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How to Succeed in Virtual Sales: Pro tips from Sean Marshall, former VP of Sales at Klaviyo and Yammer’s #1 Global Sales Rep

The art of selling has changed drastically in the past three years—shifting gears to remote work, swapping client dinners for virtual happy hours, and attempting to make meaningful connections through video.

It’s not easy.

In fact, a recent Korn Ferry survey found only 33% of sellers feel effective at selling in a virtual environment. And now, with an impending recession and tightening budgets, sellers face even more pressure to adapt to a new world of sales that few were prepared for.

All of this doesn’t scare Sean Marshall— he’s been around the block when it comes to selling. Most recently he was Senior Vice President of Global Sales at marketing automation platform Klaviyo. Before that he was VP of North American Sales with Upland Localytics, and before that he sold for Yammer. (In fact, he was twice named #1 sales rep worldwide. This guy’s a big deal.)

In total, Sean has been selling for 18+ years—through the ‘07 financial crisis and the pandemic. He’s had to adapt and shift his sales strategies along the way. So, I sat down with Sean to get his perspective on the current state of sales, and particularly how sellers can get better at mastering our new normal—virtual sales.

The shift to remote selling

While sellers may be excited to get back to client lunches and in-person events, they won’t be ditching the virtual discovery calls or client meetings any time soon. It's clear that the world has changed, with no plans of reverting to the way things were. 

According to McKinsey, “Remote sales reps can reach four times as many accounts in the same amount of time and generate up to 50 percent more revenue. Remote selling has proven to be a viable and profitable option for many organizations.”  

This shift to remote selling presents a huge change for sellers, requiring them to level up their relationship-building skills and update their technology capabilities. 

This is where Sean sees a major opportunity for video platforms to usher in the next phase of video conferencing. The first generation of video conferencing tools focused on high-quality video, real-time connection, and screen sharing.  

The second phase, Sean says, is about arming customer-facing teams with valuable real-time insights and advanced features like note-taking, call templates, and AI capabilities. These enablement features allow sellers to focus on delivering an amazing experience to the customers while scaling their teams. 

Succeeding in the virtual world of sales

As selling becomes more hybrid and tools become more advanced, here are four ways the modern seller can continue to build rapport and reach prospects—no matter where they are.

Telling Your Story

The story of your company is essential, Sean says. You need to be able to outline the problems your prospects are having and demonstrate how your products can solve them. To do this, ask yourself the following questions and prepare a compelling answer:

  1. What are the pain points you’re solving? Remember, if they don’t have a problem, prospects will be reluctant to buy a solution. To uncover a prospect’s pain points, ask specific qualifying questions early on such as, “What are you using now to solve X? How is that going?”
  1. Can you quantify the problem? Show buyers how they are missing out by not investing in what you’re selling. “You have to show them what they are leaving on the table and the cost of inaction,” Sean says. 
  1. What is the ROI of taking action? Sellers should paint a picture of what a prospect's world would look like if they were to take action. Your story needs to inspire and motivate people to make a change. 
  1. How can your solution fill the gap? Part of telling your story is also being able to articulate your value proposition. Sean challenges sellers to ask themselves, “What is the tangible evidence you’re bringing to prospects that shows them your product is worth investing in?” You need to frame up the product to support the vision you’re painting.

Using our Salesrooom Co-Pilot feature, you can quickly look for KPIs and metrics in real time to back up what you’re saying in your sales calls. Tell a compelling story by using the right mix of AI-driven data while appealing to your prospect's emotions.

Building rapport with consultative selling

The ability to connect and build rapport is a skill that helps you differentiate yourself. Sellers have traditionally relied on non-verbal cues and body language—but these are no longer enough to engage and keep a buyer’s attention. In the virtual world, some buyers may not even turn their cameras on, which makes engaging with prospects much harder. 

Because of this, Sean explains the importance of setting your client hook in other ways. His favorite tactic is to teach them something new. 

“Teaching prospects something that gets them excited and hooked is paramount,” Sean says. “It's the most important thing, and you can't do that unless you have good intel and data.”

To develop your expertise, Sean recommends sellers:

  • Learn more about the industry you’re selling in: Attend industry conferences and webinars—or even host live discussions on relevant topics. 
  • Develop an understanding and empathy for the buyer: Take the time to go through the buyer’s journey and/or a product’s mobile experience.
  • Identify the buyer’s pain points and challenges: Follow social media forums, read reviews, and listen to what customers say about the brand. 
  • Go deep into understanding the products they sell: Spend time with the engineers and product managers to understand the products.

These steps will also help you meet your clients where they are, becoming a true omni-channel seller. 

Investing in the right technology

In this new virtual world, smart sellers let the tech do the heavy lifting. McKinsey states that "tech-optimizing organizations also look for opportunities to optimize remote customer interactions.” For example, sellers may invest in virtual whiteboard tools to create a more dynamic and interactive dialogue with their prospects.

Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are another technology investment that Sean recommends for future-proofing your sales team. Leaders should evaluate where they can replace manual work with automation in their sales process—taking some of the heavy lifting off sellers.  

“Account Executives have been managing discovery calls on their own, which requires them to gather intel, memorize pitches, learn about competitors, and try to predict what the client will ask,” Sean says. “This prolongs the sales cycle and creates a worse experience for customers, which often results in more meetings.” 

Juggling multiple clients and understanding their specific pain points is no easy feat. Investing in tech tools to help carry some of the load is a great way to help sellers build their expertise without putting all the pressure on them. 

Pro Tip: Salesroom’s real-time insights can provide on-the-spot coaching for AEs. If a prospect asks for examples about a specific problem-solving capability, the Co-Pilot feature can pick up keywords and offer you case studies you can use as examples in real time.

Adding value: A long-term retention strategy

All of this might sound like a lot to add to already-full plates, particularly as we enter a recession and sellers are struggling to meet their quotas. But competition for quality products will only get fiercer as technology advances and more players enter the market. Sellers must find ways to improve and impress.

“You need to be on your A-game at all times,” Sean says. “You need to have an exceptional product and continue to care about your customers, whether it's weeks, months, or years after they’ve signed a contract with you.” 

Beyond first impressions and closing deals, Sean explains that the best sales reps make themselves irreplaceable by adding value and becoming trusted experts. 

“You have to have this healthy sense of paranoia that people are always shopping around,” he says.

At Klaviyo, this was often the case—98% of the customers weren’t on contracts, Sean says. However, they retained their clients by training sellers to be experts that provided new insights with every interaction.

“Clients were free to leave if they felt the service was not meeting their needs,” Sean says. “Giving people the option to leave was a testament to their products' quality and the level of service they were receiving.”

Clients who see you as an expert and advisor will want to keep you around, even when times become more financially turbulent. In this way, consultative selling is not just a smart tactic for bringing in sales, but also for long-term retention.

Better selling in the virtual world

Selling in 2023 will be difficult—and that’s probably an understatement. In addition to buyer’s behavior changing significantly, the way sellers now conduct business virtually presents another added layer of complexity. Add on top of that the downturn market we’re entering, tightening budgets, and an increasing pressure to “do more with less.”

The skill set required to succeed in this new world has yet to catch up. Just 33% of salespeople report that they are effective at selling in a virtual environment. This means leaders need to make a significant investment in technology to facilitate sales in the future.

Salesroom can be a game-changer for CROs looking to scale their sales teams and compete in today’s omnichannel world. Salesroom equips your sellers with information and advanced features that will help them improve their win rate, generate more revenue, and prepare for the future of modern sales—it’s the tool you need to stand out and make an impression in the virtual world.

Interested in learning more? Book a demo today.

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