Many salespeople confuse virtual selling with presenting in a collaborative web platform, but they aren’t the same thing. Virtual selling requires a higher level of communication which balances both 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 how to use both form and substance to drive the sale. A focus only on form or only on substance leaves half of the sales equation incomplete.
In other words, the strongest message will never connect with the customer if the material is presented poorly. At the same time, the best presentation carries little value if the message within does not resonate with the customer. Like the relationship between the sales professional and the stakeholders, the two must work together in harmony.
In a virtual medium, it is very easy for salespeople to focus too much on form, and too little on substance. This imbalance occurs due to the visual nature of virtual collaborative technology. When selling remotely, sales professionals have turned to electronic slides as their primary form of communication. They have embraced the look of selling at the expense of the logic of selling. With almost 90 percent of selling occurring virtually today1, too many salespeople rely on the medium, rather than the message, to drive their sales process.
This problem is not limited to the sales profession. Others have taken note of the challenges that occur when their focus is on presentation at the expense of consultation. “There are real-world consequences for this, and so it’s not a purely academic, ivory tower concern,” remarked Richard Russell, a special advisor to U.S. Central Command and teacher at the National Defense University.2. Others, like General James Mattis, former commander of U.S. Central Command, and Robert Gates, former U.S. Defense Secretary, have both publicly cited the shortcomings of communicating only through slides.
The problem has even surfaced among the elite ranks of US physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider, where slides were “acting as a straitjacket to discussion”, according to Andrew Askew, a physics professor who was part of a team tasked with solving communication problems on the project. When they untied themselves from a reliance on slides, it was “like a big glass barrier was removed between the speaker and the audience”, explains Askew.
Too often slides become this barrier, but they should not be discarded completely. Instead, the key is to remember that slides emphasize one-way communication that prevents salespeople from learning about the customer’s needs and engaging in a collaborative dialogue about how to best address those needs. Understanding buyer needs is critical to crafting a message that resonates. Techniques for focusing the customer on a message are of little value if you don’t have an accurate understanding of the customer’s challenges and goals. Without this information, you risk focusing them on the wrong message. Effective virtual selling keeps the customer in the conversation by engaging in a consultative dialogue.