Vulnerability in virtual selling as compared to face to face sales

In the world of sales, there’s been a lot of discussion lately about the feeling of vulnerability and discomfort that comes with selling remotely. What is it about this new “virtual reality” that makes sellers feel more vulnerable and “at-risk”? Is it the technology? Are we afraid of looking foolish? 

While inside sellers are more at-home dealing with this remote reality (though previously not to this level and scope), field sellers have been faced with a massive transition to this virtual selling world. We’ll unpack some of the ways that we can not only overcome this vulnerability, but channel it to drive how we serve our customers in an OtherCentered® way. 

Brené Brown, best-selling author, researcher, TED speaker and storyteller once told 60 minutes that “People shouldn’t associate vulnerability with weakness.” 

And that’s the way we’ll be approaching this very important subject. If you prefer to take this on-the-go and listen to a conversation on the topic, feel free to check out sALES with ASLAN podcast episode 80:


Losing the IRL Factor

A recent study by Corporate Visions polled over 550 B2B (business to business) sales reps to uncover and explore how sales reps feel about selling virtual vs. face-to-face.  Almost 70% of those surveyed responded that remote selling is not as effective as in-person. 

This feeling of ineffectiveness is surely one of the main factors in the rise in discomfort and sensitivity among salespeople in all roles and across industries. It’s a common thread woven throughout the world of selling. Our CEO, Tom Stanfill, who still spends a lot of his time in the field selling our solution, says about selling virtually: 

“For me, the reason I feel vulnerable is that a lot of the time I feel like I’m talking to a wall versus to a person. And that just feels awkward.”

That face to face relationship building in the beginning of a meeting is gone. 

Along that same vein, it’s clear that virtual tools and technology make us feel vulnerable. When selling remotely, many of us feel “at the mercy” of technology. We’re susceptible to technological failings, wifi signal, video conferencing/ platform shortcomings, etc. 

That same Corporate Visions study showed that 89% of salespeople who responded believe they could “improve audience interaction and avoid multi-tasking if all participants turned on their cameras.” And yet 82% also reported being hesitant to ask customers to show their faces virtually. 

On top of all that, many sellers may feel like we don’t want to “bother” our customers, or be a distraction or inconvenience during this global crisis we’re all facing. 


Do I have the right to sell, right now?

There’s also a lot more pressure right now because reps are struggling to hit their number.

With more emails, more noise from every direction, it’s harder to get time, increasing pressure on the opportunities that reps do have, and in turn, increasing feelings of vulnerability. 

The weight of it all causes reps to default to their self interests, compounding the issue and causing them not to lead with the customer’s whiteboard

Sales reps may mistakenly think that customers are not buying in the current business climate. With changes in budgeting and new priorities, project goals and decisions are taking longer to make. Businesses may be hesitant to invest in certain things and sellers may feel hesitant to push too hard. Sellers may be asking themselves, should I even be selling right now?

The key is to examine your motive for selling.  


5 Things You Can Do

Brené Brown asserts that being vulnerable in our work life, just as in our personal life, has advantages.  Vulnerability was Brown’s recommendation for a company with a “huge creativity and innovation problem.” She says:

“No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It is that simple. If you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. If you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create.”

To work through (and channel) the vulnerability we’re all feeling in response to selling virtually, Tom, our CEO here at ASLAN, has come up with 5 tips, strategies, and ideas to help us all learn and grow through this transition:


1 – Re-center yourself

Before your virtual meeting, make the decision to serve your customer. Your job is to help them solve their problem, not win a deal. Reset your “compass” so that it points to the customer, not to yourself.  Telling yourself, “this isn’t about me,” removes some of that pressure that we discussed earlier; the pressure to “win” gives way to the genuine desire to help your customer make the right decision, which in turn increases your likelihood of winning their trust and their business. You will be more successful when you serve.

When I’m comfortable, I’m more effective. It’s a pivot from, “What do I need to say to win this deal” to “Help me understand you/what you need so I can help you” – and that flows naturally when you make the decision to be OtherCentered®.

And make sure to vocalize this to your customer or prospect at the beginning of the virtual meeting. Say something like: 

“My goal today is to share with you some of the best practices from what we’ve learned from other companies we’ve helped. It’s not about me winning the deal, it’s about sharing how we’ve helped other people solve the problem you’re trying to solve.”

With this disclaimer, everyone relaxes, becoming more open and receptive to the meeting at hand. But you have to mean it – or it won’t help you, and may even hurt you. 

When you’re not afraid to lose, you say (and mean) truly OtherCentered things, and you set yourself up for success. 


2 – Embrace Failure

For some of you, this is new territory – and anytime you try something new, you may (and probably will) fail. Your technology may not function properly, you may miss a slide, lose your place, or you may not be able to see everyone’s faces on the Zoom call. Learn to laugh it off and be okay with imperfection. 

If you’re okay with it, your audience will be okay with it.  Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect. When you’re willing to accept that failure is a part of this process, you’re going to be less sensitive about getting feedback. 

Our ability to ask for feedback is a key ingredient for growth and success. As our CEO, Tom, told me in our conversation on this subject:

“Somebody out there knows or has the information that you need to get what you want, or get as good as you can get. Somebody knows it. The information that you need, to get where you want to go, is available. All you have to do is have the humility to seek it. That was a revelation for me.”

In fact. that may be the number one driver to being successful and reaching your potential, is simply seeking feedback


3 – Do a Dress Rehearsal

When it comes to virtual selling, good is not good enough. There’s almost no room for error. 

One of the things that will concretely help you feel more comfortable and be more successful is to conduct a “dress rehearsal” of your virtual call or presentation. Familiarize yourself with the platform so that you aren’t distracted from presenting by technical shortcomings, and with your own content so that you don’t need to lean too much on your slides to carry you. You want to be focused on connecting with the people in the virtual meeting room.  

Doing a “rehearsal” is an easy thing to do – it just requires time. 

 If we want to be successful sellers, this technology piece that comes with our current virtual world of selling, has to become like second nature to us. We must differentiate ourselves online, and one of the ways we can do this is through our technical and virtual presentation skills

Learn to mix it up: share your screen, play a video, stop sharing, try a poll, use a second camera with a whiteboard, utilize the chat feature. But if you do decide to employ any of these, make sure you are well-versed in using them and have tested them before your presentation. 

If you can, ask your customer for permission to record the meeting, so neither one of you has to take notes (the OtherCentered reason) and so you can self-evaluate your ability to virtually present. 


4 – Make Eye Contact 

We are used to the presence of people, it’s comfortable to us – especially as salespeople. It’s been scientifically proven that more empathy and rapport are built when we’re actually making eye contact with other human beings. 

Think about being in your car, driving along the highway. Drivers behave in ways they never would if they were standing in line next to one another. The vehicles create a distance, an illusion of separation, like a barrier. The world of virtual interaction also provides a similar kind of “barrier” that we need to work to overcome. 

We can attempt this by stopping screen share during our virtual meeting to look people in the eye, through the camera. Look at your participants’ faces, study their body language and expressions. Build in moments like this where you stop screen sharing and just talk “face-to-face.”


5 – Limit Your Risk

It’s important for you to control the stage. In other words, don’t put yourself in a situation where you are going to fail. 

Due to current events and ways of conducting business virtually, a lot of meetings are set with evaluators, and a lot less access to decision-makers. In many cases, the evaluators aren’t as knowledgeable about the problem or the solution needed, but they’re driving the process. As a seller you wind up with less information and less time, undermining your ability to actually help your customer solve their problem.

If you find yourself in this situation, stop. Communicate to your customer why it’s in their best interest to do it differently, to follow your lead. You can’t help someone solve their problem before finding out exactly what it is. As sellers, we’re sometimes too quick to let customers lead the process, when we really should be leading the process

If they ask you to do something that doesn’t make sense, say no and tell them why. Control the next steps. By doing so, you’ll limit your risk – and in turn, you will feel less vulnerable. 


Looking Up & Ahead 

Good things can and will come of this new reality. Pushing ourselves as reps and as people to embrace vulnerability and overcome challenges, to grow from discomfort and serve each other, will be the way forward. 

As Brené Brown so eloquently puts it, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”


In the meantime, if your team is struggling to make the transition to virtual selling, click here for our new program

We would be happy to understand your challenges and see if we can help. ASLAN started as an inside sales training company in 1996, working to help sales teams overcome the very same challenges we are all facing today.


As VP of Marketing at ASLAN Training & Development, Scott’s passion is to share our solution with those in need and those who seek sales transformation. Find him on: Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

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