Sales Reloaded in Times of the Coronavirus

April 06, 2021

Selling online, but the right way

Virtual communication between people working from home not only makes B2C sales more difficult, it also and especially affects B2B sales. Sales experts Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, and Daniela Dorner, Group eCommerce Director at Mondi Group, have explored ways salespeople can turn this situation into an advantage for their business. Read on for a concise summary of essential facts on how to get prepared.

Symbolic pic for virtual B2B Sales
Virtual business contacts have been the order of the day since Corona at the latest - so how can you make the most of them - both in B2C and B2B?

The endless online meetings we are participating in from home are taking their toll: current studies show that we get tired more quickly because we strive to keep eye contact, we receive fewer non-verbal cues from our interlocutors, and as a result, we have a harder time gauging the mood, and at times, we feel even more distanced from the other person in the video call compared to somebody we talk to on the phone. But online meetings are not only conducted among colleagues; we also use them to communicate with customers. And particularly in B2B sales, the complete lack of physical proximity can have significant consequences.

“I have observed that B2B sales were strongly people-centered until a few years ago, but now an omnichannel approach is increasingly gaining a foothold in the B2B world, which was, until recently, mainly focused on the final consumer. Also B2B customers have started to consult digital touchpoints when and wherever they need certain pieces of information,” says Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy.

Portrait Barbara Stöttinger

Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

At the same time, personal contact with business customers is essential where an offer or product needs to be tailored to a specific customer’s needs. The coronavirus pandemic and forced retreat to solely virtual communication have made this significantly more difficult. It is hard to build relations based on trust when you can only interact online.

Virtual Sales: a Good Alternative for Existing Customers

Daniela Dorner, a graduate of the Professional MBA Marketing & Sales, can share a thing or two about how the pandemic and having to work from home have affected B2B sales. Until April of this year, she was responsible for the distribution strategy and partnerships of her company’s premium brands as Head of Strategic Channel Partners at Mondi Group. “Of course, the coronavirus has had an impact on the way we interact with customers, and we have had to adjust to that. In my experience, you can get to know each other and have a good exchange also online,” she says. Daniela Dorner was also Channel Manager for the Austrian region and SEE until April of this year. She was furthermore in charge of managing a major customer of Mondi Group as an International Key Account Manager. There were only few problems when it came to existing customers: “You already have a good relationship, so with them, it was about a change of habits, namely to switch to online meetings. It is true that the informal exchange is lost, but it is still possible to keep business relations going,” she finds. In general, she observed a tendency to go in medias res more quickly and swiftly tick off all items on the agenda.

Pic virtual sales meeting
Especially with existing customers, virtual meetings are easier to implement because people already know each other and have built up trust. Photo © CC0 Licence

A Both Analog and Digital Experience for New Customers

Daniela Dorner’s team colleagues had to come up with fresh ideas to succeed in virtual customer acquisition, for which they had employed creative solutions already before the pandemic. “We offer a webinar to potential new customers, for which they have to register. Every participant receives a package with application examples and samples in advance. This way, they have something to touch, a haptic experience, during the webinar. This bridges the gap between the digital and the analog world,” Daniela Dorner explains.

Since last year, a variety of webinars as well as trainings and Q&A sessions to deepen knowledge has also been offered to existing customers. “Without the pandemic, we would have travelled there and offered trainings on site,” Dorner says. The virtual trainings, however, come with an advantage: “Many people can participate at the same time, for instance representatives from several international subsidiaries of a group, who would otherwise not have been able to take part. This means that direct communication makes a lot of sense not only when it comes to final customers but also in a B2B environment: “An increasing number of B2B customers is interested in the advantages enjoyed in the B2C segment.”

Daniela Dorner is now in charge of packaging for e-commerce customers as Group eCommerce Director at Mondi Group. “I am convinced that in the future, we will have a mix of virtual and analog communication because it enables us to combine the best of both worlds. We would be foolish not to continue to take advantage of these perks also after the crisis,” Dorner says.

Our Two Experts’ Personal Tips for Digital B2B Sales

1. Omnichannel & Data Quality

Regardless of whether you are using a website or webshop: the available data must be suitable for B2B customers, and the information on the website or in the webshop and at all other digital touchpoints has to be service-oriented.

Portrait Daniela Dorner

Daniela Dorner

  • Group eCommerce Director at Mondi and MBA Marketing & Sales alumna

The customer journey must be well-designed not only when it comes to final consumers but also in the B2B segment: with analog meetings and conversations in person once they are possible again – but also with innovative digital touchpoints for as long as analog happenings such as fairs are cancelled.

B2B customers do their research in advance and arrive well-prepared – and also expect to be wooed on various channels. “Company websites and social media channels are growing in importance also in B2B – and that includes respective tools such as the LinkedIn Sales Navigator,” Dorner points out. Another important point to consider: “Relevant content for my target group – which topics are my customers interested in? It is a true added value to have concrete and relevant answers to frequently asked questions,” she says. And what’s even better is to enable a shopping experience for customers working from home – for instance by sending them product samples.

2. The Right Tool at the Right Time

A digital meeting can bridge the distance only so far. “Sometimes it is better to discuss certain topics with a business customer in person,” Barbara Stöttinger points out. When the pandemic first hit the world, during the first lockdown, it was important to get people out of the offices as quickly as possible. Now, it is about upping the quality of communication – particularly where sales and distribution are concerned. “By now, people have a good grasp of various tools, and it’s about choosing the best way to communicate,” Stöttinger says. If a touchy subject needs to be discussed, an actual meeting would be best, nowadays ideally under high safety and hygiene standards, “because body language is extremely important to adequately read somebody,” Barbara Stöttinger explains.

Pic of a sales meeting in person
Only virtual meetings will not work: personal or uncomfortable matters are still better discussed in person. Photo © CC0 Licence

3. Time for Small Talk

A check-in, which has become a fixed item at the start of many virtual meetings, is essential for good customer relations. “Invest one or two minutes into building the relationship, particularly in the beginning of the meeting,” Barbara Stöttinger says. This can create a pleasant atmosphere characterized by mutual trust.

4. Preparation is Everything

It’s almost self-explanatory that also when it comes to virtual business meetings, you have to do your homework in advance. “It's worth pointing out that this also includes creating a suitable atmosphere and choosing an adequate background and professional attire,” Barbara Stöttinger says. For a professional meeting, move the clothes drying rack out of sight and definitely do not show up in your comfortable pajamas. “What applies to sales in the real world might even be more important in a virtual sales talk,” Barbara Stöttinger points out, adding: “We have become too distracted by our digital tools.”

The do’s of sales that must be heeded especially online:

  • An amiable introduction in which the interlocutors can get to know each other; talking about the ups and downs of working from home could be a good topic to connect over

  • An understanding attitude when it comes to customer wishes and listening closely when customers describe their needs

  • Emphasizing benefits for the customer

  • Tailoring the offer to the customer and presenting it with service-oriented and informative arguments

  • Offering a concise summary of the points discussed and responding to concerns and worries expressed by the customer

  • Calling or writing an e-mail to arrange for a follow-up meeting and implementing this meeting

You can learn everything you need to know about B2B, B2C and sales in the Professional MBA Marketing & Sales program. For more information, please click here.

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