Decoding Sales

Episode 27: Virtual Sales is Here to Stay

April 01, 2022
Decoding Sales
Episode 27: Virtual Sales is Here to Stay
Show Notes Transcript

Virtual-first selling is here to stay--what does the future hold?

  • How virtual-first and in-person sales will merge into a hybrid sales process
  • When to stay virtual and when and how to leverage face-to-face
  • How virtual sales unlocks access to high level prospects
  • Keeping a prospect's attention in a high-distraction selling environment
  • Buyer-friendly tactics made possible by the freedom of virtual calls

Previous episodes mentioned

This episode is sponsored by our friends at Salesroom who are building a video conferencing platform, specifically for AE's and their buyers to build strong relationships in the virtual world. Built from the ground up specifically for sales interactions with video note-taking, real-time transcription and question detection, and AI-based recommendations, every feature of the platform is meant to help build rapport and trust. Salesroom is opening up access to their beta program. Go to salesroom.com to get early access!


Alex Allain:

Welcome to decoding sales, a podcast where an engineer, that's me, Alex, and a salesperson.

Peter Ahn:

That's me, Peter.

Alex Allain:

Talk about the art and science of sales as relates to life and business. In this episode, we are going to revisit virtual sales and the future post-COVID of what sales will look like. In episode 14, we explored the ways in which COVID had really transformed sales and speculated on what was going to stay and what would return to normal. We are now over a year after that episode. So we wanna revisit our predictions and talk about the trends we're seeing, make some new predictions about the future and come to some conclusions about how you can adapt as a salesperson or a sales leader or someone who's thrust into a sales role-- if you're a founder to the, the new normal. Before we dive into this episode's content. I do wanna say a special shoutout and thank you to our friends at Salesroom. Salesroom is sponsoring this episode and we are grateful for it. Peter's actually a user. He'll talk about it in a minute. What they're doing is building a video conferencing platform built specifically for buyers and sellers. So one of the organizations this new future. Peter, do you wanna talk a little bit about what you like about Salesroom?

Peter Ahn:

Yeah, I love Salesroom. I love the team. I think it's going to be a key platform for sales teams to really convey an authentic and genuine way of selling. One of my favorite features of the platform is the ability to actually create quick one to two minute highlight reels of an entire sales conversation that's even like an hour long. And I think, the reason why I get so excited about that concept is not only is the technology actually helping us create these highlight reels based off of aha moments in the deal cycle and in the actual video conference. But it also allows you to send this, package highlight reel off to your champion to be able to have him or her socialize the platform internally and do it in an efficient way. And, as we've talked about in previous episodes, multi-stakeholder deals are very important for enterprise deal cycles. So I, I think this platform is gonna help really shorten that and deliver an authentic, genuine way of sales that I'm truly excited about. So, they are actually opening up their platform to beta users. for those interested, please go to salesroom.com and sign up. they're very excited about ushering in a new way of virtual sales and. and a new wave of sellers, that are interested in this type of sale.

Alex Allain:

That's awesome. Peter, I love that virtual highlight reel feature. It's such a brilliant idea. When thinking about the alternative of hopping on more calls, to one saves time, it saves energy. It puts your champion in the driver's seat of the relationship internally. It's it's really awesome. So let's dive in Peter to the topic of the episode, which is the future of virtual selling. I wanna start with the, the big picture. So we've talked a about how, in our previous episode, the future of sales is virtual. But some companies are gonna rediscover this amazing technology called meeting in person, and that it has value propositions that perhaps do not exist over the internet. So I am curious for your thoughts on how this is going to play out. Are some companies going to eat all of their competition taking a purely in-person sales approach? Are there gonna be hybrid approaches? Where, where do you see this going? How do you see people effectively reintegrating that in-person communication at strategic points?

Peter Ahn:

Yeah, my opinion on this is that in-person meetings will actually become even better this virtual world. I think most teams will be hybrid. I think it's gonna be impossible to want to strike that in-person meeting. And not to want to build that in-person report because nothing that's gonna replace it. Let's be honest you and I hadn't met in person, this would be a fundamentally different interaction and relationship. but what I'll say is the expectations around giving great metrics, data, the right information for the buying cycle won't change. And I think what's what'll happen is sales teams can focus on the nitty gritty, the objective metrics in a virtual fashion. And then focus on the softer skills in person. Whereas in the past, I think you had this mashing of, we have to get all this work done in person, and then there's a little bit of relationship building. Now you can truly focus on the relationship building in person and highlight, you know, when needed some of the business objectives. But I think unlocking that human-to-human genuine interaction will be much easier because you will have gotten all the hard work out of the way in a virtual fashion. So I think that's how things are gonna change. And that's what I'm excited about when I meet my customers is because we're so used to working together virtually that we don't need to work together in person. We can just enjoy each other's company, get additional back channel. Obviously that's important for the deal, but focus more on the intangibles than the, um, than the, the, of the POC as an example.

Alex Allain:

Do you think that's gonna make it more difficult for salespeople to justify this in person gatherings or for that matter for customers to justify that time? Because I imagine that the results orientation will still be there and people will look at those rapport building in person meetings and say, you know, really need a rapport with our vendor. The product works or vice versa, the product's working. We don't really need to go talk to our customers like in person and, and build those relationships because they bought it and they like it. Right.

Peter Ahn:

that's a great point. And I do think it'll be harder yes to justify for customers that are doing well when you're supporting them virtually. I don't think that's a bad thing because there's a deployment, that's stalling. If there's a difficult relationship, maybe you haven't quite broken in to the virtual. Cadence of working with a very important customer, then I think yes, like you try another angle in person is just another channel to try and break into the account and improve the customer relationship. And if the customer relationship's doing well. Yes. I'm not sure that I can justify $2,000 trip to New York, to meet with a customer that's already happy. Now there are instances where customers are already happy and you go to New York, let's say, and then you bring together five other prospects in a group setting that now suddenly becomes a worthwhile trip because you're not just. Trying to make your happy customer happier. You're actually utilizing the power of that community to see if you can get more business. So I do think it'll force people to prioritize based off of where, where the deal is and the sentiment of the deal. But again, I don't think that's a bad thing because I don't want my sales rep going out to a random state just to have dinner with somebody who was already happy with the virtual engagement.

Alex Allain:

I, I love that point. had a previous episode, I think it was on, uh, using effective email where you talked about how you saw email, text messaging, phone calls, all as channels you wanted to open up with prospects and that, that could be really powerful. So I love that framing of: in-person's just another channel that you might choose to open up depending on how the deal is going. And it sounds like your heuristic for this would be there's something a little bit off. The relationship is not quite working in this deal. so for solving that style of problem, not the results oriented style, but the relationship style that's when you kind of choose that channel.

Peter Ahn:

Yeah. And, and I'll say even for happy customers, of course, like a deal is not just a deal. Once you land a customer, you want them to stay with years on end. So I would say there is still a justification for meeting a happy because that champion might change. The company might be growing and it's not just a renewal you're looking for. You're actually wanting to look for a long-term relationship and that does come through in-person relationship building. So I, I do think it'll force sales people and sales teams to be much more articulate about that and that long-term journey and be, be strategic about the trip. But I think in both scenarios, happy customer or not in-person meetings will still very well, be justified. Now on the buyer side, right? Let's say like, you're actually going someplace and, and the seller's not coming to you directly. I think the justification, this is why I love group events could be, Hey, listen, I'm having like six other CISOs come and meet with the twin gate team. And I wanna learn from my peers in person.

Alex Allain:

Are you seeing this almost like a mini conference?

Peter Ahn:

Yes. Yes. Many conferences, especially hosted by the vendor, I think can be highly valuable and you know, something I'm really looking forward to bringing around. And having it be not just, you know, mingling and of course, like a nice dinner and drinks, but providing them also under the hood teasers into our product roadmap. And things that we might not virtually show, or we might be afraid to send out in a PDF because it's an unformed idea let's say like these things, these bespoke engagements, I think can be still very special in an in-person setting. And that that I don't think is ever gonna go away.

Alex Allain:

So let's, let's talk about your own skin in the game here. How is Twingate thinking about evolving from a virtual to a virtual first hybrid model? What are some of the things you've been doing with your sales team?

Peter Ahn:

Yeah. I've been doing, you know, first and foremost, more trainings and trainings on virtual selling specifically. almost every training module has a component of how we're actually gonna do sales in a virtual world. The the reason why that's different is I'll, I'll give you an example. The other day we were training on, you know, phraseology of discovery questions. And you know, when you're training on discovery questions, you might say, okay, if Alex is the buyer. Make sure you ask, um, Alex, is this a project that you're urgently trying to get, get done or is this something that you're just opportunistically looking at? Right. the training might stop there, but we talk at length about, Hey, by the way, like in a virtual first world, you want to give a little bit more space for the person to react. it's all too easy just to like trample over the person and keep going with your line of discovery questions. But you have to pause also, by the way, if there three people on the other side and you see one person take off their mute button, cuz you can see that in a video call, you don't just keep going. You stop. And you actually point that out because that's a big milestone moment. If somebody who hasn't been speaking takes off their mute button, you stop and say, Alex, I noticed you came off mute. Was there something you wanted to ask? And so this like virtual etiquette, and and training around that, I think is something we're doing. The, the other thing that we're starting now, now a little bit better. We are actively talking to our prospects about in-person meetings. Hey, when is a time that we could get together, since this has been such a great relationship, would love to you out or thinking about an event. Would you come to an event like X, Y, and Z? Right. And we're starting to see that conversation as well.

Alex Allain:

What kind of reaction are you getting from folks right now?

Peter Ahn:

You know, the reaction is excitement. And like a of folks go into, oh, like, you know, I have this bar I love to go to, I'd love to show you around. If you're ever in this area, it's an opportunity for them to in their personality, I think, into the sales cycle. I think it adds an element casual banter that it's just beyond, like, how's the weather and how's it been with COVID and your kid being at home and your dog barking in the background.

Alex Allain:

Yeah. I feel like going to your favorite bar might be a little bit better than explaining for the fifth time that your dog is a little bit sick yes, it's cloudy outside and I'm sorry about the next door. So Peter, one of the things you've mentioned to me about the benefits of a virtual approach to sales has been this idea that it's easier to get calls with folks who are maybe more senior. Can, can you talk a little bit about what the advantages are, how you're seeing that play out?

Peter Ahn:

Yeah. I think the reason sales teams virtually, I would say, as long as their outreach is sound are getting meetings with more people is because it's less expensive for a CIO now to get on a video call than it is to get all the right people physically in a room. And it's also less expensive for a sales team to give the opportunity to let's say, quote unquote, a junior salesperson to meet a C-level executive because the lowest common denominator interaction now is a virtual room. It's not like going to a fancy New York office building and going to the 56th floor and waiting in the lobby for a CIO. Who's in a suit. It's let me go to my home office. Let me disseminate what I think is an amazing technology platform and whoever will listen and CIOs now are, you know, they have more time, than they're to like going to the office and doing that whole thing. And I think it's been like a really interesting, uh, experience that I've seen, even with my sales team. We're all getting calls with higher level folks because to that meeting is easier

Alex Allain:

Hmm.

Peter Ahn:

the barrier to entry easier. So I, I really like that because I think it's leveling, playing field for buyers and sellers to really focus on the technology. Of course, there's still this, Hey, I want C-levels to talk to C-levels. And they get on a call they're still looking at your LinkedIn profile and trying to judge how senior you are and how credible you are. But as long as you know the technology and you can establish that credibility within the first five to 10 minutes of a call, you can actually command the respect of you know, high C-level person, which is why with my sales team, I spent so much time training on making sure you understand not only TwinGate, but the technologies around us because CIOs and CTOs and CISOs will give you the opportunity because the opportunity is a 30 minute virtual call.

Alex Allain:

Right. And just so much easier to slot that onto a calendar than we gotta find a meeting room. And there's like, all these people have to show up and it's a production.

Peter Ahn:

Exactly.

Alex Allain:

so interesting. And it resonates with some of our experience U.S. Digital Response, where we've been able to hop on calls with government folks who I think would be very difficult to schedule if we were otherwise trying to do something in person.

Peter Ahn:

The, the other thing too is one of our main investors, as you know, we've joked about Jeffrey Katzenberg. He's chairman of one of our main investing firms. I've been on probably tens of calls with him. Maybe close to a hundred calls with him. Actually, I never, would've been in a hundred in person meetings with Jeffrey Katzenberg, given his schedule That's just like an impossibility, but we're now like leveraging his, you know, virtual entry into being able to help us sell. And he's I'm in San Diego and my CEO's in the Bay Area. And all of a sudden you have three people in the same quote, unquote room, you know, helping to sell a product. Whereas that coordination effort in and of itself could weeks.

Alex Allain:

That's really great example. I think it, it evokes so much of the power of, of this medium to bring people for a particular purpose and really highlights how difficult prior to COVID scheduling. Anything like that just would've been because nobody would say like, let's do a zoom call. They would be like, let's do it in And then you're like, well, that's just not gonna happen.

Peter Ahn:

Exactly. Yeah, extremely powerful. That concept of the virtual room being the lowest common denominator is amazing. And we're now gonna have technologies like Salesroom that are gonna enhance that. And the competitive edge is not gonna be, can you get somebody on a zoom call? Like that's like obvious. Now, you get somebody on a video call? Like anybody can do that. The competitive edge is going to be, how can you engage somebody once they're in a virtual environment? And that's easier said than done, which is why the design, the feeling, the nuances like picking out, like when somebody gets off of a mute, uh, gets off of the mute button. These things are gonna be like an art and skill and of itself to extract engagement from a virtual setting.

Alex Allain:

Well, so wanna talk a little bit more about that. Cause I do think one of the things that's in a virtual setting is both that people are very in, principle engaged, but they're often not engaged in the primary medium of the conversation. So necessarily the video chat, there's often a lot of back channel chatter that's going on.

Peter Ahn:

Yeah. So you're right in a virtual environment, there's a lot of distractions, text messages, slack messages, maybe messages within the video call in terms of the selling side, we leverage those tools quite a bit to make sure we're strategically aligned. Given the changes that can happen in a call. if I start to see somebody tune out on the prospect side, I might ping the account executive and say, Hey, Alex, he's actually tuning out. You gotta go onto the next step, or you gotta point him out to answer a question or you have to like show something that he mentioned and actually call him out and say, Hey, Mr. CTO, as you mentioned in the beginning of the call, here's something that is really important to you. So I'm gonna show you how it materializes in the product, so that coordination in the background, I think is extremely powerful sales teams. For prospects on the buying side, uh, if you're a buyer we can tell on the sales team when you're tuning out and sometimes it gets really annoying. And really it's an irritating thing for the seller, because for the seller you prepare for the meeting, you're nervous for the meeting and you're taking your day, that could be spent closing another deal. Now, so there's a buyer etiquette, but also on the selling side, what I tell sales teams is you can't call out somebody to say, "Hey, Alex, I can see you're not paying attention, like please pay attention to me." an awkward engagement. What you can do is make sure you're asking questions and make sure you're engaging and actively listening and using the prospect's words to help with your pitch. And to say, "you mentioned this was a pain point. Here's how it turns out." Does this address your pain point? What do you think about this. By the way, Alex, you excited about what you just saw or is this kind of, you know, run of the mill? What you've seen, cuz I know your calendar's stacked with 12 meetings today.

Alex Allain:

Hmm.

Peter Ahn:

And these types of engagement inducing questions-- I think you have to be able to rattle off in rapid fire because you have a window of

Alex Allain:

Hmm.

Peter Ahn:

keep the, keep the prospect engaged. And in the first 5, 6, 7 minutes, if you train the prospect to understand that you're gonna go fast and that you're gonna be asking some questions, and some pointed questions where you can't be not paying attention, then the buyer, the buyer will pay attention because there's nothing more embarrassing than to say. Sorry. Can you repeat the question? Cuz I wasn't paying attention.

Alex Allain:

Sorry, what did you just say?

Peter Ahn:

There's nothing more embarrassing for a buyer. I've been on the buying side too to ask. Sorry. Okay. sorry. Sorry. I thought you were actually like asking me, oh my God, I totally fell for that trap. But you know, that's happened to me a bunch of times where I feel really embarrassed. I'm like, oh shoot. I actually didn't hear your question. Can you repeat it?

Alex Allain:

I'm totally leaving this section in.

Peter Ahn:

Yeah, you should. You should. I hate, I hate when that happens. And sometimes there's a good reason. Sometimes I actually say, I'm sorry. Uh, I wasn't paying attention. I actually had an emergency, you know, client email, come in. Can you repeat that question? And that's totally fine. Right? That's still a win for the seller. You know, when I ask somebody a question and they're like, sorry, like I had a security incident arise in the background. Can you repeat the question? That's totally fair. I say, that's happened to me before I say, well, totally. Okay. By the way, like that incident is probably way more important than any question that I'm gonna ask. So if you wanna reschedule, we can reschedule. That's a nuanced, like skilled thing to do in a call to be able to stop and say, you know what? We don't actually need to do this right now.

Alex Allain:

and you know, that's another place where virtual really shines. If that was an in-person meeting, it would be harder to cancel probably harder for you to, you would probably be reluctant to say, let's cancel this meeting. Even though it might be the right thing to do because you spent time going there. There's all these other costs attached to the call.

Peter Ahn:

Totally. Yeah. And I've had in person meetings canceled last minute and it's worst thing ever. I've had the receptionist check me into the lobby of the New York office building I was mentioning just, and flew across the country to meet that person and have the meeting canceled, horrible feeling. But yeah, in a virtual world, again, the barrier to entry, the barrier to cancel is a lot lower.

Alex Allain:

And you're like, great I can eat lunch now.

Peter Ahn:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly great. I, I that's happened to me too. You know, a client moves a call and I'm like, great. I have time to actually up my frozen burrito and eat it.

Alex Allain:

Very different from spending six hours in a plane, just to get back on the flight six hours the other direction with nothing to show for it.

Peter Ahn:

exactly.

Alex Allain:

Well, you know, I think one of the things that you me thinking about talking about text message distractions and all these other distractions is how in an in-person world, you end up knowing what everyone is looking at. There's one shared locus of attention, which is the speaker or the presentation. In a virtual world, you have no guarantees about that. And what you're talking about are these techniques for drawing everyone back to a shared locus attention. I just think that's really interesting and powerful, and it seems to me that this is another area that, that tooling can probably help, you know, tooling can't solve all these problems, but can kind of help by creating more of an attentive space, a optimized for people understanding and hearing the message and a zoom has like screen sharing, but It's not optimized for that kind of setup.

Peter Ahn:

That is such an interesting thing you bring up, I've been thinking about this a lot because you're right. Zoom is focused on the screen share, but I actually think that's not the most important part of a presentation for the seller because the seller knows what's screen all the time. The seller's done the presentation and demo hundreds of times. So I actually redistribute my screen. And again, this is where Salesroom is really interesting. I've given feedback about this to blow up the people in the video call. And look at their interactions and their engagement and their reactions and much like I do with the mute button, I actually call out things that I see in terms of reactions. So if somebody were to smile, I would say you just smiled about what I said, like what was interesting to you about that? Like, I'm curious why you smiled or you just chuckled, like, was there, I, I guess you've experienced that before that pain that I had mentioned is like such a like golden moment, you're building rapport with that person who had that reaction. And to your point about that locus of focus. It changes in a virtual meeting and it's you as a seller to be able to change that spotlight. And again, I think we'll have software that'll help us do this too, but I love those moments. And by the way, it doesn't have to be positive. It can be also like a look of confusion. Sometimes I'll be pitching, you know, the architecture diagram, but I'll very technical. You could clearly see that the prospect is confused, then you don't just keep moving on and say any questions. You say, "Hey, Alex, you look a little confused. Is there something I can clarify for you here?" That is an extremely adept, advanced phrase. Actually, if you think about it, because it's hard for people to go slow to go fast, right? It's hard for people to zoom in and out of calls. And I think that is such a special moment that is important and zoom is way too one dimensional in that. Screen sharing is not the focal point of, of pitches.

Alex Allain:

Yeah, that's really smart and such an interesting point: blow up the people, focus on them. Catch those nuances. I feel like there, there could be some powerful software here that helps you with that because the problem with screen sharing is you have to look at your screen to some degree to drive the screen forward. You can't cover it, but wouldn't it be great if software would highlight reactions in the moment so that you could it was happening?

Peter Ahn:

Yes. And, and in fact, you know, these demos, I'm doing the same thing every time I demo, by the way. So why not just hit play a video, hit play and pause on the deck.

Alex Allain:

That's an easy thing you can do today, right?

Peter Ahn:

And sales room helps you do that. So it's like, I don't actually need to share my screen. And you know, there's this funny meme out on LinkedIn that says the commonly used phrase in virtual sales now, or, or even virtual, anything I would say is, can you see my screen? Right. But why is it can you see my screen?

Alex Allain:

Why is this actually, now that you mentioned it, not a feature that is built into these platforms. Obviously Zoom, for example, knows if it is transmitting your screen into someone else.

Peter Ahn:

It's not a high priority because it's also to your point about focal point of the meeting, it's an opportunity for somebody to grab the attention of people. Cause if you say, can you see my screen? Even if you know you're

Alex Allain:

Mm,

Peter Ahn:

transmitting your screen. The buyer, buyer has to go back to the zoom call from their text message, your slack, and confirm that they can see the screen. But I think this concept of not even having a screen share, be part of the deck and demo pitch, I think is a fascinating thing for sales teams to explore, because you're thing. Why do you need to share your screen the same thing you do over and over again? Right. And, that I think is like a really interesting thing to explore, especially with all the issues that come up with you trying to, you know, make sure you're not showing anything personal like your text message or messages when you're sharing your screen.

Alex Allain:

I just wanna pause for a minute and appreciate the brilliance of, can you see my screen as a way to draw people's attention to a single shared point? That had not occurred to me now that you mentioned it, it makes a ton of sense. And I, I, that is so smart. I love that. And that is something our listeners should take away from this episode is a, a tactic, even if you're a hundred percent sure that everyone can see your screen, it never hurts to ask because now you have them all paying attention.

Peter Ahn:

Yeah. And even if it's for a split second, right. You draw people in.

Alex Allain:

Okay, Peter. Well, I think that's a really great place for us to end this episode. And before, before our listeners run, we do wanna remind everyone that this episode was sponsored by our friends at Salesroom and they're in early access. So if you wanna learn what the hype is about and get excited to build stronger relationships with your customers, go to salesroom.com and check out their early access program. Finally, please don't keep Decoding Sales a secret. If you liked this podcast, please like us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We appreciate any positive reviews. And if you didn't like what you heard that's okay too. Just tell us, email us at podcasters@decodingsalespodcast.com.