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Remote Selling: How to Transition From In-Person to Online Selling

Remote Selling: How to Transition From In-Person to Online Selling

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
13 min read

If you’re making the transition from in-person, offline sales to remote, online sales, you probably have one thing on your mind:

Remote selling isn’t as good.

Yes and no. Remote selling is different. There are advantages, and disadvantages to it. But it mostly comes down to the amount of information available to both parties. That is, remote selling has an information gap. Less information is transmitted, and so more weight is assigned to each individual piece of information.

The good news is that there are ways to address the gap, and I’ll be covering them in this article.

Here’s the table of contents – just click a link if you’d like to jump ahead to one of the sections in this article:

What is remote selling?

Remote selling – or virtual selling, as it’s sometimes called – is the practice of selling synchronously from a remote location over the phone or video meetings. This is almost always B2B products and services like software, consulting, and the like.

Even though we’re all making a fast transition to virtual selling since the start of coronavirus, it’s a practice that’s been around for a long time and has improved along with the advancement on online meeting tools, like the tech tools mentioned below.

Remote Selling Techniques

First things first: I’ve built an exclusively remote business over the last 6 years. 100% of my acquisition comes from remote, digital channels. 100% of my selling is done remotely. And 100% of my client delivery is done remotely, too.

During that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about remote work. For many clients, colleagues, and friends, remote work isn’t as much of a challenge as online selling. Here’s my advice on getting started with remote selling, and shortening the learning curve.

Here are the core remote selling techniques you need to master:

  • Video meetings need to be highly structured
  • You need to be IT support for yourself and your meeting attendees
  • Your meeting plan must be clear and concise
  • Use of multi-media – like slides, videos, and screen shares – is critically important to keep your prospects engaged
  • Use content to stay in touch with and nurture prospects who aren’t yet ready to buy (more on this later on)
  • Send your prospects one-off, custom videos as soon as you start the conversation over email or they fill out a form

Remote Selling v. In-Person: Know the Differences

There are pros and cons to each, and each are worth noting. If you’re new to remote selling, the #1 thing on your mind is probably that it “feels different.” Like I said, that’s because there’s less information transmitted. It lacks spontaneity, you’re limited in showing or observing body language, and there’s just less information, period. People – including you – can be easily distracted at a computer.

But there are upsides too. There’s no travel, and coordination is a bit easier since you don’t have to be in the same place. You can record calls, easily share your screen and keep the meeting focused, and meet with anyone in the world without getting on a plane.

In order to improve your remote selling program, the challenge is to fill in as much of the information gap as you possibly can.

The information gap in remote selling requires you to be more organized. 

Remote Selling During COVID

Since the start of the pandemic, online selling has become an important skill for every business to master. Without in-person options available, the state of remote selling continues to elevate as tech tools and selling cultures evolve. There was a huge drop off in deal creation and closed deals at the start of the pandemic, but year-over-year deal creation and closing seems to be picking back up. This graph from Hubspot’s CRM data tells the story. If you sort the chart by industry, you’ll see that any positive changes are disproportionately impacted by the construction industry, which seems to have rebounded the fastest.

Total deals created and closed according to Hubspot.

Whereas it was easy to get away with mediocrity before, virtual selling now requires a level of structure and attention to detail that feels unfamiliar. As with anything, some practice will dramatically improve your results. If you’re not already familiar with the tech required, there’s a small learning curve and investment in your remote selling setup, but it’s critical for running your sales smoothly and showing professionalism to your clients.

How to Build Trust Selling Remotely

Of course trust is critical in every sale, especially in selling services. But now you’re selling and delivering remotely, which puts a spotlight on your ability to function in a remote setting.

The first thing to do is use video. I feel very strongly about this. There’s so much to be learned about a person’s facial expressions, and manner of speaking, and office, and eye contact. I could go on, but you get it. According to one study by Zoom Communications, video created 82% more trust, as self-reported by survey respondents.

Trust is based upon demonstrated expertise at the firm level first, then the personal level. Most of that happens before the first meeting. Part of demonstrated expertise is competence. And as much as it may be painful to hear it, your clients will make decisions about your competence partially based on how well you conduct yourself in a remote setting. I know – it may not be a reflection of your actual area of expertise, but it’s true nonetheless. Make it easy for anyone to meet with you, and walk them through what needs to be done to join and participate in the meeting (I do this with an automated email before the meeting). Here’s a quick rundown of how that looks:

Email a simple agenda ahead of your next remote sales call. 

Once you’re at the meeting, show that you’ve done your research by asking about your prospect and focusing the conversation on them. This is a core component of a value-based selling approach. One of the best ways to do that is to gather information before the meeting. Really, building trust remotely isn’t that different from building trust in person – you just need to be sure that they’re 100% sure of your ability to sell and deliver remotely for it to work. Your research should include baseline information about the person (or people) you’re meeting with from LinkedIn, their company page, company news Twitter, and other relevant sources of information.

Being energetic also builds trust. And I don’t mean “be your natural self.” Be your unnatural self. Here’s the thing: there’s less information transmitted remotely, and people are more likely to be distracted and overall less engaged in your meeting. Seize their attention. Be so energetic that they actually enjoy meeting with you. I know, it sounds crazy, but I swear it’s possible! Now I’m not suggesting you aimlessly bounce off the walls, but projecting your voice and being just 10% more energetic than usual will really come across as your being confident and engaged.

For more on trust, you can check out the podcast episodes on 9 ways to lose trust and how to gain your client’s trust.

Best Remote Selling Tools

Of course remote selling is only possible with the right tech. It’s by far the easiest thing to get right, so look at it as the “easy A” on your course schedule. Just so you know, some of the links are affiliate links, which means I’ll get paid a small percentage of your purchase if you choose to buy anything on the list. That said, I’m only recommending what I have used or currently used, and have plenty of recommendations without affiliate links.

Now burn this into your brain: the purpose of your remote selling tech setup is to make your meetings as stable as possible. I’m tempted to repeat it – it’s that important. No matter how much you like the aesthetics of a particular microphone, or how much you like your wireless headphones, or how inconvenient you find an ethernet connection…get over it. Make choices in your tech set up that make your meetings totally stable and without surprise.

Here’s what I recommend for software to help you sell remotely:

  • Zoom for online meetings. There are so many online meeting tools out there, but this is the only one I personally recommend. Pay $14.99/mo for the pro version so there are no time limits, lest you create a Mission Impossible self-destructing meeting moment (yes, it really kicks you out your meeting room after 45 minutes if you don’t pay). I can’t overstate the importance of making Zoom part of your minimum viable tech stack.
  • Loom for sending short video clips. If you’re going to sell remotely, you should make the experience as human and high-fidelity as possible. I like sending quick video clips when I get new leads, follow up with people, or deliver documents that require explanation. It’s an easy way to stand out, and Loom makes it so simple and fast to record and send videos to anyone.
  • Document delivery and collaboration. I use G Suite because it makes it easy to share and collaborate with others on documents. Docs, slides, spreadsheets – I use G Suite for all of it.
  • Meeting scheduling should be simple. There’s so much back and forth with scheduling that you’d do well to adopt a simple tool to take care of this for you. Calendly is the go-to solution for scheduling, and even includes a payment integration with Stripe if you find that useful.
  • Easy proposals, contracts, and payments. This is more of a nice-to-have than must-have, but I like to make everything as easy as possible for my clients. And I want it to be easy for them to sign a contract, and easy for them to pay me. I use Pandadoc for proposals and contracts, Xero for accounting and ACH payments, Moonclerk for recurring payment processing, and Stripe for payment processing.

Hardware is pretty important too. It’ll make a big difference in how you look and sound, which can either send the message “I’m set up for remote work,” or “I don’t know what I’m doing.” What impression do you want to leave? Plus, taking a call using your laptop’s mic and speakers is just rude (though strides are being made there!).

Here are my basic hardware recommendations for online selling:

  • Low-cost set up: Apple headphones. If you’re on Mac, a pair of wired Apple earbuds with the built-in microphone will be a huge step up from nothing. If you’re on PC, check out the $35 headset I recommend next. Instead of worrying about buying lighting, sit in front of a window with natural light. That’s really all you need! Now on to fancier set ups…
  • Microphone: I highly recommend you go wired for your microphone. No bluetooth, no wireless, and no Apple AirPods or AirPods Pro (sorry). Wired is just plain more stable and reliable. This $35 headset looks and sounds pretty good, is USB, and includes a single earpiece (which I personally prefer). It also works well with both Mac and PC. For $35, it’s the best deal going. This USB mic is a big step up in sound quality, and has a headphone jack built right in – just $79. It comes with a stand, and I recommend you also get a windscreen for it.
  • Hard-wired internet connection: what can I say, wires are just better for stability? If you work from home, get fiber if you can. Position closer to wireless router if you have to be on a wireless connection.
  • Speakers: I prefer to take my calls over speakers as opposed to using headphones. If you can do that, I recommend it. These speakers are pretty good for $70, though I love my M-Audio AV42 reference monitors. Be forewarned: they’re big, and they’re loud, and they put out way too much sound for most people. If you can turn them up loud, you won’t regret it. I recommend you get speaker isolation wedges if you set these up on your desk.
  • Headphones: anything will work here. Again, be sure you go wired. I bet you already have a pair of earbuds that’ll work just fine.
  • Webcam: I still can’t understand why you can’t get an iPhone- or Pixel-quality webcam. Still, an HD webcam will make you look a lot better (but please don’t use the built-in microphone). The Logitech C920 was standard for years, and it’s fine, but I recently upgraded to the wide lens Logitech Brio, which is a little bit better.
  • Lighting: This is hugely important! You don’t need anything fancy, you just need to be front lit. If you sit in front of a window with good daylight coming in, you’ll look about 100x better. If that’s not an option, I love this LED panel with adjustable color temperature, and you’ll need the power adapter for it too.

Content For Remote Selling

Content has many benefits, but I’ll focus on just two here: 1) it can sell when you can’t, and 2) it always gives you a reason to get back in contact with your clients.

Let’s start with the first point. If you’re dealing with multiple buyers in a sale – and you almost certainly are! – content allows you to distill the core of your sales story and hand it over so that it’s the same every time. The thing is, you can have the best sales call in human history, but if your sales story isn’t faithfully duplicated by your champion, you might be in trouble. I like having several different categories of content so you’re prepared for predictable scenarios:

  • During the sale: about the firm, about the service, why you (i.e. case studies, research, other forms of results), a snazzy proposal
  • Nurturing content: problem- and solution-oriented content for buyers who aren’t ready to make a decision yet; this may include PDFs, slides, videos, email courses, and more
  • Referral content: if you ask for or get a referral, it would be really nice of you to make it totally brainless for your client to refer business to you!

When it comes to your proposal, I take a really lo-fi approach to begin with rather than creating a fancy document. I only do that after I’ve secured a verbal agreement on the big aspects of the sale, like price, basic terms, and my standard scope (which doesn’t change). I like building proposals on the spot with clients, with their contribution, right on the sales call. Even though I offer standardized services, it still helps the client see how my service applies to them. Making it easier for clients to buy makes it easier for you to sell.

If you sell totally productized services, I highly recommend you use a sales deck to facilitate the conversation and stay consistent. Don’t “present,” as in talk for a long time with no feedback – instead, have a conversation with a visual aid. It’s different.

Now the second point about content: when you have good content, you always have an excuse to get in touch with your client. You have something to offer: your content! You don’t have to ping them with yet another ask. This is especially helpful when it comes to nurturing clients who aren’t yet ready to buy, but are still a perfect fit for the help you offer. It’s also a good way to stay in contact with past clients. Now, content is still important even if you sell in-person, but it’s just about 10x more important if you don’t. There are no trade shows, client dinners, or office visits to fall back on when you sell remotely. Good content is critical.

For more about content, check out the podcast episode about content marketing for sales teams.

Running a Remote Sales Meeting

If there’s one thing that’s deeply disturbing about work, it’s just how much time we spend in awful meetings that we think are a waste of time. Whether you’re running a meeting remotely or in-person, you should feel just as much responsibility to make it good. Don’t waste their time, and don’t waste your own time. Have a clear sales process so that meetings are productive.

Again, the volume and pressure is turned up on everything you do in a remote setting because your client has less information to go on. That’s why running your meetings effectively is so crucial. You’ll have to be assertive, likable, and professional, all while being funny and charming. You can do it!

In all of my training, I recommend you have a sales call plan and run your meetings exactly the same way every time:

  • Before the meeting
  • Send the agenda, and information about how to join the meeting
  • During the meeting
  • Build rapport for 2 minutes
  • Set the agenda and solicit feedback on the meeting
  • Contents of the meeting
  • Wrap Up and recap
  • Decide on next steps
  • After the meeting
  • Send a recap over email and post to your CRM
  • Take action on agreed-upon next steps

That’s it! You’re a meeting master. If you’d like to learn more about running effective meetings, you can check out my four-part podcast series about it. Here’s a link to the first episode in the sales meetings podcast series.

Remote Sales Training

It’s not enough to just read an article – you and your team have to practice remote selling. I recommend you do this in a training environment where you can see remote selling demonstrated, make judgments about what’s working for you and what’s not, and gather outside feedback about how to improve. Here are two approaches for improving your remote selling.

Set up training sessions with members of your team. You’ll naturally practice your virtual selling the more you do it. But it’s very difficult to make steady, ongoing improvement without a model or feedback. Try setting up practice groups at your company where you focus on how to open your meetings, engage with visuals and other multi-media, and use live note-taking as another engagement tool.

Get structured remote selling help. If you’d like advanced help that includes modeling remote selling behaviors, I have remote sales training included in my Sales Sprint online training course. This will accelerate your learning curve with examples of how to execute your remote selling, specific technology you need, how to engage with visuals and other multi-media, and include live note-taking like mind-mapping or whiteboarding.

Turning Pro In Remote Selling

I’ve covered a lot in this article. Here’s what I recommend you do: identify the current weak spots in your remote selling. If you’re running a team, identify the structural and operational challenges you’re having. There are four main pillars of remote selling:

  1. Building Trust
  2. Tech
  3. Content
  4. Effective Meetings

Make a list of three things you can address this week to close the information gap on your remote selling. Your clients will appreciate it, and you’ll quickly see a difference in both the quality and outcomes of your meetings.

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