SalesTech Star

How to Create Value in the Age of Virtual Sales Meetings

By Paula Shannon, Chief Evangelist at Lilt

Sales people have been working remotely for years.  As a result, many leaders in the age of COVID-19 have not worried about their sales employees’ ability to adapt to a work-from-home environment.  What is missing, however, is the fact that, while sales professionals have always juggled travel, hotel room connections, and airport conference calls, much of their actual value was established through deeply personal, face-to-face meetings with individuals and groups of stakeholders.

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In this age of instant video conferencing, pop-up virtual team meetings, and multi-window, digital gatherings, sales professionals are often skipping the most crucial steps associated with needs discovery, and are instead reverting to old habits by jumping straight into demonstrations, slideware, or canned pitches.

In general, 60% of sales deals end in the client making no decision. This is 60% of the qualified prospects who confirmed that they wanted to change, who were seemingly open to risk.  Throughout the sales process, we face human buyers who have what researchers have termed status quo bias, and who exhibit even stronger tendencies for preference stability.

The solution to this bias against change is that we must deliberately de-stabilize the prospects’ preferences in our sales encounters, materials, and approach. It’s important to show prospects that their status quo preference is no longer safe, scalable, sustainable, sensible, cost-effective, or defensible – whatever it might be.  Most top sales people do this through a series of probing questions and methodologies that challenge the prospect to consider their unmet needs.

With so much time spent on Zoom calls, many sales teams are rushing to make the call relevant for their prospect or buyer, grateful to connect at all. They believe that they should use the screen tools, share slides, and jump right into their value proposition. Those reps that do have the confidence to begin with diagnostic questions and probes, often focus on the customer’s current situation or existing solution.

Insights Before Questions

It is clear that our virtual reality makes it a struggle to identify the basic elements of creating value.  After listening to hundreds of recorded Zoom calls during the past year, most reps are attempting to launch a sales encounter with diagnostic questioning, and they tend to leave insights until much later in the interaction, if at all.  Unfortunately, this leads to something called the “Anchoring Effect” – providing the prospect with the question before the insight serves to anchor them to their current state. If the desire is for someone to believe they should leave or change their status quo, then the rep must work to have them believe that they have less confidence in the status quo.

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Dr. Zackary Tormela, a Stanford professor specializing in change and persuasion, collaborated on a sales research project that showed that prospects exhibited a 7.2% drop in confidence when they were first presented with an insight and then asked questions to benchmark or rank themselves against that insight.  7.2% is statistically meaningful in any sales cycle.

Conversely, If the status quo questions came first, these served to reduce their willingness to change.

Contrast To Create Change

With video conferencing, it also matters how the sales team tells the ‘meat’ of the story.  Often on the calls I have audited, I hear reps begin with a series of standard diagnostic or situational questions, and then move quickly into a description of how their product or service works, or what their difference is.  What is lacking is the detailed contrast of how their product or solution differs from the prospect’s current state.

In fact, if this contrasting is done well, research shows that providing stark contrast side-by-side on the same screen can lead to a 14% increase in the prospect’s willingness to switch.   In addition, effective contrasting contributes to a sense of urgency – the lack of which remains one of the biggest obstacles to selling during this pandemic, or any crisis.

Expand Deal Size And Value Through Uncertainty

The third level of improvement, which builds on the first two competencies, is the ability to fight the commodity conversation by introducing uncertainty into a sales discussion in order to increase pricing flexibility.

Unfortunately, some reps find this difficult to do on video conferencing platforms and without the personal relationship connections that they may have forged in the past.  Because it is more difficult for them to “read the room,” control the interactive conversation, and strategically involve other stakeholders present, the prospect is allowed to define the guardrails and the challenge – and the conversation never gets to the true, unrecognized needs.  Effective, virtual reps need to introduce unconsidered needs much earlier in the presentation.

This last competency will take some time to build up, as they need examples, guidance on typical unconsidered needs, and some support on asserting the friction coefficient of these unconsidered needs. The friction coefficient highlights the current issues that the prospect is encountering and explains how money, time, and reach – all of which are usually decision influencers – are impacted. 

Change Is Always The Risky Bet

Bottom line: decisions that require change will be perceived as the risky bet.  How can the successful sales profession get someone to take the risky bet when they are two to three times more inclined to avoid loss than acquire gains?

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We can do three things:

  • Share insights that incite – Video conferencing doesn’t preclude you from starting a call with thought leadership or sharing learnings.
  • Create uncertainty by highlighting unconsidered needs – Probing and diagnostics is not simply asking the prospect to “tell us how you are handling this today.”
  • Contrast the status quo – Don’t rely on pitch decks and product marketing content.  Build content that is specific to the prospects challenge or desired business outcome.

There are lasting opportunities that will come from even this dire pandemic.  Companies are considering transformation, change, and innovation.

The most important thing for the successful sales person to do is the same thing that has always distinguished the overperformers: they must focus on listening.  It is not about your virtual background or ring lighting; it is about time-tested active listening skills.

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