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virtual selling strategies
July 29, 2021

5 Selling Strategies that Embrace Change

virtual selling strategies

Change is a part of everyone’s daily life. But for those of us who work in sales, our ability to adapt to change means the difference between success or failure.

Frank Cespedes has seen—and adapted to—his share of change. He teaches at Harvard Business School and for twelve years was the managing partner at the Center for Executive Development. He is also affiliated with private equity and venture capital firms and sits on the boards of several leading companies and startups.

Most recently, Cespedes published a new book—his sixth—entitled Sales Management That Works: How to Sell in a World That Never Stops Changing

The combination of Cespedes’ academic experience and his knowledge of real-world selling makes him one of the foremost authorities on the topics of sales and sales management.

I had the opportunity to interview Cespedes on a recent episode of The Adapter’s Advantage podcast. Some of his ideas may surprise you, but you will certainly come away with new thoughts on how to manage sales in a world that, as we have learned all too well, never stops changing.

>> For more guidance on how to adapt to change, listen to the complete episode of The Adapter’s Advantage: Sales Training in a Virtual World

Here are the key selling strategies I took away from our conversation. 

Balance In-Person and Virtual Selling

On February 29, 2020, Cespedes was a keynote speaker at a sales conference, presenting to a roomful of 1,200 unmasked people. No one in the room imagined what was to come.

Ten days later, back at Harvard, Cespedes and his students had moved entirely to Zoom classes. While they all adjusted to the new normal, he believes something critical was lost on Zoom.

“In class, we depend on the case method; we depend on that dialogue. While Zoom is great for a dialogue between two people or giving a presentation, it’s not set up for how the vast majority of business and sales conversations work.”

That interactive, in-person dynamic was also lost in selling, and this loss, he believes, informs how we will need to move forward. Sales leaders must decide when it makes sense to use online communication and when the dynamics of an in-person meeting justify the added travel, time, and expense. 

Learn in the Flow of Work

In the past year, an increasing number of sales leaders have become keenly aware of how much can be accomplished through e-learning, a practice that will permanently alter where and when salespeople receive training

“Training makes the most impact when salespeople receive it on their way to a call or during the actual sales process,” says Cespedes. “It’s not the classroom training but learning in the flow of work that makes an impact on your sales people’s capabilities. That’s the biggest trend I see in e-learning.”

A virtual presentation arsenal is an example of learning in the flow of work. With such an arsenal, salespeople have a “classroom” at their fingertips with access to important content like use cases, short videos, PDFs, and white papers. When a question comes up, a salesperson has the ability to click on the relevant content and pop it up on the screen, something not always possible during an in-person meeting. 

Embrace The New Buyer’s Journey

Today, sales teams almost always refer to pipeline funnel metrics. But Cespedes argues that technology is rendering the funnel model inaccurate. What is needed in today’s selling, he maintains, is for sellers to think from the buyer’s perspective instead of trying to force-fit buyers into the artificial stages we have created.

“Buyers are now a click away from product and price comparisons. They don’t simply go through a sequential funnel,” says Cespedes. “They go through parallel streams of activity online, off-line, back, online, off-line. And that has a significant impact on who you hire, how you train and develop people, and how you socialize and deploy salespeople.”

These changes to the pipeline have implications for how sales leaders should allocate resources. 

“There’s going to be many, many hybrid models that quite cleverly combine online selling with in-person selling. It’s not either-or, it is how do we do both in an omnichannel buying world,” says Cespedes.

Customize Your Sales Training and Development

In the US, companies spend 20% more on training salespeople than on any other activity. Still, the results are disappointing.

“Adults learn in specific task-oriented situations,” Cespedes says. “They learn for a purpose; they don’t learn to take the final exam as they do in [a] classroom.”

The best way for salespeople to learn, Cespedes argues, is by watching their peers, especially the best or most knowledgeable among them. Tapping into these best practices requires the use of technology. “Right now, technology should be the seller’s friend. It’s increasingly user-friendly,” he observes.

Cespedes acknowledges that salespeople are not a heterogeneous group and that some salespeople do not respond well to modeling. Effective sales managers find the right tools for all of their learners, choosing from options such as videos, online modules, and checklists.

Hold Sales Managers Accountable

Cespedes notes that managers do not always make the connection between training content, a selling situation, and the salesperson. He recommends that organizations look carefully at how they conduct performance reviews.

“In my experience, performance reviews are the most underutilized lever for affecting behavior. As businesses restart after the pandemic, get your frontline sales managers to take performance reviews seriously and do them well.”

When sales managers do sloppy performance reviews, he argues, they are doing two things: perpetuating a culture of underperformance and inhibiting the flow of vital information for the rest of the organization.

“A market never buys anything,” Cespedes notes. “Only individual customers buy. So much of that relevant information is locked in the head of the individual rep. Performance reviews are the opportunity to tap into that knowledge.”

This lack of knowledge sharing within a company has larger, societal implications.

“What senior executives increasingly don’t know about their customer-facing colleagues is a big deal, and not only for shareholders,” Cespedes says.

“If you look at the number of people who make their living in sales, if you look at the importance of economic growth in service economies, getting your sales force to be more productive is not only something you want to do for share price. It is a social responsibility of management,” he concludes.

Learn More

For more guidance on selling strategies and how to adapt to change, listen to the complete episode of The Adapter’s Advantage: Sales Training in a Virtual World.

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