Is personal selling dead? The rise of virtual sales.

By Rajendra Prasad Sharma

The context

The pandemic has challenged personal selling due to travel restrictions and social distancing standards, forcing sales organizations to eliminate (or minimize) in-person meetings. Work from home salespeople have failed in transitioning a substantial part of the sales process to virtual selling. Reaching customers physically and connecting personally every step of the way in the sales process has become very difficult. The global downturn has driven sales managers to assess and improve sales productivity and hone the skills of the sales force to get through the shift smoothly. There are huge opportunities for improvement in the deployment and operation of technology to accelerate sales performance.

The situation analysis

Before COVID19, salespeople used technology only to ease the burden of routine tasks. Email, video calling, social media, and customer relationship management (CRM) tools from Salesforce, SAP, HubSpot, Zoho, and more have been in high demand among business organizations due to their growing impact on business. customer lifetime value. During the pandemic, prospecting and pre-sales research did well online. LinkedIn for professional networking, ZoomInfo, Bloomberg, and other databases made pre-sales research easy. Emails have proven useful in responding to formal customer requests for proposals (RFPs), requests for quotations (RFQs); the pandemic has seen video sharing via email as an influential trend. Voice calls have remained inexpensive; However, to offer the product, discuss prices, and close deals, salespeople had to migrate to video calls or conferences, as body language signals provide valuable context to the sales conversation.

As most salespeople are extroverted, they recharge their batteries by being in contact with people; much of the discussion got lost in the virtual sale. Selling only by phone, email and video calls, they started to feel demotivated. Zoom has witnessed an exponential growth in virtual meetings on technology platforms, namely Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting and others. Features like screen sharing and various backgrounds have helped sellers make calls from their homes without hesitation. However, the adoption of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, rapid prototyping and others, will make the sale personalized.

High Touch, Hi-Tech imperative

Although video calls are superior to audio calls and emails, high-tech Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) can improve the user experience during product demonstrations, as customers can get benefits. product overviews before purchasing. AR / VR can improve buyer’s visits to seller’s manufacturing plants, virtual events, and exhibitions, greatly saving travel time, effort and cost. Sales processes use big data analytics to understand customer behavior and machine learning (ML) algorithms to target the right customers rather than relying on intuition. However, artificial intelligence (AI) will not be that sensitive to replace personal selling. Some AIML applications, such as chatbots and rapid prototyping, can increase and accelerate virtual sales.

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Chatbots provide instant messaging using natural language processing (NLP) to derive meaning and intent from written text helping sellers answer frequently asked questions (FAQs), explain complex products to potential customers, and do progress the transaction. By applying three-dimensional (3D) printing, sellers can create a photo-realistic model of the objects. These AI-based systems can now be deployed from the cloud so that even the smallest organizations with limited resources can also take advantage of these cutting-edge presentation technologies.

Customers use social media to research information, compare products, and build relationships with sellers. For example, blog posts are a powerful tool for engaging decision makers in discussions and listening to them. Success stories solving customer problems can present value propositions convincingly. Essentially, the active use of social media can help sellers connect with customers. LinkedIn networking is a robust platform for sellers to create, share, and exchange content to build stronger relationships. Sales professionals can easily measure and work on improving their social selling skills for professional branding, connecting with the right people, engaging them with information, and building strong relationships on the market. LinkedIn social selling index. White papers as case documents illustrating how the sales organization helps solve a customer problem in the B2B space can play a crucial role at the end-stage, as the arguments and data contained can help decision makers conclude in favor. of the seller.

The problem and the solution

Vendors are still not using high-tech tools. They feel uncomfortable managing virtual video meetings. They cannot decipher buy signals from passport-sized images of buying team members. Virtual meetings allow them to guess what their prospects are thinking. The overuse of videoconferencing has also resulted in fatigue for some.
Salespeople need encouragement and guidance to improve their social selling skills. Sales activation should focus on training salespeople to use virtual sales methods. Training the sales force in the intensive use of scanned documents e.g. digital business cards, digital quotes, scanned sales brochures, identifying action points from the chatbot analytics dashboard can lead to higher conversion. Sales managers need to equip their sales force with great sales content like blogs, case studies, and white papers. AI / ML can help the sales force access useful data-driven information for decision-making during the early stages of the sales process – that is, by targeting the right set of customers and adapting the buying and selling processes. Documenting industry insights, future trends, and smart infographics on customer solutions will create opportunities for salespeople to present to prospects with impact.

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Sales managers should counsel their salespeople to address motivation issues during the transition phase. To ensure adoption of virtual selling, activity quotas for adopting the technology can help. Once business managers understand, explore, and become proficient, they would like to combine face-to-face and virtual sales methods in the post-pandemic era. Distance selling inevitably reduces travel time and costs. In addition, it promises to improve the buyer-seller interface and the customer experience. There are many possibilities for automating sales and enabling technology in sales management functions.

Conclusion

During the pandemic and beyond, all facets of sales management recruiting, onboarding, training, coaching, counseling, supervision and evaluations can move online. It will be useful and productive to ensure that the virtual sale incorporates in-person meetings. Organizations that embrace virtual selling and overcome technological limitations will better achieve their revenue and bottom line goals. Sales professionals who are adept at virtual selling will be in high demand and will keep paid employment.

The author is associate professor at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi and Kolkata. The opinions expressed are personal.

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