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Virtual selling in practice: Using COVID-19 as a chance to modernize sales [Interview]

Virtual selling in practice: Using COVID-19 as a chance to modernize sales [Interview] Blog Feature

John Becker

Revenue and Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience

May 5th, 2020 min read

At IMPACT, we are fully committed to helping companies be successful selling and marketing online.

During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, businesses of all sizes and types have been forced to quickly pivot to virtual selling and it's a challenge all on its own. 

Sales meetings that might once have been face-to-face and sealed with a handshake now take place over Zoom calls.

Unfortunately, some businesses and industries were more prepared for this shift than others.

Chris Carolan is a freelance digital marketing and sales consultant (at Chris Carolan Consulting LLC) who currently works with Metal Analysis Group to improve their virtual selling process and overall customer experience.

Metal Analysis Group supports the metal manufacturing supply chain with testing equipment, training, and consulting.

(You can also catch Chris’ podcast series Masters of PMI on The Manufacturing Show podcast.) 

I asked Chris to share his perspective on what’s happening to the global economy — and his immediate industry.

How the world is feeling

John: Talk to me about how you think sales professionals are feeling right now?

Chris Carolan: There's a small number who are seeing the opportunity that [the COVID-19 crisis] has provided, but there's a large number who want to confirm that they should be doom and gloom, or they need to just hang out until this is all over.

It's interesting. We have a lot of customers that are super busy right now. We have others that are getting furloughed and laid off. We’re seeing the whole spectrum play out.

We have actually seen increased response rates for the reps who are making the most of their time stuck inside.

Like any other community, however, our customers and prospects seem to be eager to connect with the outside world right now.

John: It sounds like some people almost want to be told how to act.  

Chris: Either subconsciously or consciously. Everybody understands it's a new, uncertain world. I think some want out of the responsibility of making necessary changes and some are optimistic and upbeat and want to learn new things.

John: So, Chris, talk to me about what you do.

Chris: My primary responsibility is to create qualified opportunities for a contract team of sales or manufacturer reps who are around the country.

We sell metal testing equipment, material testing equipment — handheld laser guns, for example — to everything from a scrap yard to a metal foundry, to an oil and gas refinery, the aerospace industry. Anything that involves metal.

chris-carolan-mvp-of-metalChris Carolan

And since we have a fairly small group, I do outside sales if we don't have anybody to hand it off to. 

We are not the manufacturer, we’re the value-added distributor, so we want to be communicating effectively to the prospect.

Our product, its technology, is newer in this space, so education and training are really important, and it hasn't been done very well in the past because that's not the M.O. of the manufacturers. 

Virtual selling during the COVID-19 pandemic

John: Talk to me about what has changed for you over the past month or so.

Chris: Well, I definitely stopped traveling!

Otherwise, we all work remotely, so I’m in my normal office right now so it hasn't changed for me that much.

I'm used to working from home, doing marketing, recording videos to get edited, making content and then supporting the sales team to make sure HubSpot is in a good place for them and they know about the content.

But now, we’re starting to move into virtual selling, which is exciting.

I just did a virtual product demo that led to a quick sale and posted a couple of example virtual demos on our YouTube channel, for instance. 

Now ownership is becoming receptive to the virtual sales process — and they see that it needs to be implemented, and that it can be successful. 

I’ve used the They Ask, You Answer philosophy to take a different angle than other manufacturers, and I really believe that virtual demos are possible. 

Recently, with a prospective customer I said, “Hey, I don't know how the situation is out there, but I have virtual product demos available if you want to do that,” knowing that a face-to-face appointment was not possible.

And the customer was very receptive. 

Although many in this industry might be skeptical, these times are forcing people to try new things and be open. And really, you can get 90 - 95% of the way to a sale just by showing the product on camera.

John: If you can get 95% of the way there over video — and you have a remote team — then why hasn't virtual selling been a big part of your sales process before this?

Chris: Because it hasn't been taught, and it hasn't been accepted by the manufacturers. The manufacturers are still think they have all the control of the sales process.

I've never heard them say anything about a virtual demo until [COVID-19] happened. And then, all of a sudden, they were all saying it. 

One of the first things I said to my boss was, we need to have a sales meeting where we talk about virtual demos and how to do them. 

I’ve been focused on They Ask, You Answer for a long time, and I know how important it is to deliver value, to be human.

I think in industrial and manufacturing, they’ve just not been hearing it.

They’re used to taking the customer for granted, doing it their way, and the customers are just dealing with it because they don't have a choice, or they don't know to expect different. 

John: We have to wonder what the aftermath of this will be. Will you be way ahead of the curve or will there be incredible pushback once things get back to normal?

Chris: I think the ones who think that this pandemic is going to just be quick and over and everything's going to go back to normal — if they don't adjust, they'll go away.

Marketing was already changing at a crazy pace. Now it's somehow multiplied. 

Communicating with customers

John: What technology are you using beside Zoom?

Chris: I use Zoom, but my bigger goal right now is to digitize the sales process as much as possible, so use the whole HubSpot suite.

Right now I'm trying to improve the checkout process on our website because we haven't ever sold equipment online and manufacturers don't like to get into pricing. 

So, I’m making sure HubSpot can support that kind of activity and then, getting the website and the available online platforms for selling (like eBay or some lab equipment sites) and putting up virtual storefronts. 

Really, it’s just about making it as easy as possible for people to buy from us.

John: How much does one of these devices cost?

Chris: A typical price is anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000. 

John: So, these are serious purchases.

Chris: Yes. It lines up very well with car purchasing, actually. Just like with cars, there's a used market, and the price range is very similar — and you can get financing. 

Just like cars, businesses sometimes trade in for a newer model, and their purchases are often the result of numerous touch points. 

John: That seems aligned with a lot of what we know about marketing in general. There are often way more touch points than most people might think.

Chris: Yes. Everybody’s different, of course, but it’s important to meet the buyers where they are, and sell to them how they want to buy. 

In our industry, you will see a lot of used devices on eBay but no new devices.

These are spaces where the manufacturers are never going to go. eBay also happens to be the main place people go to understand pricing because no one has it on their websites. 

And that's a classic example of how it's about the buyer’s needs and what and how they want to buy. They can do a lot of research themselves.

At the same time, we’ve had manufacturers insisting that demos have to happen face to face.

That’s just not true anymore.

Sure, it is often the best case scenario to shake hands and be on-site to best understand the buyer, but it isn’t always an option so you have to make adjustments and communicate value any way that you can.

Advice for all businesses

John: If you had the year of all companies out there, what's your advice?

Chris: Try to focus more on the opportunity than the pain or obstacles you might be going through right now. And just transform digitally already, for the love of God.

You need to do it. You don't look that bad on video. You don't sound that bad on video. Just do it already and the results will be worth it.

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