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ATD Blog

The Three Traps of Selling Virtually

Monday, August 24, 2020

As a byproduct of the pandemic, virtual selling is commonplace, and it’s significantly affecting customers’ and salespeople’s interactions. While the fundamentals are the same in a virtual setting, the dynamics are different, and many salespeople—rookie and veteran alike—have struggled to adapt. With challenges such as staying motivated and focused despite isolation and work-from-home distractions, dealing with technical issues, and multitasking during online meetings, virtual selling demands a higher level of sales expertise.

Many sales enablement teams have focused on ramping up technical skills, from learning web conferencing platforms to finding the best audio equipment and video backdrops. These are important, but they’re only a small part of what it takes to sell successfully in a virtual environment.

Three Traps of Virtual Selling

Here are three common traps that can sabotage virtual selling success and how to avoid them:

1. Underestimating the Power of Beliefs: Years of research and observation have shown that sales performance tends to be consistent with a person’s inner beliefs. Those beliefs unconsciously dictate a salesperson’s actions, behaviors, abilities, and productivity. For example, while some salespeople see opportunity in the shift to virtual, many are experiencing different inner conversations. They’re worried about how to interact or that they’re bothering their clients or that it’s impossible to build virtual relationships.


This negative self-talk is an easy trap to fall into. To avoid it, salespeople need to recognize and examine those inner conversations: Do I have the same views of selling and of my abilities that I used to have? How do I bring value? How committed am I to the activities it takes to be successful? How mentally prepared am I? Without ongoing self-reflection, salespeople will unwittingly be held back by self-imposed limits.

2. Underprepared to Perform: Preparation is always critical to sales performance, but even more so now. Because there are many more opportunities for a sales meeting to go poorly in a virtual setting, salespeople need to expand their preparation repertoire. In addition to steps like researching the customer and their company and clarifying call objectives, virtual selling requires such considerations as:


Do I have a strong statement of intent to begin the meeting and a strategy for maintaining engagement? How will I make a personal connection using an impersonal medium? Am I video-prepared? Have I practiced slide-sharing and virtual handoffs with team members?

3. Not Skilled Enough to Execute: In sales, you’re always battling distractions, and virtual environments amplify them. There are many things salespeople can do to keep clients engaged. Here are three that can have immediate impact:

  • Make it a conversation not a one-way presentation: Plan questions that engage around the most important challenges and needs your customer has. Collaborate, don’t pitch.
  • Set expectations for a two-way conversation by letting customers know you will be seeking their input. For example: After I walk through the three recommendations for about a minute each, it would be good to get feedback from Sally and Dwayne before we collaborate on timing.
  • Seeing is believing. Show them how the desired situation you can help create for them is better than their current situation. Don’t just talk about it; use visuals, but keep it brief and keep it moving. The longer a slide stays on the screen, the easier it will be for a customer to mentally check out. Alternate the use of slides with just you on camera to create variety.

Technical capabilities are useful when you’re selling virtually, but sometimes the biggest obstacles to success are internal. By helping your salespeople avoid these three traps, you can make sure they’re progressing opportunities and driving more client value regardless of what the selling environment looks like.

About the Author

Bruce Wedderburn has 25 years of global experience in the sales performance improvement industry building, coaching and directing sales teams and distribution channels to surpass growth targets. He has a passion to create business results for clients through the successful execution of customer-led sales strategies. Bruce joined Integrity Solutions in 2016 and leads the sales organization. In prior roles Bruce was a leading sales person for Dale Carnegie Training and led the redevelopment of the company’s sales performance practice. At Huthwaite, he was a top performing salesperson, highly recognized sales leader, and spearheaded the successful expansion of the organization into Australia, Asia and Latin America. And as EVP of Enterprise Sales at MHI Global, he led the united brands in North America. Originally from Australia, Bruce lives with his wife and three children in the Washington, D.C. area.

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