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Humble telephone is the hero of virtual selling

19 May 2020  
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Tuesday 19 May 2020


Locked in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, and working from home, it is even more important to understand your customer and your technology to keep you connected and selling.

Sounds obvious, but in this morning’s incisive webinar hosted by the Association of Professional Sales, David Freedman, head of sales at Huthwaite International set out the key steps to keep customers engaged and sellers selling.

Number one is sincerity.

Freedman began his presentation, called “selling in a virtual world”, with a cartoon from Tom Fishburne at It showed a woman sitting at a computer screen, saying to her partner: “Some brand we apparently gave an email address to three or four years ago wants us to know they’re here for us in this difficult time.”

And it’s clear that insincerity can be costly for the seller. To make the point to his audience, of more two hundred sales professionals, Freedman quoted an informative statistic, that in a crisis, 69 per cent of customers who walk away from a sale say their decision was prompted by the indifference of the salesperson.

So how to counter this problem?

Customers want a call with a seller as a “trusted friend.. not a marketing opportunity” said Freedman. At the moment customers’ “short-term worries will be overshadowing all other considerations”.

Skilled sellers will avoid “jumping in with any ready-made or concocted answers”. Instead they will understand dispassionately how the client sees the crisis affecting their business.

Freedman advised sellers to reassure their customers progressively, by helping them find specific ways round specific difficulties. Revisit the customer needs and concerns that made you relevant in the first place. That’s more important than just “banging on about how wonderful your stuff is”.

Number two: remote selling and remembering what you already know

“Never underestimate the power of the humble telephone,” said Freedman.

Skilled sellers have already made the phone work for them in the past. Now it is important to brush up on those techniques of planning, contacts, objectives, credibility, the various stages of a sale that move it forward, rather than holding it in an unfruitful pattern of inactivity.

The phone is useful for a lot more than low-value telesales. It is also the medium for decision makers in business-to-business deals. The telephone is a very important jumping-off point.

Planning might feel like a very unpopular task, if salespeople think they know how to steer a call, but not having a structure could waste time, and make them less productive.

The key thing at this stage is understanding the contacts you need to get hold of to progress the sale.

Remember in this crisis your customer or prospect is also likely to be working at home, and may be stressed or distracted by family and other issues. So have a structure and make sure it is okay with them. Make the call about them and make sure they are doing most of the talking.

Number three: things to understand about virtual selling

The multi-Zoom call might be the next move in the process, but if you are using digital technology to bring people together be aware of its limitations as well as its strengths.

  • Pull is more effective than push: ask consultative questions and listen carefully.
  • Sellers are even more likely to fall into the trap of speaking too much in a virtual meeting, because of the lack of visual clues and the pressure to fill gaps in the conversation.
  • It is a strange unnatural environment and your verbal clues are essential
  • Let the client have plenty of time to speak, to outline their problem. Keep listening and asking intelligent questions.
  • Do not rattle through 40 PowerPoint slides without any real dialogue: you won’t be able to focus on client reactions, whether they have lost attention or left the room.
  • Beware, too, of using fancy animations. They may be slow to load and cause a lag on the call. Conserve bandwidth.
  • Check who hasn’t spoken. If they’re important to the process, bring them in. If they haven’t spoken, it may because of a technical problem; find out.
  • Test your understanding with questions
  • Take opportunities to summarise where you think you’ve got to.
  • Make sure speakers sympathetic to you are heard
  • Avoid interrupting and speaking across people. This is a big risk in video and conference communications because of the time lag.
  • Have another colleague on the call from your team, looking to see who’s keen to ask a question, or challenge a claim. You can’t be the presenter and the producer at the same time, just like on live television
  • Be very cautious about using chat breakouts; use them for a quick consultation with a colleague if necessary.

And four: advantages of virtual selling

  • It is easier to convene at short notice all the people you need at a particular stage of the buying cycle. They won’t have their diary blocked out for travel.
  • Getting past their gatekeepers may be easier
  • You can have your notes, unseen by those on the call, in front of you, for example, competitor research and spreadsheets about pricing. This would be odd in a face-to-face situation, but it works in the digital world of virtual selling.
  • Meetings are cheaper to attend. The cost of sale is likely to be a very controlled metric in the coming recession.
  • You can spend more time preparing when you are not travelling to meetings.


This may be the permanent new face of sales. We need to get used to it.

Our free, Covid-19 sales webinars, to keep sellers safe and selling, are open to everyone, not just members.

Click here to see our full programme of events, and book your place.