The coronavirus pandemic has upended the sales world, forcing frontline sales reps to swiftly adjust their selling activities for a virtual environment. While remote working was already gaining ground before the crisis, the pandemic and the subsequent increase in the use of digital tools by sales organizations have ensured that remote selling is here to stay.
However, remote selling brings with it its own challenges. Traditionally, sales reps reveled in face-to-face conversations and meetings. They relied on picking up verbal as well as nonverbal cues to guide and steer conversations. All this is now gone. Some of the challenges that sales reps say they face during virtual interactions, especially with respect to building rapport with customers, are audience multi-tasking and limited interaction.1 Moreover, there are no chances for extended networking over dinner or a casual chat over coffee after meetings to build the trust that underpins sales conversations. This places additional criticality on every remote interaction that sales reps have with prospects.
Skills required for remote selling
To address the changed sales paradigm and overcome the challenges of remote selling, organizations need to plan to upskill their sales teams. So, what are the new skills that sales reps need to be successful in remote selling? Let’s take a look.
Level up digital skills
With the move to an all-digital world, it is necessary to build each sales rep’s technical awareness and digital skills to enable remote operation within the company’s ecosystem of customers, partners, and suppliers. If you are moving to a more tech- and data-centric model, like most sales organizations, familiarize your sales reps with critical tech and data concepts. Sales reps need to be trained in using various communication, collaboration, and enablement tools and processes for effective functioning in a virtual environment.
For instance, sales reps need to be trained on how to use data to identify new sales opportunities that could replace traditional cold calling. They should be enabled with tools that help them personalize the customer’s buying experience, whether it be to choose the right email template to communicate or use the right digital channel to deliver the message. You need to build their skills on using digital solutions, such as CRM and sales training and enablement platforms, to support their own self-paced training, and to access the right content to guide customers through the buyer journey and engage more effectively with them. Sales reps need to be trained to understand and use these tools correctly and securely.
Social selling skills
Social selling refers to using social media to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects. It involves identifying new leads who are talking about your business, competitors, or industry. Instead of relying solely on cold calls, email campaigns, and phone calls to generate leads, social selling allows sales reps to be where their customers are, participate in the conversations that they are having, and connect with prospects. Not surprisingly, 78% of “social sellers” outsell their more conventional peers.2
LinkedIn and Twitter are the most popular social media platforms used by B2B marketers.3 As a professional social network, LinkedIn has proven to be a popular social network amongst B2B companies for engaging in social selling. In fact, 50 percent of B2B buyers use LinkedIn as a source for making purchase decisions.4 LinkedIn allows you to join groups that are relevant to your industry to start networking with peers and prospects and provides various features and tools, like the Sales Navigator, to support social selling on the site. Twitter is a platform that can be used effectively for social listening and identifying influencers, and for learning what prospects are saying about a given industry.
Empathy and active listening skills
In a time like this, when most customers are grappling with new challenges posed by the pandemic, empathy will have to be at the core of all customer interactions. This necessitates special training for sales reps to build interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.
Being empathetic towards a prospect would require a sales rep to make an effort to understand the customer’s changed circumstances - find out, for instance, how the pandemic has impacted the customers, where their focus is, and what their revised goals are - and work toward seeing how the company’s solutions could fit into the customer’s new reality. To do this, sales reps need to be taught active listening skills that include paraphrasing and reflecting on what customers say, asking relevant questions, and withholding judgment and advice prematurely.
Moreover, since remote work implies greater autonomy, critical thinking and strong project management are skills that need to find a place in any sales upskilling program.
Sales readiness and pitching skills
Video presentations and virtual meetings now play an essential role in remote selling. In a recent survey,5 sales professionals (all remote workers) were asked about their feelings regarding remote selling. Almost 70% of them said that selling virtually is not as effective as selling in person, pointing to some of the same challenges that face other remote workers, such as limited interactions, distractibility and “passive presentations.”
This suggests that video presentations and virtual meetings will require purposeful training in building sales reps’ sales readiness and pitching skills. Sales training and coaching solutions with video capabilities support the creation and exchange of coaching content, such as demo calls and role-plays, that allow reps to practice, perfect, and record their pitches via video and share them with their coaches. Leveraging modern platforms that utilize AI/ML technologies allow for pitch submissions to be analyzed at scale across a number of critical dimensions, such as topics covered, words per minute, tone, and more. Sales managers can quickly identify which sales reps are ready to demo to prospects and which sales reps require more coaching and training.
How a modern sales training and coaching platform can help in upskilling
Continued remote working will present an upskilling challenge for organizations. Managers will need to figure out how to train and coach their sales teams remotely and get them to be sales-ready. A modern training and coaching platform can be an effective solution. An effective platform can create customized learning journeys for sales reps and tailor the training process to each sales rep’s skill levels and learning abilities to achieve sales readiness in the shortest possible time.
Further, an effective sales training and coaching solution allows for the creation of content in a variety of media, supports highly searchable libraries of training assets, and facilitates the delivery of training content in bite-sized, modular pieces that can be easily consumed. It provides a customized blend of instructor-led and self-directed courses, incorporating peer and social learning through virtual classrooms, discussion forums, recorded demos, and other sharing tools. It also enables relevant training material to be delivered to the sales reps in a contextual, just-in-time format. This ensures higher absorption and retention of knowledge and more effective deployment of content than traditional training approaches that overload the sales rep.
Making the shift to a predominantly remote working environment may not come naturally to all team members but is the new reality that is here to stay and requires a different approach to training sales reps. With careful reskilling, sales reps can soon be at the top of their game again. The key skills that sales reps require for remote selling are digital and social selling skills, empathy and active listening skills, and sales readiness and pitching skills. To support their efforts in upskilling their sales teams, organizations would be well advised to invest in a modern sales training and coaching platform to meet their needs.