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As business shutdowns continue and sales decrease due to the coronavirus pandemic, challenging times are forcing sales representatives to adjust how they work.
Instead of their typical face-to-face engagement with customers, businesses must now provide sales reps with the skills they need to achieve remote sales success.
Here are some ways organizations can provide training to salespeople working remotely.
Use collaboration, video conferencing tools
As many organizations transition to working remotely due to COVID-19, communication is crucial. Businesses can use team collaboration tools for organization-wide messaging, video conferencing, file sharing and more, depending on the capabilities of the tool. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are popular collaboration tools that companies can use to maintain strong communication among employees. While working remotely limits in-person meetings and check-ins, businesses must encourage sales managers to increase communication with their teams and update them more frequently than before.
"Having the top-down messages from the sales leaders to the sales team is critical at this time. If [messaging] used to happen once a month, maybe it should happen twice [a month] now," said Shayne Jackson, senior director at Gartner.
If businesses don't have a commonly used collaboration tool, they should find one -- or multiple ones -- that meets their needs.
"If you haven't previously become really good at communicating with people through [collaboration platforms], you need to [do so] now," said Peter Ostrow, vice president and principal analyst of sales enablement at Forrester.
Sales reps are typically in a room with many people, so it's easy to walk over and talk face-to-face. Working from home challenges reps to collaborate with people differently, Ostrow said.
Whether they are presenting a pitch to a customer or having a video conference call with their team, sales reps must know how to operate video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Cisco WebEx. For example, businesses should ensure salespeople know how to schedule meetings, check that the camera and microphone work properly, dress professionally and set up an appropriate background.
When presenting for larger groups, businesses must train salespeople on how to increase audience engagement. Companies can focus on how to pause, ask and respond to questions an audience may ask through the chat feature.
"All the [video] technology tools are easy to use -- WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting and LogMeIn -- but how to use them is a new set of skills," Ostrow said.
Businesses should provide sales reps with tools that enable them to share screens, give presentations with audio and video, and potentially share files with customers or other salespeople, depending on the platform.
Incorporate virtual training
During the coronavirus crisis, sales departments may not be as busy as they were before due to a decrease in sales. Businesses should take this opportunity to provide their sales reps with tools and technologies to strengthen their communication abilities for when customers can buy again.
Companies must integrate virtual rather than typical in-person trainings. Webinars can be abundant with information, but it is important to build exercises for salespeople to practice what they learned.
Shayne JacksonSenior director, Gartner
When building a virtual sales training program, businesses must keep it short and condensed, and incorporate a practice section. Sales reps should record themselves giving a pitch or a demo, and then have their managers assess and critique the recording, Gartner's Jackson said.
"It's one thing for [sales reps] to do those applications of learning and to record themselves doing a pitch or a demo, but it's important as well to receive feedback, and the feedback should come from managers ideally," Jackson said.
Businesses can also introduce a learning management system that companies can use for employee training and assessment. Examples of LMS software include Adobe Captivate Prime, Docebo and Mindflash. The software offers salespeople the ability to record themselves delivering a demo they then share with a manager for feedback. Advanced LMS software has AI abilities to analyze facial expressions and gestures.
Apply personalization, emotional intelligence
It's also important to be sensitive of your audience. Potential customers may not be able to buy as a result of economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. For example, if a salesperson started a conversation with a prospect before a crisis, they may just want to check in with their prospective customer and ask how they are doing rather than trying to push for a sale.
"[Salespeople] need to be able to tap into their emotional intelligence and understand the humanity of the people they're dealing with," Ostrow said. "You have to think about the buyer's distractions while you're communicating with them."
Companies should encourage sales reps to practice how to respectfully and sensitively interact with customers over the phone or through video. By acting out different scenarios, sales managers can monitor these interactions and offer feedback.
To achieve even more remote sales success, employees should take advantage of any free time to strengthen their proficiency with sales tools. Rather than filling presentation slides with text, they should learn how to personalize them to grasp an audience's attention.
"[Sales reps] have to be able to make the topic compelling for the intended audience. Sellers should know this. They should know this about their accounts," said Jason Eng, audience engagement lead at a technology company.
It's also an opportune time to ensure that employees know how to effectively use a CRM and customer data platform -- if the business uses one -- to access customer information. These tools are essential to help sales reps know their customers.