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June 2012
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TD Magazine

Sales Training for the Virtual Interaction

New selling environments call for new messages and tools—and fresh training techniques to teach sales professionals these skills.

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Intelligence1
Today's sales professionals must cover large territories and reach customers who have little time for a product or service pitch. Like many training sessions and corporate meetings that have transitioned to virtual environments, sales interactions are moving online. However, the salesforce may not be prepared for this new selling terrain.

According to a recent survey by Corporate Visions, more than 50 percent of sales and marketing professionals do not receive sufficient training on how to deliver compelling virtual conversations. The resulting report, Salesperson in a Box: The Reality of Virtual Selling Conversations, shares these findings:

  • Professionals lack training—only 10 percent feel well equipped.
  • Tools are missing—more than 50 percent want better content.
  • There is a high prevalence of group audiences—64 percent include more than one person.

Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions, explains that the disconnect occurs when salespeople practice skills—such as presentation or sales methodology skills—in front of a room of peers during a training session rather than in the online platform in which they will use those techniques. "Salespeople must practice delivering the content through role play, in a mock virtual environment," Riesterer says. "There's a dramatic difference when even the most competent in-person sales professional sells in the virtual environment."
The report describes how an effective training curriculum teaches sales professionals to communicate their messages via the phone and Internet in a provocative and engaging way. Tools include fast-paced video vignettes for gen campaigns, voicemail scripts that don't sound scripted, dynamic PowerPoint decks, and interactive virtual presentation skills using message objects and visual storytelling.

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Riesterer says that the same Power-Point deck a salesperson uses when delivering a face-to-face presentation cannot be used when appealing to customers via an online platform. Research has shown that in the virtual environment, a PowerPoint slide must change—or something new must happen on the slide—every 10 to 15 seconds to keep an audience engaged, compared with every minute, which is the norm for an in-person pitch.

Because more than half of human communication is conveyed through nonverbal clues, sales trainers must keep in mind that virtual conversations are not natural and often are more difficult to master. "Learning professionals have been consumed with moving training from onsite classrooms to e-learning mediums," says Riesterer. "Ironically, often they're just taking the same content and making it available in modules online, but they're not teaching something new. They must change the training to equip salespeople to be effective during those online interactions."

About the Author

Community of Practice Manager, ATD  Ann Parker is senior manager of the Human Capital Community of Practice and the Senior Leaders & Executives Community of Practice at ATD. Prior to this position, she worked at ATD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for TD magazine, and most recently as a senior writer and editor. In this role, Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession's content.

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