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Digital Selling: The Skills Sellers Need in a Virtual World

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The accelerated shift to digital selling is at the helm of most industries and workplaces in today’s current climate. In fact, B2B companies perceive digital interactions with customers to be at least twice as important as traditional sales interactions.

Merely shifting to digital platforms and mechanics will not suffice in meeting the demands of modern buyers. As sellers amp interactivity with customers in online channels, the necessary skills that lead to success will naturally evolve as well. These skills need to reflect buyers’ increased preference for digitally-enabled sales interactions, while still providing the nuance of human-centered experiences.

Fortunately, sales enablement is positioned to help organizations adapt accordingly. By first understanding which hard and soft skills can enhance the effectiveness of digital selling, practitioners can then begin to embed the necessary behavior changes through their enablement initiatives, resulting in both greater resiliency and process optimization for the entire sales organization.

The Hard Skills

In an increasingly digital environment, hard skills of sellers’ should reflect the aptitude – and willingness – to use the digital tools at their disposal. While digital tools can improve the productivity and performance of sales reps, they are also important in aligning with the digital preferences of the modern buyer, especially as more and more business is conducted virtually. Here are some of the specific areas in which enablement can help sales reps hone their digital skills.

Technical knowledge: the tools in a seller’s toolbox

There is a massive opportunity to leverage the unique circumstance of virtual learning to up-skill the teams on the sales technologies that they can utilize to more effectively do their jobs. As many sales enablement teams are pivoting their onboarding and training programs to virtual environments, consider ways to get sellers up to speed on how to use technologies that are necessary for digital selling. For example, invite subject matter experts to offer demos, gamify practice and technical skill assessments, or conduct role-plays using technology.

Oftentimes these new virtual programs require new hires and sellers to utilize digital content that extends beyond their videoconferencing sessions. Therefore, they should be adept in consuming from various learning channels whether written, recorded, or researched. In fact, the recently published State of Sales Enablement 2020 Report revealed that teams who effectively use technology to implement their onboarding and training programs see an average win rate that is seven percentage points higher than those that do not.

Business communication: know what content to use, and when

Buyers today are doing more independent research during the buying process, which is why it’s important for sellers to be equipped with the right content and materials for their customer interactions. This means that in addition to having effective content, sellers need to be comfortable utilizing their content management systems in order to deliver the most relevant, effective, and targeted content for any situation.

By knowing what content is available, where it is, and how to use it, salespeople can more effectively tailor content to maximize personal opportunities with buyers. Additionally, there is measurable business value in this know-how — research shows that sales enablement teams that effectively use tools for sales content management experience win rates that are four percentage points higher than those that do not.

Sales process: guide buyers through their journey

As the buyers’ journey becomes increasingly more complex, sellers should be adequately prepared to guide their customers through the process. This is why having relevant information and just-in-time sales plays available in a convenient, digital format is essential for digital sellers when they are on the frontlines of sales action.

In fact, research shows that sales enablement teams who effectively use tools for sales plays experience win rates that are eight percentage points higher than those that do not. This approach has two major advantages. One, reps know what information they need at each point in the sales process to effectively guide buyers through each step of their journey. Secondly, this information can be consistently updated as buyer needs and market dynamics continue to change.

Engagement: demonstrate value to nurture customer relationships

Virtual environments reflect a greater need for interactions between sellers and customers to be more empathetic and intimate. When selling digitally, reps should be comfortable using tools that help personalize the buying experience, for example through email templates, digital communication channels, call recording software, and management of messaging and materials.

“People are expecting the experience that they get from a vendor or for any company they’re in business with to be personalized to them and to cater to their needs,” said Julie Zhang, head of North America sales enablement and analytics at Russell Investments.

Sales teams that effectively utilize engagement tools experience win rates that are three percentage points higher than those that lack those tools, demonstrating their impact on ROI. More importantly, these mechanisms help give reps insight into what is and is not resonating with customers, enhancing the quality of engagement for customer interactions and sales productivity as a result.

The Soft Skills

When it comes to seller capability, soft skills must work in tandem with the hard, technical skills for maximum efficacy. This is especially true for remote selling environments, in which interactions between sellers and buyers are conducted through digital channels almost exclusively. Here are some of the attributes that can prove invaluable for sales reps in adapting quickly to change and performing under pressure.

Interpersonal communication: show that you care

While many organizations have had digital selling platforms in place before it became required, others may be consumed with effectively navigating this new virtual marketplace. For many, workplace transitions are also not the only source of stress at the moment, as research shows that 60% of Americans are concerned for personal and familial safety, while nearly half are worried about continued employment and financial security. This means it is necessary for sellers to exhibit increased levels of empathy and emotional sensitivity toward the unique circumstances customers might be experiencing.

Companies should be wary of compromising the trust and loyalty of their customers in times of crisis, and therefore exhibit genuine interest so as to maintain and build stronger relationships. Furthermore, sellers should be sensitive to the pain points of less digitally inclined buyers, and push the limits of their communication skills in order to meet buyers’ changing needs.

Adaptability: either do it, or be changed by it

The need for highly adaptable sales teams is truer now more than ever. This adaptability is necessary at the organization-level, as mechanisms and functions become digitized and adoption is no longer a choice, but a requirement. Those employees that are more comfortable with change will fare better, at least initially, than those that are typically more resistant. However, these changes don’t just occur at the organization-level — sellers must also react accordingly to the multitude of adjustments being made on the side of the customer.

“By being able to adapt and change your approach, you will provide a much more tailored sales experience to any clients that you work with,” said Daniel Haden, director of global sales training and enablement at American Express. “That’s what will drive results.”

Mental endurance: sales is a marathon, not a sprint

For some, meetings with customers look different than they used to, as in-person interactions are now being replaced with tele and video -conferencing methods. For the stereotypically extroverted seller, things like back-to-back video calls may induce fatigue and distraction levels throughout the day. Cultivating and developing strong mental stamina during these times is essential for seller success, which includes tapping into one’s inner psyche and understanding when breaks are necessary.

“One very successful and outgoing account rep that I spoke with mentioned that while she loved the time saved from not commuting…at times she felt overwhelmed because there’s now less downtime to collect her thoughts after every call because she normally would do this in the car,” said Helen Cummins, sales enablement leader in the SF Bay Area.

Building Skills with Sales Enablement Initiatives

Sales enablement is well-positioned to help their sales force build and refine the changing skill sets that are required in this digital landscape. Here are some tactical ways to uncover the deficiencies in expertise from one’s sales teams, with tried and true methods for transforming them into results-oriented skills.

Discover the gaps in current training programs

One technique for sales enablement teams is to spend time analyzing which skills their sales team currently have, and which ones need improvement or refreshing. This can be done by distributing surveys, having focus groups, or conducting in-depth interviews with relevant stakeholders. These processes can identify across a team and organizational level which skills or behaviors require the most recalibration, which can subsequently lead to building a learning program that fills in all of the necessary gaps to address those changes.

Foster skills through continuous training

Many organizations may feel that their sellers are already taught core skills like interpersonal relations or how to use technology in their onboarding programs, but it’s simply not enough to rely on those initial sessions in this highly dynamic virtual marketplace. Sales enablement should anticipate the need for course-correction down the line, and constantly offer internal support and skill development for their sales force. Start with building competency maps around each role, and then align ever-boarding programs to those critical skills that digital sellers need most.

Spaced repetition for long-term results

A popular sales training theory centers around a classic method of learning that’s referred to as “spaced repetition.” It has pronounced relevance for newly remote leaders, who are seeking ways to enhance and promote their digital learning efforts under these new circumstances.

“It’s all about making sure you focus on one or two key skills that you’re really trying to exploit and just continuing to reinforce that particular behavior over a certain period of time,” said Haden. “By having space between the training, what you’re essentially doing is giving the learner the opportunity to integrate what they’re learning into their day-to-day role.”

The impact of this spacing method is proven — research shows that 80% is remembered after 60 days, compared to 20% after 31 days when new information is not applied.

With today’s “business as usual” being anything but, companies must reconsider the effectiveness of the operational norms they have in place. The skillset and aptitude of go-to-market teams, who are oftentimes the face of the organization and its messaging, should be reevaluated and adjusted to align with the rising digital and customer-centric needs.

Through having a greater understanding of the hard and soft skills that are ideal for the high-performance of your virtual sales teams, sales enablement can focus on implementing these changes over time to mitigate against the risk of uncertainty, while also supporting the greater goals of the organization.