How Sales Leaders Can Reclaim the Advantage in a Virtual World

Posted 08.25.2020

Many of the sales leaders I’m talking with this summer are working on how to help their teams raise their games in the virtual world we’re living in. I’ve been collecting some best practice ideas that can help you and your team reclaim competitive advantage in a virtual world.

Back in June (remember that distant time two months ago?), the New York Times ran an article titled “What If Working from Home Goes on Forever?” that featured an industrial robotic vacuum cleaner salesman named Josh Harcus. Josh’s company makes and leases gigantic Roombas that scrub the carpets in airports and hotel hallways until they’re nice and clean. In the pre-COVID world, Josh spent 80% of his time on the road. The routine was to ship vacuum cleaners to the potential customer’s site, fly there, do a demo for 10 minutes or so and then lease a bunch of the machines to the customer. These days, Josh is doing six to eight customer meetings a day via Zoom as a video loop of his vacuums doing their work runs in his virtual background. He’s closing as many as six deals a day.

Josh is someone who quickly adapted to the new world we’re in and figured out what virtual excellence looks like. He learned about how to light himself for Zoom so, as he says, he doesn’t look like he’s in a witness protection program. He shifted from talking about the weather during opening small talk to the challenges of working from home with kids. And now he’s wondering why used to spend so much time and effort flying around the country to lease his vacuum cleaners.

We’re somewhere between a revolutionary and evolutionary moment in terms of what excellence looks like in the way work gets done. The winners are quickly figuring out how to adapt. The National Geographic reminds us that “in evolutionary theory, adaptation is the biological mechanism by which organisms adjust to new environments or to changes in their environment.” The first of three types of adaptation is behavioral. That’s what Josh has done so well. He’s recognized that virtual excellence is the new price of admission and has adapted accordingly.

I have a client who’s a sales executive who’s adapting himself and is encouraging the people on his team to adapt as well. As he said to me in a call a few weeks ago, “Virtual excellence is always going to be a part of success going forward.” Like it has been for Josh, the historical model in my client’s industry was to get in a car or on a plane to go see customers face to face. When the COVID quarantine began, the early adopters/adapters on his team realized that since connecting with people is the central part of their job, they were going to have to find new ways to do it.

He’s identified three key adaptive behaviors that the best people on his team are adopting to be virtually excellent:

They make it worth their customers’ time to engage with them. This starts with learning as much as they can about their customers so that they have relevant things to share when they engage. What are their hopes and their fears? What are their opportunities and challenges? What problems are they trying to solve and how can I help them solve their problems? These are the kinds of questions the best virtual sales leaders ask themselves.

They wake up every day with a plan. All that time reclaimed from not traveling can leave some people feeling a little lost about productive ways to fill their days. The virtually excellent ones view that found time as a gift. They start their days with a list of objectives for what they’re going to accomplish and are clear about how those tasks relate to and support strategic goals.

They adapt their plan to a virtual world. The virtually excellent leaders like Josh Harcus and the best people on my client’s team are asking themselves how they can use the technology like Zoom and the changes in lifestyle to everyone’s advantage. They identify meaningful ways to connect with others and create opportunities for transformational conversations and not just transactional ones.

Which one of these ideas is the best place for you and your team to add to your repertoire? What else are you doing that works? Please share it so we can all benefit.

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