgency’ – but this can lead to pushy behaviour and many buyers we have spoken to have said that this really not what they want at this time.
  • Without the ability to use face-to-face contact to build relationships, it’s easy for salespeople to try and rush things through – proposing solutions before they have built value or understood the whole buying process. The temptation is to move to a more transactional sales approach and offer discounts to try and close a sale.
  • People behave differently in a virtual setting. They don’t engage in the same way and are more easily distracted. Indeed, there is a whole different skill set required to run an effective virtual sales call.
  • As a result of all of this, we have seen sales forecasts slipping, sales leadership coming under pressure and salespeople becoming frustrated…

In short, virtual selling is more challenging than face-to-face selling, especially if sellers are forced into a virtual environment with little experience or training and are already stressed given the global climate.

Keys to virtual sales success

So – what are the top sales teams doing?
They understand the importance of building value and R.O.I

‘Doing nothing’ has always been a potentially safe option for buyers of complex solutions and now it could be seen as more attractive than ever! To combat this, top sales teams are recognizing that they need buyers to understand and be able to measure the tangible value their solution can offer. By ‘value’ here, of course, we mean more than better processes or software – rather being able to show how their solution can increase revenue, retain customers, and reduce costs. If your sales teams can’t show this link and use it to increase urgency, then delaying decisions will be far too tempting an option for buyers at the moment…

They are becoming real experts at virtual calls…

To put it bluntly, even the best salespeople can struggle to be effective in a virtual call. As well as having to master the technology, our clients are reporting increased difficulties in active listening, handling objections, and agreeing clear next steps – all basic skills that become more difficult when you lose the face-to-face interaction. No wonder that many sales teams are now investing in specific training on how to plan for – and effectively deliver high impact virtual sales calls.

As an example, a consistent new skill in this ‘new normal’ world is that of creating virtual engagement. Recognising that clients will get distracted, rather than filling awkward gaps by ‘presenting’ or trying to rush conversations, top salespeople are learning how to ask different types of questions, checking in verbally with clients that the call is progressing to their satisfaction…

As with most skills it’s all about practice and feedback! In our own virtual sales programmes for example, we have now moved our sales simulations to the virtual world, with salespeople rehearsing live sales virtual calls between training modules, from setting them up to running the call with Greenbank tutors or their managers playing the client role and giving immediate feedback. This can really help to develop confidence and allow their natural sales skills to shine…

They understand each prospect’s buying process
Increased caution means more people getting involved in decision making. This can be very frustrating for salespeople wanting to rush deals through, but instead of trying to artificially accelerate the process, top salespeople are taking time to really understand the new buying process – who is involved and the precise steps they need to follow. To support this, one of the coaching questions we encourage sales leaders to use is ‘walk me through their buying process’ and then follow up questions such as “is anybody else likely to be involved?” where does procurement come in? Who could say no to this step? Where is the budget going to come from? It may seem obvious, but many salespeople make assumptions about this and as a result make over-optimistic forecasts. The good news is that these ‘Process’ questions are quite easy to ask buyers!

They use emails and proposals to influence the wider organisation

This is probably our top tip and can be the quickest ‘win’. With more people involved in a buying decision and face-to-face contact difficult, the emails and proposals your sales teams send to their main contact will be sent to others – many of whom may not know your organisation or the services you offer – and can be a major influencing tool.

Unfortunately, many salespeople who are great at face-to-face conversations are not natural ‘wordsmiths’ and don’t make use of what is now an increasingly vital part of their sales armoury…

So, we encourage salespeople to read the email or proposal through the eyes of their contacts C Level boss – Does it explain the context? Does it show a real understanding of the client’s needs? Are the financial benefits clear? Is there a definite ROI? We know this works – clients following this guidance have won back bids they had lost by resubmitting proposals.
They avoid the temptation to send generic sales decks

Your sales deck is vital and it might be tempting to try and use this even more in this new virtual world– but sending them a generic sales deck (or using it as part of introductory virtual call) simply says that you either don’t understand the client’s needs – or worse, you are not interested in finding them out! Frankly, they won’t be interested in your wonderful company or services until you have first shown you are sincerely interested in them…

So – top salespeople have the discipline and confidence to save the generic deck for a marketing event and use any PowerPoints sparingly to demonstrate that they DO understand the client’s marketplace, have listened to them and can solve their specific business problem…

Summary - practicing skills in a virtual environment

In the current environment, sales leaders need to instil calm and confidence so that their sales teams can focus on the right things. Salespeople need to instil calm and confidence especially now when customers may be working hard to help their own businesses to return to full strength. To do this, they need a game plan, confidence, and the skills to fully embrace and execute a virtual selling strategy
The only way to gain confidence and skill of course, is to practice in a virtual environment. Just as in sports, the team which is best trained and prepared is the one that typically comes out on top. Arming salespeople with an understanding of the unique challenges, a set of best practices, and lots of practice is what will help them to continue to engage in meaningful conversations and embedding the confidence and trust needed for customers to make purchase decisions in these difficult times.

About Greenbank

Greenbank are an innovative, ‘boutique’ consultancy delivering completely tailored leadership, negotiation and sales development programmes to clients ranging from top 5 global firms to tech start-ups.

We are now delighted to be running truly blended programmes, which make the most of both virtual platforms and interactive face-to-face workshops, to deliver motivational, cost-effective development.

We also have our own industry-leading, multi-lingual, 360° assessment platform, Navigator360 which provides our clients and other training providers with a completely flexible approach to gathering powerful confidential feedback.

If you would like to discuss how we can help your own sales or leadership teams, then we would be delighted to have a relaxed conversation – please contact Ian Hirst or (+44) 7812 074359.