The outbreak of coronavirus is propelling a lot of B2B commerce toward virtual. In an world where in-person meetings and the associated travel become harder to justify, we believe this will accelerate what has — until now — been a slow drift toward a preference for virtual interaction in sales.

To get a sense of how prepared sales leaders feel themselves to be, Challenger sent a survey to sales and sales enablement leaders across our customer base last week. Our hope is that the results provide some perspective on the current situation, and can help sales leaders prepare for the future reality.

More and more, sales leaders are transitioning to digital solutions for virtual selling.

The good news is that a majority of leaders believe they’ve provided their team with all the tools they need to sell virtually: 59% of respondents rated themselves as strong or very strong in this area. This indicates a clear shift of an overall preference and preparedness for digital training; in our experience, this would have not have been the case even a mere 5 years ago.

Now, more than ever, coaching your sales teams to success requires creative solutions, and virtual training is likely your best bet.

However, respondents were more wary of their ability to provide training and coaching virtually and it’s here that we see a potential gap for organizations that are to stay competitive in this volatile business environment. Sales leaders must transition their skills to a virtual platform; issues that could potentially be smoothed over in a face-to-face environment become significantly more difficult to negotiate. Critical listening, anticipating the unseen, smart reinforcement; each of these must be honed and focused to help sales teams perform and to stave off panic.

Some of this panic could very well be coming from the doubt that many sales leaders feel in their ability to close business virtually. Based on follow-up conversations, we find that much of this stems from being less comfortable asking hard questions over the phone. This is a perfectly normal reaction, as hard conversations can be much easier to manage in-person where the push and pull of a sales interaction can feel more natural. Customers, too, may find it easier to delay or defer when conversations are happening over the phone or video. Sales leaders may struggle to overcome these barriers.

It goes without saying that the better prepared you are, the better your outcomes.

What we’ve found is that training and preparation can help. Always approach a call with a clear shared agenda and transparency, particularly around the moment when you ask for business. This is a moment that needs to be teed up from the very beginning of an engagement as you learn what value a customer needs to justify the purchase. Challenger training focuses on these skills as well as the methods to practice, apply, and reinforce them.

Another potentially longer-term problem comes from uncertainty around whether or not companies are ready to recruit and onboard new hires virtually. 77% of respondents rated their companies weaker in this area. This is understandable, given the natural urge to want to meet somebody in-person before committing to a hire. Companies, and sales leaders in particular, may need to reconsider their talent management and recruitment processes, and being prepared to do so virtually will be a key component of this.

So, what does this all mean for sales leaders today? The data tells us that the emergence of the coronavirus and associated social distancing will accelerate an already-occurring shift toward digitization. However, companies may not have the experience or comfort level to move to a totally digital training solution. Though you may already conduct internal team meetings virtually, your sales timeline may rely entirely on face-to-face meetings, and you may not feel comfortable transitioning your sales training away from in-person solutions. The challenge now, and for the unforeseeable future, will be understanding how to make virtual training work for you in the short- and long-term.

These are uncertain times and no one, really, can predict what the impact COVID-19 will have on the nature of business and the work of sales organizations. What is clear, however, is that transitioning to virtual training is one impactful way to keep your teams prepared and motivated – and keep your business moving forward.

To learn more about Challenger’s virtual training and coaching solutions, fill out the form below.

(n = 59; survey respondents hold a variety of commercial roles (33% are SVPs of Sales or higher); this data was collected across 3 days, March 3 to 6, 2020)

Timur Hicyilmaz

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.