The pandemic is only accelerating what was already true before it began: we are increasingly reliant on digital channels over in-person activities to shop, buy, sell, meet, work, and connect.
It’s a reflection that, in this digital age, there’s no longer a clear line between physical and digital customers. Every customer is a digital customer, since digital tools like mobile phones, search engines, websites, and social media reviews are inseparable parts of how we buy. Nearly 90% of us pre-research our buys online before making a purchase either online or in-store.
All of this digitalization is true for companies and business buyers as well as individuals — an Accenture study, for instance, discovered that 94% of B2B buyers conduct some degree of research online before making a purchase — and that was back in 2014! Today, Salesloft claims that 3 out of 4 buyers would prefer NOT to spend time meeting face to face.
So if it’s clear that virtual selling is the new normal, the next logical question we have to ask is — what’s the secret sauce necessary to be really, beautifully, disgustingly successful at it?
Helping Beats Selling
Early in my business career, a mentor told me that “helping beats selling.” The basic idea behind that statement was — all customers have needs and desires, passions, and pain points. If you want to be more successful at selling more, then figure out how to help more. And if you happen to be selling the same thing as someone else, then differentiate your offering in a way that customers truly value.
Or as Jeffrey Gitomer puts it, “People don’t like to be sold to, but they love to buy.” Helping people with buying is the heart of customer-centric business, and it’s one of the key reasons why sales and marketing organizations should work closely together.
I see this idea circulating among other professionals, too. Recently, for example, I had the chance to attend a webinar about virtual selling with Craig Wortman, professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Executive Director of the Kellogg Sales Institute at Northwestern University. The biggest truth bomb for me came in the live Q&A section when Wortman said “Sales is all about helping people make progress in their lives.” I love that!
And author Jay Baer brings us the concept of YOUtility — a company providing a useful service to existing or potential customers in an almost altruistic way — and connects it to brand loyalty. Calling to mind the old “teach a man to fish” adage, he says “Sell something, and you make a customer. Help someone, and you make a customer for life.”
Strategies to Help More and Sell Better
As Shelagh Dolan points out for eMarketer, just because the transition to digital channels is widespread doesn’t mean it’s easy. Citing the RAIN study report, Dolan notes that sellers are making a lot of the same mistakes — as far as the worst issues go, worldwide buyers say companies are experiencing technology problems (89 percent), using poor visuals or none at all during online meetings (86 percent), and aren’t responsive to questions or concerns (84 percent).
With this in mind, Chris Pemberton with Gartner details how providing the right information can help buyers avoid virtual selling problems and enable them to complete core jobs all customers have to do (problem identification, solution exploration, etc.). Information can be prescriptive (tells the buyer what to do/not do and how) or practical (gives tools the buyer needs to follow through on the prescriptive advice), but you need to give it to buyers at multiple touchpoints across their tasks.
Around this, I’ll add my own three key strategies:
1. Increase responsiveness to customers across channels.
“On demand” doesn’t mean same-day or 24 hours anymore. It means now. Make sure you can engage with your customers right away through chat and other options regardless of whether their virtual connection is mobile or desktop. This might include acquiring new technical resources or adjusting your infrastructure/procedures.
2. Staff up — human and digital.
If you’re going to do Strategy #1 above well, then you need enough people to be available to help across customer-facing departments. Hiring more qualified professionals in Inside Sales (growing 15 times faster than Outside Sales), Business Development, Customer Support, and Marketing will allow a team-oriented effort and broad perspective to solving the issues customers have across their buying journeys. Can’t afford more people? Think about how digital staff like AI, chatbots, or even cobots (partial AI / partial human staff) can extend your capabilities.
3. Revamp your website.
Since virtual selling almost always means buyers go to your website, take a second look at it through the eyes of a customer. What help do they need in making a decision? Can they navigate with ease and get the prescriptive or practical advice they need quickly and intuitively? Are there easy-to-use calculators to help customers personalize and see the value of your offerings? Does the design anticipate questions they might have or the natural progression they might make to other useful products/services? Is it easy to contact you? If not, make changes so the site is a real customer-helping tool. And, keep “mobile” and “above the fold” images and calls-to-action in mind because that’s where site traffic is increasingly coming from.
It’s Time to Implement
Virtual selling is only going to increase in prevalence. But executing it properly requires taking a customer-centric view and focusing on really helping the buyers. Broadly, this means making good information available at their fingertips, and that, in turn, requires higher responsiveness, better staffing, and a website designed for true interaction and real-life considerations. With the pandemic already accelerating the move to digital, the time to initiate these strategies and build your competitive edge is now.