Virtual Selling: How to Align Your Sales Team with Modern Buyers

Shutterstock | Kateryna Onyshchuk

Buying behaviors in industrial B2B have shifted dramatically over the last decade. Digital content and e-commerce proliferated and changed how buyers proceed from identifying a need, understanding potential solutions, evaluating alternative suppliers, and finalizing solutions, terms and conditions with the chosen supplier.

In the old days, almost all purchases occurred face-to-face in sales meetings between buyers and sellers. Sellers’ activities were often informational, tactical or transactional in identifying product applications, specifications, in-stock availability, pricing and fulfillment.

Today, buyers do an unprecedented span of activities completely independent of sellers...

As online digital resources emerged, buyers became more confident and efficient in using them. Buying processes gradually shifted away from full engagement with sellers to a downstream, more discrete subset of buying activities where seller engagement was most efficient: particularly for products that were new, complex or risky to the buyer.

B2B Buyers are Engaging Later - virtual selling - sparxiq

COVID restrictions and a lack of sales readiness for new virtual selling tools (like Zoom) further accelerated the decrease in direct buyer-seller engagement. Today, buyers do an unprecedented span of activities completely independent of sellers, and engage increasingly late in the buying process, reducing the opportunity for traditional sellers to influence the buying process and win deals. The upshot creates a competitive advantage for virtual sellers who support (and as needed, meet) their buyers wherever and whenever they are in the buying journey.

Understand Your Buyers’ Problems and Their Approach to Buying

A lot of sellers are finding it harder to connect with their buyers the way they used to. Unfortunately, rather than adapting and mastering the new world of virtual selling, many are hoping and waiting for the world to go back to the good, old days. With this attitude, most sellers and organizations have entered the elephant graveyard, where old ways go to die.

So, how do you escape this exit ramp to sales irrelevance? Start by understanding your buyers and how they are buying. Identify key buyer types and personas. Interview them to understand the following:

  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • What questions are they trying to answer?
  • Where/how do they prefer to gather information (hint: informative, buyer-facing content is king?)
  • What are the stages they pass through, what are the exit criteria that must be satisfied for them to progress from one stage to another, when do they prefer to engage with sellers?

Interview a solid sample of representative buyer types and personas to understand and document their buying processes.

Adapt Your Team’s Sales Approach to the Buying Process

The job of sellers is to help buyers buy more and buy more efficiently. You can’t define your sales process for doing so until you document the buyers’ buying process. Once you identify the key buying processes your sellers need to support, you’re in a position to develop and formalize your organization’s sales process.

The sales process is the staged series of activities your sellers need to master in order to support your buyers’ buying processes. Naturally, the sales process will require certain specific sales DNA types and up-skilled sales competencies to be executed consistently across the team. You will probably find that some of your sellers lack either the sales DNA or the competencies to succeed in their current roles. You will need to either reassign them to better suited roles or close the competency gaps through focused training and coaching.

A New Virtual Selling Paradigm

One of the biggest challenges sales teams are currently facing is confusion over how virtual selling differs from traditional selling. Sellers think virtual selling means showing up on Zoom and doing the same things they used to do face to face (except now they’re in their bedrooms with the dog barking). This is not virtual selling. Not surprisingly, surveys show that buyers have been disappointed in sellers’ mastery of the shift to virtual.

Virtual Sales Mastery: A New Approach to Support Evolving Buyers

If we start with a view of a typical buying process, and then overlay it with the view of the seller’s engagement/activities, the emerging gaps in seller support of buying becomes obvious. For sellers who only focus on their “front stage” actual meetings with prospects and customers, they are choosing to be absent from key “back stage” buying stages and activities — which is where DIY, no decision or competitors’ virtual sellers jump in and take the opportunity off the table. Consider the following view of the buying process and seller gaps, as well as the opportunity to support the buying process in the spaces in between meetings.

Create a Differentiated Buying Experience

What’s needed to create a superior and competitively differentiated buying experience — to convert more opportunities and gain market share — is a new model that reimagines and integrates “front stage” engagement while augmenting new “back stage” engagement. Now, the whole buying process can become an opportunity to support the buyer. To be sure, strong digital content is required across a diversity of platforms (website, buyer communities and forums, SEO, e-commerce) to lead to the first seller engagement, but that is not the end of the story.

Frontstage Backstage selling - sparxiq - allego updated model

Industry data show that even after engaging early with sellers, and up to finalizing a purchase, buyers continue to seek out new or confirming information outside their meetings with sellers. So, the big question is: How will sellers consistently anticipate these buyer needs and provide the most frictionless pathway that leaders to their selection as the provider?

Clearly, to be successful, the seller’s company and the sellers themselves must be digitally present wherever and whenever the buyer goes, not just at the “front stage” meetings.

Master Virtual Sales to Meet Modern Buyers

Sellers’ adoption of virtual technology supports “front stage” engagement. Buyer surveys, and our daily experience across the marketplace, show that sellers still have not consistently mastered virtual meeting technology (like Zoom), with improper use of video, background, screen-sharing or recording. This is a huge gap that creates a poor buyer experience and degrades trust. Organizations will need to embrace virtual sales mastery to truly align sales teams with buyers’ teams throughout the evolving buyer journey.

To learn how your sales team can successfully connect with their buyers, read our article Modern Sales Skills to Accelerate Distribution Revenue.

Modern Sales Foundations

Use a buyer-centric approach to improve sales results.

What it takes for salespeople to deliver value has changed significantly as the modern buying process has evolved. Modern Sales Foundations™ (MSF) is an end-to-end sales training program that teaches sellers the buyer-centric strategies and approaches needed to excel in today’s marketplace.

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