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How to Sell in a Digital and Remote Environment

Home Office with Webcam

“Most of our selling still happens knee to knee.”

An Element Three partner said this to me during a recent meeting, and it harkens back to earlier, happier times. Like two weeks ago, when people could still meet for a cup of coffee and discuss working together face to face—or as they say, knee to knee.

COVID-19 has uprooted every business environment. Even the industries which are in high demand—cybersecurity, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals to name a few—are having to severely shift their day-to-day business routines. The restaurant, airline, and hospitality industries are obviously struggling mightily.

I am sure your day-to-day is in complete upheaval, as well. I know mine is. Full remote work environment, zero face-to-face meetings, and now everyone I meet with has met my dog. It has created an environment in which everyone feels a bit more human, strangely enough, but also one in which building real connections is hard. As everyone in the sales field knows, building relationships is key to finding the correct solution, and as relationships get more difficult to craft, sales get harder to make.

New environments mean new strategies. Here are a few ways to make the shift from personal—knee to knee—selling to selling in a digital environment.

Use social media the way it was meant to be used

As marketers, we often see social media channels only as a route to talk with our potential customers, and forget that it was originally designed to be a way for people—friends—to connect around the world. As sales professionals, you can also focus on using Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and any other social platform as a way to expand your networking activities. This does not mean you should just sit on LinkedIn, scrolling through profiles for hours looking for people to DM. That’s bad prospecting, and it makes you seem like one of those people who “wants to connect and see how we can help one another!”—then immediately sends a canned sales pitch the moment you hit accept. No one likes that person. So don’t be that person.

Instead, set up digital events with people you already know. My friend Casey Bolsega at Powderkeg has been doing “virtual coffees” with his network just to stay engaged and connected. This is a wonderful idea, and one that I am totally stealing. Casey and I had a virtual coffee on Friday afternoon and it was a welcome break in a day full of typing and emails to hop on a video call and chat with a friend. It spurred ideas for both of us and was really productive.

With group FaceTime, Zoom meetings, and WebEx, it has never been easier to get a group of people together on a video call. Start your day with a small group coffee and see what ideas come out of it. Treat this time the same way you would normally treat a networking event and be prepared to give value from your perspective. You could even theme the conversation and create a series of meet-ups with a group of people. This gets people talking and potentially sharing online, which drives interest and builds your personal brand—which builds your company’s brand, as well.

Lead with an understanding of the current environment

As unfortunate as it is, I’ve had some of the worst sales call experiences you can imagine in the last two weeks. People reach out with apparently zero understanding of the current environment we’re all dealing with—even though you know they are most likely dealing with the same disruption to their routine that the rest of us are. Reaching out without addressing the current state of affairs feels canned. You always, always need to be personal on cold reach-outs, and understanding the stress prospects may be going through is a good place to start.

Instead of your normal message, lead with a softer approach. Recognize that your prospect is almost certainly worried right now. Their business is being impacted in some capacity. They’re either concerned about the future financially and how long the ramifications of COVID-19 will continue to impact them, or they’re wondering how to seize the opportunity in front of them without looking like they are profiting from a pandemic. It’s a hard line to walk, whichever way you trace it. So say that. Recognize that they are people living through this, too. If you’d hate to receive the message you just typed, or the words you’re getting ready to say, chances are they would too. Try something different.

The most effective communication I’ve had during this COVID-19 crisis was with a salesperson who specifically said, “I’m reaching out to you now in the middle of this madness because I understand people in your seat may actually have a bit more time on their hands, and I know that my product oftentimes takes a little bit of practice to use effectively. I thought it would make sense to discuss that with you now, rather than when things are running at full speed.”

This is a salesperson who clearly thought through my normal life, the pains that would be caused by trying to implement their product during a normal, busy period of business, and realized this actually would be the ideal time for onboarding. I didn’t buy the offer, but at least I felt understood. That’s step one to developing some trust.

Have your sales support materials in order and easy to share

This should be the same as selling in person, but so many times people say things like “I’ll follow up with a few pieces of information, does email work?” We’re all currently living in our computers. We’re constantly getting emailed something. Your inbox probably looks like you went on vacation for two weeks because every single piece of information is coming to you digitally.

Break through that clutter simply by not adding to it. If you are prepared well ahead of time, you can say in the call setup, “I know you’re being inundated with emails—I certainly am—so if what we talk about today leaves us both thinking there is potential here, I have a few case studies I can show you while we’re on the call. Maybe that saves you one additional time logging into Zoom.” This is prospect-first, rather than salesperson-first. You’re saving them the job of managing their calendar, reviewing your email, and then having to decide if it’s worth straightening up their home office for the 14th time in a day in order to hop on another video call with you.

Take that friction away. Come ready to present and earn the no or the yes at the end of the call. If they aren’t open to what you want to show at the end of the call and would prefer email, that’s fine, but you made the effort and that matters.

This is also a prime time to engage your marketing team more in your sales process. I’m extremely fortunate at Element Three to have an internal marketing team that I work with every single day. They make tons of supporting materials for all the things we offer at Element Three and it makes my life significantly easier.

For those of you who are constantly scrambling for a new deck, case study, or flyer about who you are and what you do, now is a great time to get those things organized and systematized. If you don’t have an internal team, or your team is tapped out and can’t support that, reach out to us. We support our clients with sales enablement every day, and it’s becoming more important than ever in a truly digital age.

Be prepared to hear “No”—a lot

Nearly anyone who works in sales is going to hear no more often than yes. It’s just the name of the game. In fact, I’d argue that it is partially a salesperson’s job to understand why they get a no when they get them, and then support their marketing team in getting the right message to the right people. If you do your job well, the right clients should be saying yes to you, and you should be disqualifying bad fits early and often.

When you’re working during an economic downturn, you’re going to hear that “no” word a lot more. Even from normally good fits who simply had to cut budget, or are holding pat while they wait for more data to come in on what the future holds. More than ever, you need to mentally prepare yourself to be told no early and often. Be compassionate with this. Seek to understand why, and to improve each time. The sharper the tip of your message becomes, the less you’ll hear no. Then, when the market inevitably bounces back, you’re ready to capitalize on all your hard work understanding exactly who your buyer is.

If you can choose to see all of this as an opportunity to grow professionally, the coming downturn period will feel a lot less like getting kicked in the face, and a lot more like climbing a mountain with a big reward at the top.

If you’re interested in some more deep insight into how we can sell in these tough times, you might want to join us for our upcoming webinar—the first episode of our new series, Scared Confident. Our CEO Tiffany Sauder will be joined by Lushin Senior VP and owner Brian Kavicky on March 31st at 1pm for “Approaching Sales with Confidence and Empathy”. Sign up now—you won’t want to miss it.


Joe Mills Team Photo at Element Three

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career–from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”