Phone: +44(0)1442 849999 | Email: solutions@mentorgroup.co.uk

Virtual Selling & Leading Remotely​

Author: Mark Ward

Published March 2020

Virtual Selling & Leading Remotely: Driving Deal Momentum and Leading Teams Through the COVID-19 / Coronavirus Pandemic.

 

“Batten down the hatches – quick, men.”
Chambers Journal (1883)

It is said that ‘context is everything’, and the context in which the sales industry finds itself in at the time of this writing is one where businesses are banning travel, cancelling events, contracting operations and switching to remote working and virtual meetings. How do sellers not only maintain the momentum of their opportunities, but where possible, accelerate them?

 

 

How do leaders get the best out of teams now working remotely, and who have been reliant on corporate structures and processes? How do managers respond to those now vulnerable to feelings of isolation and disengagement due to the factor of distance?

 

 

And why write an article such as this one, during this time? It is salespeople, my community, who take bold risks on their earnings, usually accepting a basic salary only large enough to keep the lights on, and who will be adversely affected by a complete loss of momentum in their sales funnels.

 

To many, this will be devastating.

 

 

Those sellers who work on risk only might experience the sudden ceasing of all earnings. This is a problem that is worth addressing in a proactive and pragmatic way. As a seller with a number to make and remuneration to earn, you must respond to the situation at hand in a manner that supports your commercial priorities and agenda, as well as that of your buyer/s.

 

 

And what of the Sales Leaders and Managers? Not only do the majority also stake their earnings on the successes of their teams, but it is the managers who must find a way to step up and encourage their people, and help them maintain their motivation and belief in what is possible. And they must do this despite their own vulnerabilities and internal struggles.

 

 

So, to be clear, I am not advocating the brazen exploitation of the passage we are all in, but rather a pragmatic and honourable approach to honouring our commercial and financial responsibilities.

 

 

In this article I will detail three principles for seller productivity and continued impact, and a fourth – consisting of 5 propositions for the Sales Mangers who will have to fundamentally adapt how they lead.

 

1.    Business as usual is no longer. Adapt fast.

The research data in image # 1 will simply not be valid during a pandemic when people are working from home. Our experience has shown that buyers will have significantly more bandwidth than they normal would have. Their productivity, in most cases will rise as they are less likely to be pulled into the endless torrent of meetings, about meetings.

 

 

More phones will be answered, more emails will be responded to, more focussed work will be done on larger screens, and deeper consideration will be made to matters like competitive strategy and advantage. Herein lies an opportunity to connect with buyers in a deeper and more meaningful way.

 

Virtual Selling - Yesterday's Data

 

Image 1: Yesterday’s Data

 

2.    Leverage social selling, now.

As buyers work from the luxury of their kitchens (as a client said to me only yesterday), they will have much more time and energy to engage with social media, and given that all our eyes and ears are peeled to news about the world around us, this is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the increase in attention that will be taken advantage of by smart sellers.

 

 

Now is the time to:

1) Leverage your digital presence;

2) Conduct social reconnaissance;

3) Connect and engage over the social platforms;

4) Write and share disruptive posts;

5) Contribute to groups and the business community through your own learnings;

6) Make direct connections with people that matter.

 

 

For those that are not familiar with selling socially (and let’s face it, not everyone is) my recommendations are contained in the primer below.

 

Update your profile picture, make sure your information is complete and current, get relevant endorsements (remember, people have more time on their hands) and spread out to multiple platforms. Now, you can search for prospect connections, join interest groups, follow your prospects and ask for connections from your network.

 

 

Be disruptive – post insights to your groups and your network and make sure they meet all of the four criteria:

 

1) Challenging – cause your buyers to question their beliefs or biases, invoke urgency, or stimulate a need to change course on something;

2) Credible – ensure you do not offer simple opinions but that what you say is backed up by sound, irrefutable evidence or many years of experience;

3) Current – to be disruptive you must be on the pulse of the present moment and;

4) Consequential – illustrate the scale of the potential impact on them and their businesses. And then, contribute to the business community – join conversations, like & comment on prospect posts, and like & comment on influencers’ posts. And most importantly, when you connect, personalise it, offer a real benefit or provide a disruptive introduction.

 

Virtual Selling - Social Selling Criteria

3.    Use the abundance of great technology

Business cannot stop and neither will the flow of important meetings. We are all going to be trust into a virtual world like no other time before. Client calls and presentations should not skip a beat in hands of an experienced operator. And while I believe technology will never be able to offer an experience that beats face to face interaction, the tools available today are very effective at driving decision-making and maintaining business momentum.

 

 

At Mentor Group we use Microsoft Teams internally and Zoom for virtual session. These are by no means the only options available, but we value what we get in terms of the user interfaces, functionality like content sharing, break-out rooms, quick polling and the forms of general practicality. We conduct many different types of events, from client meetings to virtual training sessions using the handy functionality that these technologies offer.

 

 

As a seller, get your hands on some great virtual collaboration and selling tools and get to work communicating in a fluent, seamless manner. If you are talking to one client virtually, get skilled at the screensharing and whiteboarding functions. If you are engaging with groups, use the breakout room, chat box and polling functions to really bring meetings alive.

 

4.    Managers, beware. Here be the dragons of isolation and remote working.

I have decades of experience in working remotely and leading remote teams. Common themes are recurring, and you can bet your life on it you will encounter them.

 

  • Virtual team members are prone to feelings of isolation. David Rock’s seminal work [1] affirmed that relatedness is a core human need. Most people (note, there are exceptions) need to feel a sense of connectedness, belonging, and camaraderie, or their drive/motivation can whither. This is an engagement problem and therefor a central productivity challenge you must overcome.
  • As a Sales Manager you will have to work diligently at building the sense of ‘we’ using the tools at your disposal. Instead of your weekly 1-hour sales meeting, opt to two shorter virtual sessions. Do regular virtual stand-ups/check-in’s. Make sharing a priority and coach your people to be concise/precise in their online comms. Brevity and relevance are very important, or people switch off and multitask.
  • You must coach them to be disciplined in the virtual word – airtime is precious and must be used smartly. I like the principle I learned from a friend years ago: be bright, be brief, be gone.
  • The productivity of people suddenly forced to work remotely can suffer in the absence of corporate structure and cadences.As a sales leader you should recalibrate your operational processes and business rhythms to suit the new norm and give your teams renewed structure and the opportunity to win back operational discipline and process rigour.
  • Many will feel ungrounded without this structure and by you doing this, you will avoid the uncomfortable perception that there is a vacuum in leadership in the digital world. Your presence as manager and coach needs to be felt throughout the transition and having recalibrated structures and processes gives you a blueprint to coach against.
  • People engaging across a digital medium are prone to being distracted and easily side-tracked. We all have lot going on and when your team are working from home you are competing against any multiple of babies, puppies, a demanding spouse/partner, CNN, the Amazon delivery person and so on. There are lots of competing priorities and distractions.
  • Get good at ensuring every participant is actively involved in each session and the chatbot is the easiest tool to maintain focus. Solicit constant feedback in the box and read it out when it comes. When someone goes quiet or goes on mute for extended periods, make note of it and don’t just let it go. Teach your teams that you expect their full and undivided focus and they will adapt.
  • Be vigilant in maintaining (and growing) levels of cohesion and trust. You will need to watch that the team remains in unison, are united and continue showing all the signs of a cohesive, ‘well-oiled’ unit. Despite the remote circumstances ensure that goodwill abounds. Maintain a reservoir of energising camaraderie and a positive spirit. Use the predicament and misfortune we are all experiencing to build allegiance, loyalty and commitment towards ‘each other’.
  • Finally, show inclusive leadership. Harness the diversity elements and minorities in a group by carefully soliciting contribution from every person according to their unique strengths. Remember that it is difficult for individuals from outside the dominant culture to integrate into the team, and this is amplified in the virtual context.
  • Treat discord seriously if it every rears its head. Make sure conflict in the team is quickly resolved and harmony is restored. You cannot allow the distance to get in the way of clearing and renewal conversations during which people dialogue together in a spirit of openness and learning to resolve differences and get back to ‘as one’.

 

Conclusion

I have been reading wildly discordant views on selling and leading during this pandemic. Some suggest in crisis we should abandon all our commercial priorities and simply batten down the hatches. Many express fears at being perceived as opportunistic during this time and are laying low, or out of sight. Others are bullish and only espouse strategies of how to capitalise and exploit this moment of collective vulnerability.

 

My personal intuitions are that the middle ground provides a safe position from which to act with integrity. It is a sensible place from which to lead authentically and still honour our commercial responsibilities; an approach that is neither a brazen exploitation of the crises, nor a total capitulation to it.

 

Sellers, know this: During this time you can distinguish yourself and differentiate your personal brand (and the brand of your company) by showing up with a proactive and positive spirit and demonstrating a sincere willingness to contribute to others and add value where you can. Sales leaders, you will need to show a unique blend of character, substance and style though this ordeal. It is in moments like these that your legacy will be cemented.

 

[1] Rock, D (2009) Your Brain at Work

 

This article was written by Mark Ward, Consulting Partner at the Mentor Group. If you found value in it please like or share it, and if you wish to get in contact please do so at mark.ward@mentorgroup.co.uk