August 2

Virtual Selling: Knowledge vs. Mastery

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By Julie Hansen

Convincing salespeople to use a camera in remote meetings prior to spring of 2020 was like pulling teeth – without the Novocain. Some sellers even went so far as to put tape over their camera just in case it accidentally came on during a meeting! Two+ years later, virtual selling is as ubiquitous as Starbucks and most salespeople will tell you they “know” how to sell virtually. But like any new skill, when it comes to virtual selling, knowing vs. mastery are worlds apart.

The truth is that virtual meetings and sales calls today are only slightly less awkward and ineffective as they were two years ago.  In fact, 70% of salespeople said selling virtually is not as effective as selling in person, according to a study by Corporate Visions. So, while sellers may “know” what’s required for a successful virtual call, very few of them have adopted or put in the practice necessary to master these new behaviors. 

Virtual Selling Knowledge – without Mastery:

If it were enough to “know” that you need to look at the camera to be seen as confident, credible, or interested as you do in person, we wouldn’t force our audience to stare at our foreheads on virtual calls. And if all it took were an “understanding” that passive virtual audiences require more space to engage, you wouldn’t see sellers answering their own questions and racing through the meeting like they have a train to catch. 

If “knowing” how one should behave virtually were enough, we wouldn’t see most of these common ineffective behaviors on virtual calls:

  • Little to no eye contact with customers
  • Misreading customer’s body language
  • Lack of engagement with customers who aren’t on video
  • Inability to wait for answers to questions 
  • Long monologues to avoid awkward silences
  • Poor management of large groups 
  • Wasted time recording videos that don’t get watched

These ill-adaptive behaviors are not commonplace because we are helpless to overcome them. They are there because we have simply not taken the time or effort to do so. Instead, we continue to undermine our credibility and confidence and signal to our customers that we are either a) not paying attention or b) uninterested in them as a person. 

The Virtual Selling Grace Period is Over

During the throes of the pandemic, many buyers graciously set aside their expectations to feel seen, heard, and understood by salespeople and tolerated some behavior that wouldn’t get you a second call if it happened in person. But the days of buyers making excuses for sellers are behind us. Buyers have now been exposed to hundreds, maybe thousands of virtual calls and meetings. If you think they’re not comparing you to those who can communicate well on video, you are dead wrong. 

The grace period is over. It’s high time for sellers to fill in any knowledge gaps and put that knowledge into action.

Virtual Selling Mastery = Knowledge + Action

It’s easy to read an article, watch a video and think, “yeah, I totally get this.” And then when you go to try out that new behavior you realize it’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s exactly the case with many of the counter-intuitive virtual selling skills, like eye contact, reading body language, or managing audiences, to name a few.

It takes not just hearing or seeing something once, but repetition, awareness, and feedback to move from knowledge to mastery.  It takes consistent practice until these new skills become emotional and muscle memory so that they become automatic. So that you don’t have to think about where to look and when during a call with a customer. So that you don’t have to panic when your prospect doesn’t have their camera on or no one immediately answers your question. 

How do you get to mastery in virtual selling? Just like you did when you learned to drive a car.  You had to read, you had to practice, and you had to get feedback. With this repetition and reinforcement, driving eventually got a little easier. Eventually you found yourself behind the wheel and able to manage the multiple inputs competing for your attention while still able to keep your eyes on the road. 

We’re not the first to be faced with this challenge to communicate well virtually.  On-camera professionals like actors, sports reporters and news anchors, have developed a knowledge base and a course of action that includes proper practice and feedback to be able to connect with an audience as effectively through the screen as they do in person. Why are we not learning from this success?

Virtual Selling Mastery is the Future.  And the Future is Here.

80% of B2B sales are expected to take place virtually by 2025, according to Gartner. Sales teams are finding new ways to incorporate video throughout the sales cycle. Many companies are calling on salespeople to record video messages to send to prospects or customers. Virtual selling is our present and future and virtual selling mastery is no longer optional to your success. Time has run out on “winging it” or practice on potential customers. To meet the future head on, embrace the lessons of other industries, stop reinforcing unsuccessful virtual behaviors and set yourself and your team up for success with the proven mastery equation of knowledge, practice and feedback. 

Executive Presence in-person doesn’t automatically transfer to a virtual world. In order to improve your Executive Presence virtually, you need to develop the confidence and tactics specific to the demands of a virtual world and audience.

Want to Develop Your Virtual Executive Presence?


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