Virtual sales are here to stay. Even when business travel, showing up at the office, trade shows, sales meetings and in-person sales calls return, virtual communication will be part of the new normal.
Salespeople will be more selective about which customers are worth the investment in time and travel costs for in-person meetings. Customers will also decide if they would rather meet virtually instead of meeting in person. The big question everyone will ask is “could we handle this online?”
Sales leaders who want to stay in regular contact with their sales team have discovered that apps like Zoom enable them to have weekly sales meetings without convening everyone in the same room. They can identify issues early and keep their salespeople focused and continually improving
In-house sales and customer service people now have an additional way to communicate with customers and build stronger relationships.
This is a promising development. There’s only one problem: very few salespeople know how to sell virtually.
If Virtual Communications Is So Important, Why Are We So Bad at It?
Let’s say you land a meeting with a large prospect that you’ve been working hard to get. What are your next steps?
You will probably do a lot of planning and preparing. You won’t just show up to the meeting with a presentation you put together at the last minute. You’ll work on it, hone it and rehearse your key points.
You’ll consider your dress and appearance. You’ll want to make a great first impression – or at least avoid making a bad one.
You’ll take that meeting very seriously.
Now imagine the sales call takes place online. Are you going to put the same amount of work into it?
Sadly, few people do. When we went to remote work and shifted from the suit and tie to business casual, many salespeople took that as permission to appear on sales calls in attire they would never wear to the office.
It’s even worse when you are having a virtual call with an existing customer. You both know each other so it’s easy to be more casual than you would in person.
Virtual Communications Is Not Just About How You Dress, It’s a New Skill to Be Learned
Selling virtually isn’t just about how you dress – it’s about how well you present yourself on video.
That means doing more than just getting a fresh haircut and wearing the right clothing. You also have to learn how to use the tools that will effectively put you in touch with your customers.
You have to use your laptop and your smartphone but also the latest apps that your customers like to use, whether it’s Zoom, Skype, or another video conferencing platform.
You also need to know a thing or two about working your camera and making sure your sound and image are coming through crisp and clean. Unfortunately, that’s not as intuitive as it seems and plenty of people mess it up. Thankfully, the learning curve isn’t too steep.
Here Are the Biggest Mistakes I See Building Materials People Make on Virtual Calls
1. Poor Lighting
I am on up to three Zoom calls a day. The most common and easy-to-fix problem is not having enough light on your face. If your face is so dark that I have trouble reading your expressions, we might as well be on a phone call.
Before an official call, turn on Zoom or whatever platform you use and look at how your face is lit. If it’s too dark, the problem is probably that what’s behind you is brighter than your face. Close the curtains or move to another location to lighten your face.
If that doesn’t lighten it enough, add a light in front of you. You don’t need to invest in special lighting – a simple table lamp will do.
2. Unprofessional Background
Many people give zero consideration to the background behind them. They’ll Zoom in the kitchen or in front of a cluttered and disorganized space. That’s a problem because your background tells a story about you.
Once again, the first step is to tune into the platform and take a look at what you see.
There are two problems with backgrounds. They may make you look less qualified or professional than you are. A kitchen counter, a showercurtain, or a pile of junk that looks like it should be in a garage don’t look like the right environment for an accomplished professional.
They can also be a distraction. If your background is too busy, your customers or the other members of your sales team might be too focused on what’s behind you to pay attention to what you’re saying.
A simple and effective solution is to have a plain background such as a blank wall. If you want to raise the bar, you need to design a set just like they do on television.
A popular background is a shelf or bookcase lined with books to make you look smart. You could also have some carefully selected and placed artwork or photographs. Since these are business calls, I would stay away from personal photos. Photos of you on a jobsite, teaching a class or at a trade show could work well.
Look at the backgrounds of other people on your virtual calls or check out some YouTubers for background ideas.
3. Your Camera
Your computer is probably equipped with a built-in camera. Those work just fine, but the biggest problem I see is that people forget to clean them. The result is that their image is blurry.
I believe that virtual communications is now so important that just like you have a computer and a cell phone, you also should now have a proper webcam. Eventually, companies will recognize the need to provide these to all of their employees. For now, you will probably have to make this investment yourself if you want to up your virtual game.
Webcams cost between $50 and $200 and provide a much higher quality image of you and allow you to make more adjustments than you could with the camera on your computer.
4. Your Sound
Your computer is probably equipped with built-in speakers and a microphone. Do not use these. Chances are you have a set of headphones with a mic that you use to listen to music and podcasts or make phone calls. Use that instead.
A microphone that is closer to your mouth makes it much easier for people to hear and understand you. Your voice will also sound more pleasing to listen to. And that kind of microphone will pick up less background noise, like when the dog barks.
Headphones will make it much easier to accurately hear what the other people on the call are saying.
You can also invest in headphones and microphones that have noise-canceling features.
You are probably familiar with noise-canceling headphones that block external sounds. They also have noise-canceling microphones that come with headphones. Those will block out background noise from where you are. They’re incredibly useful now that we’re making calls from home, where you can’t be sure that the background noise won’t compete with you for your listener’s attention.
Just like webcams, I believe that noise-canceling headphones and microphones are essential tools that companies should provide to their employees. If your company has a call center, they probably equip those employees with these.
5. Your Appearance
You should dress and look like you would on an in-person sales call. You should look your professional best, at least from the waist up.
If you would normally wear a coat and tie, wear them on your calls. If you would normally dress in a polo shirt for an in-person meeting, then you should wear that.
Slacking on your appearance shows that you aren’t taking a virtual call as seriously as an in-person meeting. If that’s the impression your customers get, they won’t take the meeting seriously either.
6. See For Yourself
If you agree with my advice, find a coworker and do a rehearsal call with them to check:
- Can I see your face?
- What does my background look like?
- Is the image from my camera sharp?
- Can we hear each other clearly?
An Overlooked Benefit of Virtual Calls
Professional athletes improve their performance by reviewing their last game to pinpoint where they could have done better. They also learn how they should modify their approach depending on the skills of the opponent.
Unlike a live sales call, virtual calls can be recorded and reviewed to improve your skills. You can also learn when and how to adjust your approach depending on the type of customer you’re calling on.
You can also share these recordings with a more successful or experienced salesperson to get their feedback.
Just like there is a time for an in-person call, there is also a time for a virtual call. Sometimes a phone call or an email or even a text is a better choice.
If you have suggestions about how to improve your virtual sales skills, I’d love to hear from you. You can just reply to this email and share your thoughts.
I am currently working on how to deal with two of the weaknesses of virtual calls: how to read body language and how to keep people engaged. I will share my recommendations about these in a future article.
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