HomeSpecial ReportVirtual Selling Is Now Simply Selling

Virtual Selling Is Now Simply Selling

More than a year of working from home has shown that online video meetings and remote demonstrations work just fine most of the time for business-to-business sales. Many customers, it turns out, actually prefer the virtual approach.

A recent global Bain & Company survey, conducted with Dynata, found that 92% of B2B buyers prefer virtual sales interactions, up 17% from our survey in May 2020. More sellers also realize virtual selling’s effectiveness, now at 79% compared with 54% last May. Suppliers appreciate how the approach can yield three benefits:

  • Faster, more frequent communication with customers
  • Cost-effective interactions
  • The ability to interact with more prospects

Yet, despite broader acceptance of virtual selling, the execution often falls short. Frontline sales staff, in particular, report less improvement on win rates and revenue per sales representative than executives.

Companies that get it right are constantly fine-tuning the optimal balance of digital, phone and field sales. The most successful practitioners have done more than make a few tweaks to their traditional selling model, and they have not focused solely on small deals or small accounts. Instead, they have focused on mastering five areas.

Win the Sale Before It Gets to the Rep

In most business markets, there’s a significant gap between sellers’ beliefs and buyers’ expectations. Roughly 80% of buyers have set their specifications before talking to a sales rep, and about 35% of buyers have a vendor preference before talking to a rep. Buyers tend to prefer digital sources of information in most cases, while sellers overstate the importance of in-person forums such as trade shows.

These dynamics have a clear implication: Customers doing online research on a category should be able to find a potential supplier quickly, find an offering that fits their needs, and experience the product or service through web-based demos and videos. They should then be able to quickly and easily engage, whether through a chat bot, live chat or a sales rep.

Attune Virtual Coverage to Customer Expectations

Traditionally, a sales rep and a product specialist were joined at the hip in selling big-ticket systems to enterprise clients. Increasingly, however, companies roll out in-person coverage only when customers demand it. They are managing product specialists differently, allowing managers to assign them on a case-by-case basis to answer questions and do product demos for the most important deals. That makes the entire sales process more nimble and responsive while also trimming costs.

Build a Library of Prescriptive Sales Plays

While it is essential to get the mix of virtual and field sales right, that alone is not sufficient. Reaching full potential means spelling out in a repeatable way how the model should work depending on the specific circumstances. Here, prescriptive sales plays enter the picture.

A sales play is a coordinated set of sales and marketing actions to create and win an opportunity at a specific customer or prospect. It sets the cadence of the sale, defining how sales reps, experts and others reach out to customers and in what sequence. The play orchestrates resources across functions, supplying all marketing content, messaging and other sales collateral. Notably, sales plays are designed to expand the number of possible deals in the pipeline and convert them to actual revenue for a specific commercial objective, such as cross-selling or acquiring a new customer.

Retool the Front Line

Successfully deploying virtual sales entails an overhaul of sales support and management methods on several fronts. For instance, the best sales teams develop a systematic approach to uncovering insights about customer behavior, using machine learning analysis of customer interaction data. Zoom, the video communications firm, uses software to analyze call data in order to identify winning communication styles and inform its training of sales staff.

Coaching methods also change in a virtual world. Quarterly ride-along sessions with the boss become digital and more frequent.

Similarly, the set of skills also must change. Finding talented virtual sellers relies less on headhunters and assessment for cultural fit and more on digital fluency.

Design Each Digital Cockpit to Suit the Role

As sales and marketing software has proliferated, most B2B companies have assembled a mishmash of tools that, at best, limit the return on investment and, at worst, confuse and overwhelm the front line. It’s far more effective to design each blend of software products for the role.

Marketing roles, for instance, need tools for segmentation and scoring, marketing automation, and attribution and analytics. Sales roles need account planning, prospecting, opportunity management and quote/proposal/closing.

No matter when the pandemic abates or when a new crisis might materialize, virtual selling is here to stay. Moving with conviction is the key to making these changes with minimum disruption.


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David Deming
David Deming
David Deming is a partner at the consulting firm Bain & Company.

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