For many brands, in-person meetings between sales reps and customers were a critical element of the sales process. Social distancing protocols have forced sellers to adapt to a virtual sales process. While some marketing and sales leaders might have expected this to only be a short-term necessity, indications are that virtual selling will continue to be a prominent component of sales processes through the end of 2020 and beyond.
In fact, in a June 2020 survey conducted by Gartner’s Sales practice, 23% of CSOs reported plans to permanently shift field sales to virtual sales roles, and another 36% said they were unsure.
Marketing leaders with sales enablement responsibilities need to make sure they are adjusting their efforts to more appropriately align to the realities of a virtual sales process.
Virtual Selling Requires Two Forms of Customer Communication
Marketing leaders responsible for sales enablement should recognize that the virtual sales process is comprised of two forms of communication: synchronous communication and asynchronous communication.
Synchronous communication consists of a real-time, bidirectional exchange of information between sales reps and customers (i.e., a virtual meeting via video conference). Asynchronous communication includes all other forms of interactions between sales reps and customers, outside of real-time meetings, such as an email exchange.
Sales reps need marketing’s support for both synchronous and asynchronous customer engagement in a virtual environment.
Enabling Reps to Conduct Real-Time Sales Meetings (Synchronous Communication)
Many organizations have come to realize, through trial and error, that the same preparation and execution tactics used for in-person sales meetings can be tough to replicate in virtual meetings. The virtual setting can make it more difficult for reps to share information, assess customer sentiment, and maintain active customer engagement.
One of marketing’s top sales enablement responsibilities is to equip reps with compelling customer-facing content. The same physical handouts commonly used for in-person meetings typically don’t translate well to virtual meetings, and in-person product demonstrations can rarely be duplicated virtually.
At a minimum, marketing should be reformatting physical content assets for presentation via video conference. That said, marketing should work to push beyond turning 8.5 x 11 handouts into presentation slides, and look to create interactive content, such as calculators, diagnostics, recommendation tools, and virtual product demonstrations (or better yet, virtual product simulations).
These kinds of interactive content assets, also known as buyer enablement content, can be highly effective for helping customers complete key buying journey tasks, for keeping customers actively engaged in conversation, and for encouraging substantive, two-way information sharing in a virtual setting.
Enabling Effective Customer Engagement Outside Sales Meetings (Asynchronous Communications)
In addition to arming sales reps with content and insights to engage with customers during real-time meetings, marketers should also be thinking about how they can be supporting the sales process across other touchpoints.
The same kinds of interactive, buyer enablement content assets referenced in the previous section, while helpful for in-the-moment sharing, also offer great value for sellers to send via email, before or after customer meetings.
Well-designed, self-service content and tools can offer customers some of the same helpful and prescriptive advice that would normally be reserved for live conversations. These assets can also be shared among other remote members of the customer’s buying committee.
Beyond individual content assets, marketing should be equipping sellers with channel-specific training and tools to engage customers across different touchpoints. Help your sellers deliver insights through email and voicemail by giving them templates and compelling scripting.
Social distancing protocols have pushed a lot of organizations to increase their presence on social media. As such, many marketers are supporting efforts to train sales reps on how to optimize their personal LinkedIn profiles and tactfully engage prospects through the platform. Some marketers even give their reps ready-to-share posts that sellers can simply copy and paste to share from their personal accounts.
Provide Sales Air Cover through Digital Marketing
Marketing’s role in supporting a virtual sales process shouldn’t be limited to “behind-the-scenes” work, while sales reps drive engagement. Even prior to COVID, Gartner customer surveys showed that most B2B buyers used digital channels, such as supplier websites, in the middle and late stages of the buying journey. Customers continue to use digital channels even after beginning meaningful conversations with sales reps.
To reflect these buying realities, marketers should be optimizing their website, among other digital channels, to not only support top-of-funnel engagement, but also to help customers progress through the entire buying journey, including the later stages.
For further guidance on marketing’s role in sales enablement, refer to (subscription required):