In around February 2021, the people of India found some respite from the COVID-19 pandemic. After months of the slowdown, things were getting better day by day. The situation was marching towards business as usual. Two months later, here we are, back to square one or rather square minus one. Lockdowns are imposed in many areas. 2021 is nothing but 2020 2.0.
Business and the economy are once again being asked to face the wrath of the second wave. During the first lockdown, many business organisations transitioned and adapted themselves well through various virtual techniques. They gradually transitioned again towards traditional (offline) modes of work as things got better. It was more of a semi offline-semi virtual (hybrid) kind of environment. They would now again be required to transition themselves into a purely virtual form of work.
While most of the functions can be handled in a virtual environment. However, Sales has been traditionally associated with an offline form in most industries wherein physical presence and meetings are key to its success. In a pressure situation compelled by the pandemic, organisations have done quite well to transform their traditional sales function into virtual sales.
Virtual Selling: An Overview
Virtual selling is selling using technology. These technologies help the seller to engage and communicate with their customers remotely. There’s no need for a physical presence, no in-person/face-to-face meetings, whatsoever. All you need is technology, a device, and expertise – there you go!
When it comes to technology in the virtual selling space, we have plenty of advanced tools and resources available on the internet. These tools can be accessed using a device be it a desktop or a laptop, smartphone or tablet. These tools commonly include several features such as video conferencing, live chats, voice calls, chatbots, mailers, etc. In addition, they’re also laced up with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that provide detailed insights and analytics. Usage of analytics has proven to be a game-changer in the modern-day sales function.
Although virtual selling is not a new concept, its importance was particularly accentuated in 2020 when the entire world was under strict confinement imposed to encumber the spread of the coronavirus. It’s 2021 and now there’s little need to look back at the traditional ways, virtual selling is the present and it is indeed the future as well. But why? Why do we feel that virtual selling is here to stay? Reasons are abundant!
1. Dynamic Business Environment
The tweet posted by the WHO (World Health Organisation) on 14th January 2020 drew sharp criticism in the days to come. People would’ve breathed a sigh of relief seeing the tweet. Roughly two months beyond, the entire world was under lockdown. That’s how the business environment transforms in a little span of time. Battling such rapid changes requires trust over technology because it turns out to be the only saviour in these unprecedented times. Establishing trust over technology takes time. Investments in technology should be from a long-term perspective because nobody can predict, what the future brings with itself.
We’ll get over the coronavirus pandemic, but would it be the end of all the miseries? We’ll gain immunity from the virus but our world isn’t immune to all the natural and unnatural occurrences. In the coming future, we might find ourselves in the middle of yet another pandemic. While pandemic is one such contingency, we have several other existing ones that we don’t even realise, can pose immense threats to our business functions. These are wars, political turmoil, protests leading to curfews, terrorism, destruction of property, etc. All of these are being experienced in some part of the world or the other. There’s no guarantee that we can’t face the same problems in our country.
It is important to be agile. Thinking of this pandemic as a lesson and preparing for the worst possible scenario in the future would help the business adapt to the continuously changing business environment. With respect to sales, using virtual selling is an effective way to cope up with such eventualities that cause whirlwind changes in the environment. For any impediments such as lockdowns, for whatever reasons, you can always rely upon virtual selling if you have the required technology and tools with you along with the know-how of the tools. Why not treat virtual selling as a permanent option to insure your sales function during such unprecedented times?
2. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
Irrespective of pandemics like COVID19, technologies would continue to evolve in all the business functions. When your peers and competitors embrace new technologies by focussing upon virtual selling as an effective sales prospect, you simply can’t stay there not lifting a finger. The ‘survival of the fittest’ maxim should never be forgotten in the business world. When it comes to technology, you strictly need to possess the FOMO, the fear of missing out else you’ll miss out for the worse. Virtual selling should be embraced, else the rivals will embrace it quicker. This is just like a race, there are no turtles here, it’s all among rabbits. You can’t afford to sleep while being overconfident with your traditional sales mechanism.
No matter in what industry you are, there is always an extent to which you can use virtual selling as an effective sales option. Multiple examples from the history of the business world show that it is indeed difficult to embrace a change, however, if one rejects to embrace that change, the competitor gains an advantage, and that eventually proves detrimental for the business in the future. So, it’s important to put small yet significant efforts towards embracing new technologies. Rigidity never works against obsolescence.
Example: The real estate industry, on the face of it, may appear unconvincing for the implementation of a virtual selling mechanism. However, it isn’t that bad as it seems. Videography-based tools such as 360-degree tours along with the usage of augmented reality make virtual selling an enticing prospect even in the real estate industry. As previously mentioned, there’s always an extent to which virtual selling can be used. This extent, however, would continue to increase in the post covid times.
3. Online Revolution
There has been an online revolution in recent years. Thanks to affordable data plans, everyone is online! The global digital overview according to the ‘DataReportal’ website states that a whopping 59.5% of all the people in the world are internet users (January 2021). With this much population presence on the internet, it is indeed alarmingly imperative for your business to build an online presence. That’s exactly what has been observed in recent times. The businesses have arrived in the online space. Many of their functions are online too. Virtual Selling provides you with an opportunity to conduct your sales through the online platform.
There is no dearth of software, tools and resources to conduct virtual sales. They are present on every nook and corner of the internet. You need to evaluate and analyse your business and choose your tool in accordance with your suitability, with respect to your sales function and budget. This is a problem of plenty. These tools provide you with the benefit of customisation that in turn makes your virtual sales process, an easy process to undertake. When you have all the tools that make life easy, not using them means failing to exploit the available resources. The businesses and the sales representatives must strive towards extracting the best out of the virtual selling tools and the resources that are available on the internet.
The online revolution is growing by leaps and bound. In the coronavirus era, when people are stuck in their homes, they are stuck on their phones. After the pandemic ends, the situation isn’t going to be very different. Being online these days is more of a necessity than a luxury and necessities are necessities, whatever the situation be. Hence, people would continue to enjoy their presence in the online world even after the pandemic. Such presence should be capitalised by the businesses by understanding their problems and providing them solutions with the help of their virtual selling function.
Social media plays an important role here. The enormous presence of people on social media platforms has transformed the platforms into a marketplace. The business enterprise through analytics can understand the online behaviour of people in a rigorous manner. The presence of social media tools can also support lead generation and closing the deals. According to a report by LinkedIn, around 89% of top-performing salespersons agree that social networking platforms such as LinkedIn are important in closing deals and are an essential component of their sales strategy.
The same report suggests that for those sales representatives who invest in social media, 64% of them complete their team quota when compared to only 49% of them completing their team quota out of those who don’t use social media. Social media platforms have considerably evolved. Most of them started as fun and recreation through networking-based platforms. They all are now serving as a business platform and transactions worth millions of dollars happen daily through them.
As the cliché says, the world in the 21st century is a globalised world. With the advent of the internet and technology, the world has become compact. However, with globalisation, the competition has increased manifold. Business organisations do feel the presence of their rivals from around the world, particularly in these coronavirus times. The big multi-national players make it extremely difficult for the comparatively medium and the small ones. As the virus ends and the situation becomes normal, the competition would eventually become more and more fierce. Under such circumstances, it becomes important for businesses to come up with new strategies, one of them is to expand into the International markets. The role of virtual selling under such a scenario stands highlighted.
The customer base becomes geographically dispersed and virtual selling presents a solution that saves time and expenditure to a great extent. Sitting at your home, you can carry out numerous sales deals in a market that is as expansive as the entire world. The investment is very low when compared to a face-to-face meeting in a different country. The flexibility is immense as well. In a cut-throat competitive market, these benefits eventually turn out to be quite advantageous for the business in the long term.
Globalisation poses its own challenges in terms of cultural barriers, language, different policies and laws, etc. To reach global markets, it is important to study each of these challenges in detail and address them. Such a study can be undertaken using virtual selling tools in a cost-efficient manner. Many of these tools have country-specific content that can help you to understand the market in a very refined manner. The tools also have language and translating features that make virtual selling much more reliable and comfortable as compared to the face-to-face modes of selling when it comes to the International markets.
The earnings in these coronavirus times have been low. As the pandemic wanes, the revenues would eventually increase, however it’s uncertain how much time will it take to reach the pre-Covid earning capacity levels. As a result, the businesses have become cost-conscious and there’s no other option for them. Many of them have fired their employees so as to save costs. Under such a circumstance, virtual selling becomes the most preferred option. Travelling costs associated with visits represent a good share of a sales representative’s expenditure. Under a virtual selling model, the travelling cost stands remarkably reduced.
If after a period of time, the entire sales work can be undertaken in a virtual manner, it would go a long way in reducing the expenditures of a business enterprise. This is somewhat like following the concept of frugal innovation, wherein the enterprise puts in an effort so as to curb the unnecessary expenditure. The focus is on achieving the desired result while investing lesser than what you were originally investing. This cost-cutting approach may soon become a necessity so as to survive in the post-covid era. It calls for a paradigm shift towards virtual selling being preferred as a frugality-driven option with a long-term orientation.
Modern-day customers, whether they are B2B or B2C, they have their own needs and requirements. These distinctive requirements can change in a jiffy since the customers are quickly evolving. A very large proportion of the customers do their research on the internet. They are well learned and educated unlike in the past when they had few options for research during the pre-internet era. As time passes, the customers would continue to evolve. They’re affected by the changes that the coronavirus era has brought with itself. Adapting to the changing environments- the pre and the post covid environments makes them a lot more inquisitive and dynamic. Virtual sales play quite an effective role in this regard.
When sales representatives are engaged in virtual sales, they’re more likely to have a personalised set-up for their customers. The use of Artificial Intelligence is the key differentiator over here. It crosses limits that are unimaginable to the human mind. The AI-laced salespersons have a cushion for being responsive to the changing customer needs which they might not have when they’re indulged in a face-to-face meeting. Using the tools, the sales representatives are able to understand the problems of the customers in a much better way and accordingly, the solutions that they offer are tailor-made with respect to the customer’s needs and requirements. That’s what a modern-day customer wants.
According to a Mckinsey report, around 80% of B2B customers want virtual selling to stay even during post-covid times. They cite safety, easier scheduling and travel cost savings as the primary reasons for their choice.
7. Productivity & Effectiveness
Finally, the most visible benefit of virtual selling includes a rise in productivity and effectiveness. By avoiding face-to-face meetings, the sales representatives can save a lot of time that would’ve earlier spent travelling around. Especially in a metropolitan city, travelling around can take hours, particularly when you’re stuck in the traffic jams that are quite quintessential to the bustling modern-day metro life. It does take a toll on the human body. As a result, productivity is hampered.
Sales representatives can attend to more customers than they would’ve if they would’ve opted for a face-to-face meeting option. The communication is quick as well when it comes to virtual selling. The precise presentation is effective if prepared well in advance. There is a presence of a good number of touchpoints that can be referred to. The presence of high-quality content is essential in this regard. It can take multiple forms, be it a blog post, infographics/pictorials, video or a presentation.
All these factors help in enhancing the productivity levels and also raises the effectiveness of the sales representatives. According to research conducted by HubSpot, it was found that around 63% of sales leaders agreed that virtual sales meetings are equally effective or more effective than physical meetings.
These are the general benefits of virtual selling and they provide a reason to hold onto virtual selling irrespective of the pandemic or any other extraordinary situation. These benefits would hold even more importance when the pandemic would be over and there would again arise a predicament when the organisations would be required to choose between the virtual and face-to-face selling options.
While virtual selling offers a lot of benefits, there are certain inhibiting factors as well. The most common of them being difficulties in adapting to new technology. Sales representatives are indeed apprehensive regarding successful adaptation to the virtual tools. There are theories that opine that traditional sales are the best form of sales because the rapport and relationship that you can build when you’re present in person are unmatched to what you would build on a video conference. There’s also a general perception that virtual selling is industry-specific and it is difficult to apply it everywhere. Some people feel that their customers aren’t the correct target audience for the application of virtual selling.
All these inhibitors have gateways through them. The apprehensions regarding successful implementation can be reduced by proper training. Regarding rapport and relationship, it is a product of understanding the customer and focussing upon providing a solution to their problem rather than thinking about them as just another target or a lead. While we have previously discussed that there is an extent to which virtual selling can be used in an industry, this extent is expanding as ever. Investments in the present would yield benefits in the future. The same is the case with customers who are not equipped with virtual selling tools, there is a behavioural change experienced by them and with time, more and more of them would join the virtual selling revolution.
The Road Ahead – Training
You have all the tools and techniques in your virtual selling arsenal, but your sales representatives don’t know how to use these tools, virtual selling would be of little use for you. Training comes to you as a mentor who shows you the way.
There are majorly two kinds of training for the sales representatives viz. technical and interpersonal. Technical training involves learning how to use the tools, the devices, the insights and the analytics.
On the other hand, interpersonal training makes the sales representatives aware of the video conferencing etiquettes. It also focuses upon the communication and presentation skills of the salespersons. In addition, there is a focus on learning how to build relationships and rapport. Non-verbal communication becomes important under virtual selling. Kinesics (body language) are also focussed upon as a component of interpersonal training.
The basic rules of success when it comes to virtual selling is as general as it gets – prepares well in advance- follow the process- be empathetic and agile- focus on the problem- provide a personalised solution.
Proper training is the key to implementing these rules into grassroots level reality.
A McKinsey survey states that more and more people are preferring remote or hybrid working models. Out of the people surveyed, 62% of them preferred an offline (traditional) working model during the pre-covid times. It slipped to 37%, a reduction of 25 percentage points for post-covid times and that’s quite a significant number. 30% of them are willing to switch if an offline working model is fully preferred and they are physically called upon to the office for work.
If employees themselves are gradually inclining towards remote and hybrid forms of work even during post-covid times, it becomes significantly important for the organisation to cater to the emerging employee preferences. Virtual selling initially had reservations among the sales representatives. With time, the apprehensions are fading away because the sales representatives are gaining experience in this field, they’re habituating themselves with the tools. The benefits that virtual selling offers, easily overwhelms the inhibiting factors and that’s what enhances its value proposition.
The concept of virtual selling is gradually turning out to be a permanent solution rather than a short-term contingency measure. Sooner or later, it is indeed going to be the part and parcel of the sales function. Continuing investments in virtual selling infrastructure is the key to the success of the sales function in the future that’s marked by an exorbitant level of uncertainty.
- Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG
- These eight charts show how COVID-19 has changed B2B sales forever
Bages-Amat et al: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/these-eight-charts-show-how-covid-19-has-changed-b2b-sales-forever
- Virtual Selling is Here to Stay (Statistics That Prove It)
- 60 Key Sales Statistics That’ll Help You Sell Smarter in 2021
- Global Digital Overview – DataReportal
Global Digital Insights: https://datareportal.com/global-digital-overview