COVID has dramatically changed the B2B sales landscape. In addition to the economic effects on buyer priorities, social distancing has altered how sales executives can engage in relationship selling with most on-person networking opportunities canceled for the foreseeable future.
Even once all of the restrictions are lifted, many people will continue to practice social distancing in some capacity until there is a reliable treatment or vaccine. The challenge is that you won’t know if your prospects have returned to their pre-pandemic socializing or if they’ve chosen to remain cautious.
To reduce health risks and avoid offending prospects, you need to continue to shift away from dinners, events, and other in-person relationship-building activities in favor of remote connection opportunities.
Here are five virtual relationship selling strategies to help you achieve your revenue goals in the second half of 2020.
1) Build Referral Relationships
In a virtual environment, building a referral pipeline is one of the fastest and most effective ways to engage in relationship selling. Getting lots of warm introductions can easily make up for the lack of organic opportunities to meet new prospects and can even help you exceed your pre-COVID sales levels.
75% of sales leaders say that referrals have a significantly higher conversion rate than other types of leads. Unlike cold leads who have minimal interest in you and your offering, referrals have an identified pain point that you may be able to solve which makes your conversations much more productive.
To generate consistent referrals, you need to develop and maintain strong relationships with the super connectors in your network. Ideally, these are current clients, however, you can leverage anyone who understands and is willing to advocate for the value proposition you’re selling.
Take the time to get to know what’s valuable to all of your referral partners so that you can reciprocate in ways that are the most meaningful to them. For some, it may be giving them a similar amount of referrals but, for others, it could be introductions to key people in your network or free products. Carefully choosing the right token of appreciation will encourage your partners to keep sending prospects your way.
2) Research Before You Reach Out
One of the biggest ways that COVID has impacted relationship selling is that you can no longer rely on events to meet new prospects. Thus, when you’re not getting enough referrals to reach your sales goals, you have to turn to outbound and social selling tactics.
Unlike meeting prospects at events where it’s easy to chat with prospects about the speakers or other event activities, in a virtual environment there often aren’t obvious opportunities to spark relevant conversations. To foster authentic relationships using these strategies, you need to research every prospect before reaching out so you can send a message that’s personalized to their interests.
Though this approach can be tedious, it’s worth the effort. Decision-makers are bombarded with sales pitches that are completely irrelevant. When you take the time to reach out on a personal level instead of just asking them to discuss your offering, you’re far more likely to secure a conversation that can evolve into a mutually beneficial relationship.
3) Embrace Social Selling
Surveys show that 75% of B2B buyers use social media in their business decisions. To leverage this behavior, you need to maintain an active and supportive presence on the social media platforms your prospects use.
You can think of social selling like attending networking events. You join conversations to connect with prospects about mutual interests. Your goal is to establish a dialogue and eventually find ways to support other’s businesses.
As a result, the best practices for social selling are the same as securing relationship sales through events:
- Be an active member of the community
- Don’t lead with your sales pitch
- Offer help more than you ask for it
The more you show genuine interest in connecting with people, the greater the number of relationships that will results in sales and/or referrals.
Keep in mind that social selling can be tedious, especially when you’re first getting started. If you’re short on time, check out our article about how a virtual assistant can help:
4) Record and Leverage the Small, Meaningful Details
Relationship selling is all about building trust with prospects so that they feel like you have their best interests in mind and aren’t just trying to sell your product. One of the easiest ways to establish that rapport is to remember the small details they reveal about themselves and show interest.
Doing this requires just two things:
1) Actively listen for the things that are important to your prospects. This includes:
- Favorite charities
- Kids ages and interests
- Work projects and challenges
- Personal and professional goals
Pay specific attention to the topics that you have in common and take note of them in your CRM.
2) Use your common interests to build rapport in all of your conversations. You can do this both by asking prospects about the things they said were important to them and by casually talking about those things in your own life. For example, if you have a shared interest in running, casually mention a beautiful new route you tried recently. They’ll likely respond by sharing a route they like to take and you can spend a few minutes chatting about running.
Bonding over interests outside your sale is powerful since transforms your interactions from transactional to friendly which can significantly improve buyer confidence in the sale.
5) Develop a Robust Follow-Up Cadence
In this dynamic time, there are so many stresses and distractions that it’s easy for prospects to slip through the cracks, especially if they’re slow to respond. To build lasting relationships with all your connections, create follow-up reminders in your CRM or sales automation platform after every conversation.
Updating reminders after conversation instead of having a fixed cadence lets you personalize the timing based on how the relationship is evolving. This is critical for your reach-outs to come across as authentic instead of forced.
Here are three types of follow-up reminders to set:
- Reminders about any action items discussed in your meeting. Set these reminders based on the rough time you and/or they agreed to provide something.
- Meaningful milestones. This includes holidays, birthdays, product launches, and any other important dates that you know about in their lives.
- Periodic check-ins at a cadence that makes sense for your relationship. If they’re actively looking for a solution and considering multiple vendors, you might check in as frequently as once a week. However, if they’re not in the market for your service now but you think they’re a valuable connection to keep, checking in once a quarter is probably enough to sustain the relationship.
As part of each of these reach-outs, set reminders to follow-up with contacts after a couple of days if they don’t respond to your initial emails. Prospect inboxes are overflowing so planning for them to miss your emails ensures that you do the following up required to capture their attention.
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About the author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.