Sellers have been working remote since the telephone was invented, so the transition to remote selling isn’t an impossible change.
But buying teams have never been remote. We go to them. That’s how it’s always been.
Buyers are used to huddling in a conference room after the vendor has packed up and gone, addressing objections by catching a skeptical colleague in the breakroom, trying to read the boss’s body language before they go all-in vouching for a vendor.
In the office, a senior decision maker might drop into a conference room to say hello and catch the last 10 minutes of a vendor demo. Physical prints of your proposal will move around your champ’s office for weeks. She might even leave a copy on her CEO’s desk with margin notes.
That can’t happen when everyone is at home.
Right now, there are actually three intertwining issues.
- The immediate panic of Covid-19
- Difficulties of WFH (working from home)
- Surviving in a down economy
I don’t have anything but personal opinions on how to respond to COVID-19. Personally I cringe when I get an email with “these trying times” tacked on the first paragraph of the pitch, but everyone needs to find their own center.
Unpacking the challenge of buying from home, though, has some fast, actionable steps sellers can take to be more customer-centric and, ultimately, more effective sellers.
First, let’s call out the pressures buyers are facing in a WFH situation.
- Disconnected from industry buzz and water cooler chat
- Harder to stay organized without office infrastructure
- Harder for the champion to sell internally and build consensus
- Can’t get to know a rep, so they can’t evaluate trustworthiness
- Distracted by (and potentially embarrassed by) homelife
The more of these issues we can help overcome, the more competitive, more valuable, and more likely to close a deal we ultimately become.
Let’s get into it.
5 Things WFH Sellers Can Do To Help Prospects Buy from Home
1. Spill the beans
Reps have always been a source of truth for people looking outside their own org. What would they have learned at that trade show that got cancelled? Who’s hiring? Who just had a layoff?
Make it your business to keep up on industry trends and share what you know.
Share it in an email, or use it to break the ice at the start of a call, especially if it’s juicy dirt about someone else’s bad decisions. Everyone likes hearing that stuff.
Pro tip: if your customers sell to others, tell them about this article.
2. Provide a plan and structure to aid their decision-making process.
It’s hard to stay organized without office infrastructure, especially when corralling others on the buying team. These guys probably don’t even have a printer.
Since corridor conversations are gone, you need to provide the buying team with a game plan for who’s doing what so everyone can see what’s happening. Structure also builds confidence in you as a vendor.
The main thing you’re doing for remote buyers is making sure no one drops the ball.
This is already best practice, but without the support systems of an office, buyers are in chaos. If your value prop and selling process isn’t wrapped up in a bow with a cherry on top, there’s no way it’s going to survive the maelstrom of their life right now.
At the most basic, just make sure you share clear decision summaries: who agreed to what and when it’s got to happen. If you really want to provide structure and control, you can read the Sales Hacker article on mutual action plans.
Jeanette Renshaw of Smartscale Consulting recommends going even further.
Prospects can’t gather round the table after your presentation because you were probably presenting from your Zoom, so the conversation about your proposal could happen days later. Acknowledge this reality up front and offer a template to help them make their decision.
Giving them a template not only shows you’re thinking of them, but also helps you direct how they think about their issues, which is the first step to successfully locking out competitors.
Pro tip: That template can be a customer-centric version of your own discovery process.
3. Provide your champion a well-written value proposition and cloud-native sales tools
Champions have never been that good at selling. Now they’re remote selling. When everyone is WFH, their close-rate is going to be appalling.
You need to arm your advocates with something snazzy that’s easy and natural to share with other decision makers.
Ideally, you can make multiple contact points (see below), so make sure you leverage that success by being mindful and specific about what you share with whom: a high level benefits deck for the C-Suite, a white paper on smooth implementation practices for a technical influencer.
It’s important that you share digital-native content. Sharing via cloud services makes it easier for buyers to share internally, especially if you’re sharing more than one document. You also get engagement metrics far richer than email open and click rates.
For the executive value proposition, make sure it pops and works on small screens. Very few executives have full size monitors at home, and there’s a higher than normal chance that your target will be reading your content on a phone from the comfort of a sofa. TV’s probably on too. PDFs of PowerPoint decks are a good starting point.
Again, the goal is for your champ to share your content with the buying team, so it has to be easy to share and consume without passwords or giant monitors or printing or any other hassle.
4. Simplify consensus
In addition to the practicalities of corralling remote colleagues, buyers at home aren’t as connected to their org’s decision-making machine, and they’re out of touch with office politics. So it’s a lot riskier for them to go to bat for you.
You need to make it risk-free to build consensus without spending political capital.
To do this, you must make an even more concerted effort to connect to more people on the buyer team. The good news is you can be explicit that you’re doing this for your champion’s safety.
With everyone WFH, you can say you know internal communications are harder right now and that it makes sense for you to connect to the larger team to reduce organizational work and political exposure for your champion.
Note: this might not fly on its own. But in concert with the strategy below of sharing deal stakeholder profiles for both sides and the above strategy of sharing assets widely through a cloud-based sales tool, you may see a relaxing of a champion’s natural gatekeeping instinct.
5. Be more intentional about building trust and rapport
Inside sellers have been building remote trust and rapport forever. The difference today is that the one-on-one trust is less likely to transfer throughout the buyer’s org by itself. So you have to help it along.
Companies have had to adjust fast.
Sendoso is a brand-building company that specializes in sending prospects and customers physical gifts to win prospects’ attention and maintain customer loyalty. Senior Account Executive Tyler Cole shared their experience:
The changes we’ve seen as a company are actually pretty amazing. Our product team has been forced to come up with solutions on the fly. Our home address confirmation feature being one of these. We’ve covered a year’s worth of product roadmap in a couple of months.
What we are sending has changed for both ourselves and customers. A lot more charity and essential items have been going out in lieu of more custom and higher cost sends. Incentivizing virtual event engagement has become more important than ever.
Being transparent delivers a ton of credibility — by sharing a plan for what needs to happen (see above), the buyers naturally begin to trust you.
If you include bios of your team (with photos) in the plan, you let the buying team know who their counterparts are, answering their unasked questions about the strength of your bench, plus multiplying the chance for human-to-human connections.
And because you made sure your plan and value prop can be shared easily, trust can transfer beyond your point of contact.
Pro rapport tip for those who aren’t used to remote selling: Use your video! And DON’T hide behind a fake background. Your shared WFH experience is a connection point between you and your prospect. Put something personal back there and own the home!
Single exception: If the Zoom background green screen option goes berserk and ends up looking super cool, run with it.
Remote Selling = Helping Buyers Buy in a Down Economy
If we were WFH in a booming economy, that would be one thing. But you’re probably aware that we’re heading into a recession at best.
So here’s a TL;DR on how to help buyers buy in a down economy.
Richard Harris of Harris Consulting has a great perspective on this.
In sales, our job has always been to reduce the risk someone feels in making a decision. It’s never been more true than right now. For some, the risk means they need to hold onto the cash. For others it means fear of making the wrong decision because it puts their job in jeopardy.
As salespeople, we have to ask that question right now and reserve judgment for another day.
I love that last thought about reserving judgement: We’re all facing pressures, and your company is probably also under a spending freeze. So free up some karma by taking a sales call; and don’t get mad at the guy on the other end of your call who says, “Now isn’t a good time.”
They’re right, it’s not a good time. But all hope is not lost for those sellers who are truly committed to their customers.
Here are five steps you can take starting tomorrow to improve your close rate in a down economy:
1. Offer total focus on achieving the buyer’s objective
Present everything with that objective as the end point. Your solution is a means to an end, and the end could easily be 90 or 180 days after go-live day.
2. Be the safe path to their initiative, with zero risk and zero squeak
You’re not asking for new budget if what you offer is in support of their priority. At best you’re recommending a shift in budget to maximize the success of their initiative.
3. Promise and deliver a smooth process
Learning new stuff is the opposite of being heads down. Your sales process and the proposed change management process that’s required to implement your solution both need to be teflon. Every step needs to be crystal clear & non-disruptive. Nothing that could add risk.
4. Don’t waste their time
You know if you’re a good fit for someone. In the good times, buyers can afford to give your solution a shot, but in a down economy, people have to give everything they have to survive, and by wasting their time, or even worse, by convincing them of something that’s not true just to get the sale, you could literally kill their company. And people remember that stuff.
You might not hit quota this quarter. Don’t wreck the value you’re giving by projecting your stress and your needs on your prospect. Being desperate isn’t going to cinch the sale. Be honest and transparent and keep your eye on customer value.
Bottom line, WFH is hard. But so is BFH. Be conscious that you aren’t the only one being affected by the pandemic.
To succeed, make the buyer’s job easier.