Enabling Virtual Team Selling at Scale in a 21st Century Commercial Model
The mass dispersion of revenue teams over the last 18 months has accelerated the adoption of virtual selling technologies that offer the potential to multiply seller performance.
The technologies underlying advanced virtual selling – gaming engines, Haptics, 3D worlds, AR, VR and 5G – are viable and largely affordable today. Selling leaders like Ikea, Yale University, Virgin and Accenture are already incorporating these technologies into their virtual selling channel deployments in an effort to deliver superior and differentiated customer experiences.
These investments will pay off because when properly designed and equipped, virtual selling channels can dramatically improve sales coverage, control, and cost to sell while offering buyers the speed of response and experiences they demand.
Investment in virtual selling is also necessary to remain competitive. Research by Gartner shows that over three quarters of the process for complex business to business purchases now happens online. And most millennial business buyers would prefer to buy with no humans at all if it were possible. So, the moments when humans on the revenue team do interact with buyers matter even more.
Unfortunately, the feedback from B2B buyers suggests sellers are not making the most of their limited chances to engage customers in a virtual setting. 64% of buyers cannot see any difference in the digital buying experience of the suppliers they are considering – so three quarters of them (76%) don’t do anything differently as a result of those digital selling efforts.
Several “red flags” in our research show the gap between virtual buying expectations and selling practices may be getting wider than most think. Some of these warning signs are obvious to any observant executive. Sellers and buyers are “fatigued” by the lack of eye-contact and non-verbal communication in videoconferencing. The increased speed of virtual selling has both buyers and sellers feeling burnt out and disengaged.
The problems go deeper than that. Sales managers and effectiveness professionals tell us the top obstacles holding back their virtual sales efforts are the ability to converge the right experts on a call to provide complete and fast answers, and delivering content that is valuable, engaging, and customized enough to command buyer attention and attendance.
A recent survey of 622 sales reps and support personnel by Blue Ridge Partners shows that front line sellers are struggling to adapt and differentiate their approaches in some fundamental ways, including:
Sales management and effectiveness professionals tell us the top obstacles holding back their virtual sales efforts are the ability to converge the right experts on a call to provide complete and fast answers, and delivering content that is valuable, engaging, and customized enough to command buyer attention and attendance.
This puts current and future revenue plans at substantial risk unless their leaders continue to evolve to a virtual selling model beyond videoconferencing grids, online demonstrations, and PowerPoint.
Most organizations have digital transformation, hybrid work and enabling the future of selling initiatives underway. Many, like Honeywell and Audi are making big commitments to creating digital experiences or worlds to support selling in the future. But organizations are realizing it’s a big and expensive leap from zoom calls to virtual reality from a maturity, sales channel design, and go to market standpoint. Today, most revenue teams are in the messy middle between “triaging” a virtual selling approach and true transformation. They’ve moved beyond the early days of adapting to the scale displacement of their revenue teams but have not yet achieved true digital transformation. Meanwhile customer expectations for virtual buying – in terms of speed, experience, and the quality and context of response – continue to evolve quickly.
B2B sellers need to find a “sweet spot” that delivers a superior virtual experience to buyers, without the time, culture change, and investment required to transform the commercial model. Over the next 24 to 36 months selling organizations will build out networks of digital selling studios to create a platform for scaling virtual selling beyond traditional videoconferencing. “Using a virtual studio environment can be a game changer because it differentiates the client experience, helps clients visualize how large physical products will work in their environments, and helps sales reps be more effective selling remotely in the wake of the pandemic,” shares Bill Borrelle, SVP of Marketing at Pitney Bowes, who is building a Virtual Demo Center that helps clients visualize how they will use Pitney Bowes portfolio of shipping solutions in their businesses. “Clients want to see, touch, and feel the equipment they are buying. They ask us to “bring together exactly what I am buying so I can see it in operation.”
The notion of building a network of virtual selling studios makes sense from a practical, technical, and financial perspective.
On a practical level – sellers lack the space, technology infrastructure, content and studio capabilities to pilot and scale more advanced virtual selling experiences such as AR, VR, Haptics and building 3D virtual worlds on their own. There is generally not enough space to do this in a home office at scale. To sustainably evolve their virtual selling channels, many organizations are reengineering their real estate overhead to create regionally dispersed studios located near employees, markets, and clients.
From a technology perspective – these “virtual selling studio” networks will provide a platform to house and build out the interconnected technology to support advanced virtual selling from both a hardware (lighting, virtual white boards, microphones, cameras, and backdrops) and technology (AR headsets, green screens, virtual worlds, gaming engines, video content production, 5G connectivity) perspective.
From a financial perspective, business leaders are going to want proof that investments that improve the virtual selling experience pay off in terms of revenue and profit outcomes and seller performance. The studio platform allows sellers to experiment with different combinations.
If you expect to evolve and scale virtual selling, you need to be taking 4 steps to design, pilot, and build out a virtual selling studio strategy.
1 – Rethink your growth capital investment model. Virtual selling will force growth leaders to rethink the economics of field selling. CFOs are making permanent drops in travel budgets ranging from 19-36% and renegotiating their leases to make their real estate overhead less costly and footprints more adaptable. Rethink the real estate portfolio to build a network of regionally dispersed and flexible set of offices, studios and collaboration spaces located near talent, markets, time zones, and clients to better accommodate hybrid and remote work and limit travel. Far sighted revenue operations teams are reinvesting those real estate, travel and event savings into more virtual selling technology and training for reps which improves their productivity. The cost of enabling advanced virtual selling will go beyond the current limits of space, bandwidth, and technology budget per employees. For example, the fully loaded sales technology overhead per rep already exceeds $2,000 per seller without adding these virtual capabilities at most enterprises.
2 – Redesign your selling architecture – In order to realize a higher return on sales investment, growth leaders will have to redefine their sales force design and go to market strategies. The cadence and mix of engagement in virtual selling requires different coverage models, selling roles, territory definitions, customer treatment types, and team selling incentives. Adjusting these parameters will increase the speed, productivity, and engagement of your sales team at lower costs. Virtual selling also releases the traditional constraints of geography on sales resource allocation – allowing operations teams to define territory definitions based on seller fit, customer need, time zone, or readiness to buy instead of strictly geographic region. Redefining sales incentives and KPI will be necessary to motivate interdisciplinary teams to converge on accounts and opportunities regardless of function, and increase the cadence, volume, and impact of virtual engagement.
3 – Create “channel ready” content to provision virtual selling – All virtual selling requires more, better, and more dynamic content. Over 80% of organizations are growing these budgets – meaning content is going to be more expensive, specialized, and a bigger selling asset than it already is. The desire for more relevant and personalized content by buyers is the number one impediment to improving remote selling productivity according to the Remote Selling Productivity Study. In the short term this involves creating and organizing more video and modular content that can be personalized, and delivered across digital channels: chatbots, voice search, videoconferencing, and contactless selling channels. But the way that content is organized, architected and classified is also going to be critical if they expect to assemble, personalize, reuse, target and deploy that content quickly and economically. Longer term, building specialized content for advanced virtual selling platforms is going to be a bigger consideration. This is the gating item to realizing the potential of two dimensional (greenscreens, virtual white boards, virtual backdrops and use specific content) and 3-dimensional content (3D models, virtual worlds, virtual reality, and realistic simulations). The technology platforms – such as gaming engines and VR studios – exist today to execute these variations of virtual selling. Having the content is the gating item to executing them.
4 – Reconfigure the sales tech stack –Sales leaders are reconfiguring their sales enablement, readiness, and engagement portfolios to better support the virtual selling workflow and provide managers the visibility into seller activity, buyer engagement and account and pipeline health they need to lead their teams.
Building a digital selling studio network as a platform to scale virtual selling will require a careful balance of factors. Sellers need to find the right mix of platform investments, improvements to selling content, ways of managing talent, and new selling architectures to create the optimal customer experience and go-to-market economics.
Sponsoring a studio platform gives operations teams significant room for experimentation and configuration so they can get the seller and buying experience right. It also reduces the cost of piloting virtual white boards, physical demonstration environments and studio production tools. Once the platform is refined and is proven, the studio concept can scale consistently and profitably across geographies.
Software solutions, devices and hardware and consultative services will be early adopters because their products are “channel ready, and virtual studios will enhance their consultative selling efforts and helps differentiate their selling experiences. Organizations in manufacturing, capital equipment and physical and configurable offerings stand to benefit the most from having a studio platform where buyers can collaborate, configure, and visualize how their products will work in their business environments.
You can learn more about how to develop a virtual selling studio strategy at www.revenueenablement.com.