Virtual Selling Part 2: Understanding the human element….

Virtual Selling Part 2: Understanding the human element….

The ‘new’ norm

For many organisations, the COVID crisis has stripped customer interaction back to the very core; no-frills, focus on the basics & keep it simple. But now, with some form of stability beginning to emerge in certain sectors, and a slight shift back to more ‘normal’ customer engagements, it is an almost certainty that ‘virtual’ meetings will remain the new norm and become a permanent feature into the future. But, “How do we interact with our customers virtually in a way that gets the most out of the experience for all?”

As identified in our previous article; Virtual Selling part 1: Preparation we talked about the 1% virtual sales club; those few who use the best practices of virtual meetings to sell to a customer and excel in customer engagement, all done virtually. We also looked at listening, understanding, and building rapport, with reference to Covey’s principle of “seek first to understand, before being understood” is the epicentre to building great relationships, and therefore creating a higher likelihood that your customer will engage with you more and with success.

Camera on – maximise your full communication package

If you walked into a client’s meeting room, where would you sit? One choice you’re unlikely to make is to hide in the stationery cupboard, so why would you effectively make that same choice when engaging in a sales meeting online by not switching on your video camera?! Switch your cameras ON – maximise the full human communication package. Yes. Even if your customer decides not to. Be the bigger person, demonstrate, and stay consistent with what you know is right.

Our previous article spoke to the importance of preparation around this and showing up professionally, but here’s the other point – a big part of how human beings assess each other and build trust through the messages they’re receiving, is by what they see. Your body language plays a huge role in your full communication package. We’re getting more comfortable with this as we use the technology but resistance remains. You cannot not communicate and if we realise that for 70% of people, the visual sense is the principle sensorial super-highway to the brain… why would we blank off that access? Now, think what does ‘cameras off’ do to your communication with your customer?

Signpost your questions

A key part of understanding your customer is the preparation, use, and direction of great questions – any 5% club salesperson knows this. What about the 1% virtual club? In a face-to-face meeting, you have physical cues like glances & hand gestures to indicate who your question is directed toward. Even with your camera on, this ability is limited. Ask a question to a group of key stakeholders in a virtual setting and you’re likely to get either everyone, or no-one talking. Neither is a great result.

Signpost in advance who the question is directed toward, not after you’ve asked the question. Give your customer time to recognise the question is coming their way and avoid the feeling of being ‘pounced’ on. If you’re looking for responses from several stakeholders, signpost that you’ll come to ‘Mary’ first, then ‘John’ etc. This technique also helps manage different personality types – the more introverted, thinking personality styles often prefer some advanced notice to formulate their response.  This is even more important in the virtual world. Signpost your questions.

You need to work harder…milliseconds matter

Imagine two friends chatting in the front seats of their car whilst driving along with the windows open & radio on. It’s harder work to understand each other because of the noise and distractions. Virtual sales are much the same – you need to work harder to understand as technology interferes with our ability to communicate. This is a big contributor to the recent phenomena of ‘Zoom fatigue’ using technology is tiring, you need to work harder.

The technology used in virtual sales meetings has rapidly advanced but still clashes with the way that humans communicate. The technology, in simple terms, breaks communication down into small pieces, transmits it, and puts it together at the other end. Brilliant but still slower than how humans normally communicate. Milliseconds matter. Delays have an unconscious impact when understanding your customer. Pauses make speakers come across less convincingly. A study by Felicia Roberts of Purdue University (The Economist 16th May 2020) found that positive responses with a delay of a mere 700 milliseconds were rated less genuine because it normally takes a lot less than that to give a positive response. You might think you’re being clear but the delay makes you sound a bit ‘dodgy’.

Is anyone drifting off?

The normal way people overcome interruptions in the physical environment is also disrupted as the technology creates more vocal clashes than normal. This is tiring. Over-technical detail and jargon are best avoided at all times; the research suggests that it’s worse in the virtual world. This type of language is rated with even less trust.

As a salesperson, you need to account for this. Probe your customer’s responses more, to check meaning and gain understanding – always important; more important virtually. Summarise more frequently – always important; more important virtually. Milliseconds matter.

“A virtual sales meeting is not a face-to-face meeting done virtually.”

Understanding the human element is a prerequisite for successful selling and influencing in any circumstance. Getting it right in the virtual world means understanding how technology interfaces with human psychology and communication. As a salesperson it’s your responsibility to account for this. A virtual sales meeting is not a face-to-face meeting done virtually.

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Gareth Moxom