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Effective Virtual Selling Rises Above Visual Appeal

Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Virtual selling requires a higher level of communication, and the most effective communication consists of strong form and substance. Form is the way in which the material is presented; it is the medium. Substance is the dialogue. To be effective, sales professionals need to consider both.

The problem is that an imbalance is beginning to emerge. Too much of the focus is on form and too little is on substance. The imbalance is occurring because today’s circumstances require nearly all selling to occur via a virtual medium. In this visual-oriented setting, many sales professionals have turned to slides as their primary form of communication. This development is a problem because slides are a two-dimensional solution to a three-dimensional challenge. As a result, many sales professionals have embraced the look of selling rather than the logic of selling.

This post uncovers the three fallacies behind ineffective virtual selling and how sales professionals can overcome each.

1. What Is Memorable Is Not Always Meaningful

The average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial is $5.6 million. This expense clocks in at more than $185,000 per second. As a result, advertisers take great pains to deliver a message that is memorable.

But does being memorable equate to being meaningful? Research suggests that the answer is no. Consider findings from the research firm Communicus published in the Harvard Business Review, which show that before-and-after interviews “indicate that 80 percent of Super Bowl ads fail to increase purchases or purchase intent.” Even the most memorable content is no guarantee that customers will buy.

This idea explains why even the most high-stakes ad buys are so ineffective at compelling customers. The message is designed for recall but not resonance. In the world of television this is understandable because the message is for the masses and cannot be customized to individual viewers. Sales professionals, however, can customize their messages. To do so, they must first understand what is important to the customer by surfacing the key business challenges they face.

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2. What Is Cooperative Is Not Always Collaborative

A few years ago a small team of professors and Harvard Business School, Yale University, and Duke University conducted four studies to understand why people value some things and not others. Their work, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, yielded the powerful insight that “labor increases valuation.”

They learned that when a consumer exerts effort by participating in the creation of a product, they hold the outcome in much higher esteem. Simply, “consumers believe that their self-made products rival those of experts.” The researchers call this the IKEA effect because so much of the do-it-yourself furniture from IKEA requires the customer’s participation in the final creation.

This finding has important implications for sales professionals. When the customer is involved in the process of shaping the solution, they will have a greater allegiance to the product. They will have more buy-in. However, this collaboration must be real and must go beyond mere cooperation.

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3. What Is Visual Is Not Always Viable

As virtual selling becomes a common practice, many sales engagements are becoming fixated on the visual side of positioning a solution. This trend is understandable given the highly visual nature of online meetings. This forum makes it easy for the sales professional to rely on images, graphs, and charts. Some have even explored “heat maps” and concepts like the “picture-superiority effect.”

The central problem behind these ideas is that they seek to control the focus of the customer rather than prompt conversation. Business needs have become complex. Solutions have become intricate. In this environment, sales professionals need a more sophisticated approach than directing the customer’s gaze to an image. Visuals alone are not sufficient for articulating the viability of a solution. Sales professionals need to work in close contact with the customer and shape the customer journey. This approach “will become a decisive source of competitive advantage,” according to McKinsey.

Join me at the ATD Sell Conference on October 14 for the session, Using a Data-driven Performance Journey to Drive Selling Agility.

About the Author

Chris Tiné is chief product officer at Richardson Sales Performance, where he leads the company’s product development and innovation activities and has global responsibility for content development, instructional design, facilitation, measurement, and digital.

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