To say that the Pandemic of 2020 has forced new behaviors into every aspect of life is a huge understatement. Think specifically about how behaviors have had to change (and still need to change) in sales because we now operate in what I call a “2D by 2S” world. Most selling right now is happening on platforms like Zoom, that while incredibly powerful and advanced in their own right, strip the world down from three to just two dimensions (2D) and from five senses to two (sight and hearing). There are plenty of articles, YouTube videos, and training webinars floating around on how to sell in this 2D x 2S world that focus on the mechanical aspects – how to use the tools to their fullest, present effective presentations online, etc. But a partner asked me a great question recently that goes way past the mechanics and into the essence of selling: how do you develop relationships with prospects when you can’t see their body language live and in person, bond over meals, or really get to know a person while entertaining them at a game or other non-business activity?
Developing a relationship requires establishing some sort of emotional connection. Since people act on emotion and justify with logic, selling effectively is tied way more to keying in on a buyer’s emotional state than it is, for example, to giving a better PowerPoint presentation on Zoom. In fact, as soon as you share your screen on Zoom and put up a PowerPoint, the already restricted 2D x 2S world becomes restricted even more as your slides take up most or all of the screen’s real estate, making it nearly impossible to read reactions and understand the buyer. Recently, behavioral science has provided case after case that demonstrate how dominant emotions and emotional states are to decisions, including buying. What can you do to key into a buyer’s emotional state in a 2D x 2S world, where better mechanics are not enough?
I’ve already tipped my hand to one recommendation: lighten up on the mechanics! Keep presentations (PowerPoints) short and sweet, if needed at all. Vary the approaches used in live presentations vs. online, where you can’t afford to put up a slide and talk to it for long periods of time. Sixty seconds is about the maximum time you can keep attention on a single slide during an online presentation. Simplify the content by boiling it down to key points. I am a big advocate for the “Rule of Three,” meaning there should be a maximum of three points or ideas per slide.
But this is still focusing on mechanics, not emotions. There are two sales techniques that are time-tested, fully vetted, and ideal for digging into the emotional aspect of relationship building and selling: questions and storytelling. These techniques should be part of every salesperson’s repertoire already, but they are even more critical now in 2D x 2S selling than they were in a conventional face-to-face meeting.
Questions are critical to dig for “pain”- to collect the logical facts and information needed to identify the problem, opportunity, want, or need. We should dig for emotional state, asking questions such as: What is the _________ creating for you right now? or, How does this impact ___________? Or, How do you feel about _________? A good question can both uncover a buyer’s emotional state and also potentially influence it.
Jay Conger, an expert on leadership and organizational effectiveness, states “Numbers do not make an emotional impact, but stories and vivid language do.” This statement is backed up by the behavioral scientists and by our own personal experience. Telling an effective story during a Zoom meeting can help make an emotional connection with a prospective buyer and even shape their emotional decision-making process to some extent. Since people naturally organize information into stories or narratives anyway, isn’t it better to tell them your story/your product story/your company story in an impactful way than to have them create a story from the logic or facts you present to them? If you’re a prospective buyer, wouldn’t you rather hear a good story during a virtual meeting than experience yet another variation on “Death by PowerPoint?”
COVID has changed selling, and not just temporarily. Many organizations have found that remote or virtual selling can be highly productive. We all want to get “back to normal,” but for now and likely into the future, we need to adapt to this virtual, 2D x 2S world. My advice to sellers is to minimize the mechanics and slideware while maximizing the emotional selling through good questions and great storytelling.