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09 April 2020 8 min read

Covid-19: Making social distance selling work in B2B

Ric Dudley

Ric Dudley
Director | Products and services | London

Face-to-face selling has long been an endangered species. Changing buying behaviours, maturing digital channels and regulation limit the ability of the B2B sales force to contribute in the way they once did. And now the government’s instruction to restrict all unnecessary travel and introduce remote working in response to Covid-19 will accelerate this trend. Within a couple of weeks, we have all become inside sales.

Understandably, field sellers are concerned about missing out on the nuances of face to face meetings, the intangibles, cues and tips. They can no longer just walk the halls and ‘bump into people’. Fewer available channels means those left are more crowded. How can you differentiate and maintain customer intimacy in a virtual world?

But with field-sales now dormant - if not extinct - organisations have no option but to pivot to selling virtually. This requires infrastructure, new processes, and a different sales approach. A lot can be done to make this new reality work. Here’s how:

Engagement approach:  Proactivity, empathy, authority

Your customers are facing the same unknowns and the same fears you are. They are, after all, people just like you and Covid-19 represents a common enemy, a shared cause, and a unifying moment. This should shape how you engage with your customers now and for the foreseeable future:

  • Make yourself visible – With fewer, more crowded channels you are in a fight for customer mind-share. Now is the time to proactively reach out and be visible with all the virtual tools at your disposal. Let your customers know that you are there for them and show them you care.
  • Be personal and genuine – When you do reach out, lead with empathy and authenticity. Engage with the individual, take interest in the person and their situation. Some people might be worried about their jobs. Have a conversation about how you can help them demonstrate the value they can still add in the current situation.
  • Focus on the customer issue, whatever it is – Take the time to understand the actual challenges your customers are facing right now. Maybe it’s connected to something you sell, maybe it isn’t. That’s irrelevant right now. Use this as an opportunity to learn, to understand what you can do to help them most.
  • Make every interaction count – Be mindful of their focus and their time and don’t your waste it with low value conversations and check-ins. Now is the time to be proactive and bold about helping your customers. Share ideas, insights, contacts or advice that could help them concretely. Your propositions need to be laser-focused on the market situation and customer need.
  • Coach your customer – Just as you were hired to sell one way and are now told to sell differently, your customers are used to buying one way and now need to buy differently. Show them how frictionless it is to buy (from you!), and to do their jobs effectively, in a virtual world.
  • Keep calm and carry on – Show your customers that in uncertain times you are the ‘happy warriors’, the constants and the rocks they can rely on.

The social distance selling motion: End-to-end virtual selling

Give your customers confidence that there is no downside in either the sales-experience or the experience they will receive from your products and services. Just like in ‘Red Dwarf’, it needs to be ‘better than real life’:

  • Prospecting – This is the most virtual step in the sales cycle today. To be successful, sellers need to be able to build relationships through sharing compelling insights on LinkedIn or other digital platforms. LinkedIn profiles need to be impactful, contain a brief pitch and clear messaging. Use saved travel time to work your network. Successful prospecting in a virtual environment requires a data-driven, prioritised list for your sellers to work from, otherwise effectiveness and productivity will suffer.
  • Product demos – Success depends on sellers’ ability to demo products or solutions through virtual means. This requires the right product and technology infrastructure, and sellers with knowledge, confidence and virtual skills to run the demo on their own.
  • Deal shaping and co-creation – Collaboration tools are a great way to engage and collaborate with customers and shape solutions. Consider taking a ‘working out loud’ approach – narrating and co-creating all solutions and proposals with your customer in real-time.
  • Opportunity management – Be proactive along the sales process. Schedule and diarise regular check-ins with your customers to keep momentum, but ensure to have something new of value to add at each interaction.
  • Pitching and presentations – Turn video on to ensure participants are engaged and re-create face-to-face conditions as much as possible. Pause considerably more than you would face-to-face to facilitate conversation, debate and questions.
  • Closing and contracting – This need to be as seamless as you can possibly make it. Digital signature-capability is key and you need to make sure you are well-versed in your customers’ e-procurement portals.

Talent: The right skills for selling in the virtual world

Pivoting field resources to remote virtual selling is more than just a numbers game – virtual selling demands high digital literacy in collaboration tools:

  • Account allocation – An A-list field seller may not make the transition to top-tier virtual seller. It may be necessary to re-assess the talent in your field teams, and re-allocate high-value accounts to your best performing virtual sellers.
  • Coaching  – Consider teaming A-list field sellers with A-list virtual or inside sellers to deliver virtual co-selling motions and build capability.
  • Training – Both, Sales Enablement and your Academy, will need to re-gear to deliver virtual training focused on virtual selling and rapidly roll it out.

Tools: Enabling the end to end virtual selling motion

To make a success of virtual selling you need the tools and assets for the job, either from within your existing stack or by bringing in new capability:

  • Current stack – Get to know and exploit to the full the technology-stack that is already available to you, eg your full CRM capabilities, corporate business systems, and mobility.
  • Remote infrastructure – Make remote working as easy as possible - technically and ergonomically. Invest in screens, headsets, and ergonomic chairs for sellers where needed.
  • Virtual tools – There are multiple remote working and virtual engagement tools you could consider to augment your CRM / customer engagement suite along the virtual sales journey. Some to consider are: chat and conference (e.g. Zoom), collaboration and management (e.g. MS Teams), idea generation and workshop tools (e.g. Mural), shareable files (e.g.OneDrive).
  • Content and assets – Re-purpose existing content for the virtual world, make it engaging and agile. Sellers need to be able to navigate and adjust the focus depending on how the virtual meeting is going.

Now more than ever is the time to show you stand shoulder to shoulder with your customers. The more you can help them navigate the transition to social distance selling, the more value you give them and the deeper your bond will become. In a time of uncertainty and fear, your customers need to know you are there; on their side and by their side, however remotely.

Reach out to Ric Dudley if you would like to explore any of these suggestions further or would like to discuss how to make them work in your organisation.