CMTC's Shifting Gears

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Season 1 Episode 3 - Virtual Selling is Virtually Here to Stay

Posted by Rachel Miller

 

Episode Show Notes

In this episode, Gregg discusses the rise of virtual selling with Gary Fly, President of The Brooks Group. They cover the pandemic's effects on traditional sales techniques, and some tactical ways manufacturers can use this shifting environment to connect with prospects and customers on an even deeper level. 

Gary Fly, President of The Brooks Group, applies his keen business insights and energetic management style while extending the success and legacy established by William T. Brooks and his sons, Jeb and Will, honed during the company’s rich, 40-plus-year legacy.

In shepherding The Brooks Group through the post-COVID-19 “Next Normal,” Gary is focused on the continued refinement of the company’s mission, with an emphasis on embracing the shift to virtual delivery of training programs, new product development, and consultative services.

Gary has held previous executive-level positions, including the SVP of Operations for Waffle House. In addition, Gary built a successful consulting practice, with a specialization on revenue growth for businesses earning between $15 million and $50 million. 

Highlights

00:00:00 – Introductions

00:01:17 - Definition of virtual selling

00:02:39 - Use of virtual selling prior to the pandemic

00:05:37 - Impact of the pandemic on traditional sales efforts

00:10:29 - Differences between traditional and virtual selling

00:20:02 - Possible downside of virtual selling

00:22:00 - Advantage of virtual selling when interacting with millennials and centennials

00:25:34 - Entry level requirements to do virtual selling

00:29:33 - Best and most creative ways recommended to sell virtually

00:33:45 - Clients who have pivoted to success

00:39:11 - Competitive advantage of embracing virtual selling as go-to-market strategy

00:42:22 - Summary

Transcript

Gregg Profozich [00:00:02] In the world of manufacturing, change is the only constant. How are small- and medium-sized manufacturers, SMMs, to keep up with new technologies, regulations, and other important shifts, let alone leverage them to become leaders in their industries? Shifting Gears, a podcast from CMTC, highlights leaders in the modern world of manufacturing, from SMMs, to consultants, to industry experts. Each quarter we go deep into topics pertinent to both operating a manufacturing firm and the industry as a whole. Join us to hear about manufacturing sectors' latest trends, groundbreaking technologies, and expert insights to help SMMs in California set themselves apart in this exciting modern world of innovation and change. I'm Gregg Profozich, Director of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies at CMTC. I'd like to welcome you. In this episode, our topic is the rise of virtual selling, and I am joined by Gary Fly, President of The Brooks Group. We discussed the pandemic's effects on traditional sales techniques, and some tactical ways manufacturers can use this shifting environment to connect with prospects and customers on an even deeper level. Welcome, Gary. It's great to have you here.

Gary Fly [00:01:13] Gregg, it's great to be here. Thanks for including me in this. I'm excited to have a great conversation.

Gregg Profozich [00:01:17] I am, too. Gary, I don't think it's any surprise to anyone that due to the pandemic, the ways companies go to market and sell has been significantly impacted. With government lockdowns, company travel restrictions due to employee safety policies, and individuals' own health and safety concerns, traditional sales tools like in-person customer visits, product and capability demonstrations, and trade shows have been significantly impacted. In this podcast, we'll talk about opportunities in the area of virtual selling. The processes and techniques of virtual selling have been developed in many ways since the advent of the Internet. However, they've been brought to the forefront by the pandemic. So, to set some context, Gary, can you talk us through exactly what virtual selling is?

Gary Fly [00:01:53] Yes. So, we've seen, really, people use tools in a very different sort of way. But the context that we talk about virtual selling, it's how do you work remotely using technology like Zoom or ZoomInfo, LinkedIn Sales Navigator. There's a whole toolbox of things that you can choose from, and it's the integration of those into your normal selling functions. And so, what we've seen and what we talk about when we're talking about virtual selling is how do you pull all those things together in a coherent way that actually lets you leverage your natural selling abilities and the way that you would have gone to market in the past. And so, we see great efficiencies and some really unique opportunities around it. But that's how we define virtual selling.

Gregg Profozich [00:02:39] Okay. So, as previously mentioned, the pandemic has had a significant impact on companies since early 2020. Let's talk a little bit about the pre-pandemic world. How much did companies employ virtual selling before the pandemic?

Gary Fly [00:02:49] We saw really hit and miss, but there was no cohesive strategy across most of our clients, frankly. They would use bits and pieces of different virtual tools, but they wouldn't pull those tools together in a way that made sense, really, on an ongoing basis. So, they might use LinkedIn. Some of the sellers might use LinkedIn Sales Navigator; they might use a CRM; they might use ZoomInfo, those sorts of things. But what we were seeing is that companies would just piecemeal these things. And really, it was the individual reps often that maybe had a proclivity to using virtual tools that would embrace it. But there really was missing a cohesive, coherent strategy around incorporating all of these different tools. And it caught a lot of companies flat-footed, I think, come March, April, May when the world did change so dramatically.

Gregg Profozich [00:03:39] So, if a company doesn't have a cohesive set of virtual selling tools, and processes, and consistent training on how to use them, they weren't ready.

Gary Fly [00:03:47] Yeah.

Gregg Profozich [00:03:47] Those people who were the early adopters of technology and saw ways to gain benefit from it are probably a few steps ahead?

Gary Fly [00:03:53] Yes, very clearly. That's one of the things that really bubbled up to the top for us. And it was an interesting unfolding of events. There were a couple of things happening. One was we had here in North Carolina, a work from home order that started on March the 13th. And we sent everybody home because that's what the governor said. But we really were planning two weeks. We all thought, Oh, we'll all be back.

Gregg Profozich [00:04:18] Yeah.

Gary Fly [00:04:18] And we saw that with our clients and their sales teams. "Well, there's really nothing to do. It's just going to be a two-week interruption in our normal sales cycle." And so, there were almost like the stages of grief. It's this disbelief and what's going to happen. And really, what we started to see was, there was a slow recognition of, "Oh, my goodness, this is probably here to stay, and we need to start upskilling our sellers." So, for the first 42 years of our history, our core products have been sales methodologies and helping companies create a sales methodology. But what we saw really very early on in the pandemic was companies weren't interested in that, but they were very interested in upskilling sellers on particular tools to the point we were just talking about, because they hadn't done that. And it's like, "Oh, my gosh, how do you use Zoom or a video conferencing app or program?" And the sorts of training that we were doing was like, "Well, here's how you set up the backgrounds; and here's the things you need to be thinking about; and make sure that you keep the cat out of the office." So, it became this very interesting unfolding of we have got to train our sellers on how to use tools. And that's one reason I came to the conclusion in the question about what we saw. It's because there was just this enormous interest in really specific tool-based skills training.

Gregg Profozich [00:05:37] Okay. So, let's talk a little bit about traditional sales and a little bit more in the context area. What impact has the pandemic had on traditional sales efforts: ways of finding customers, ways of going to market, trade shows, etc., etc.?

Gary Fly [00:05:49] Yeah. So, we've seen it's really turned a lot of those things on its head. Many companies won't allow on-site visits, for example. And so, sellers don't have the access that they used to have to decision-makers or influencers. But what we do see is often companies are allowing customer service people on-site. So, technicians or people that are critical to making sure that whatever is going on on-site continues. And so, some forward-looking companies are training their customer service people in sales sorts of skills. And it's not to teach them to become salespeople, but it's to help them inform the sellers like, "Hey, I was just on-site with customer X. Here's what I saw. Here's what I heard. Maybe you can follow-up with him on this," because sometimes these customer service people do have access where the sellers don't have it. So, we're seeing that. We're also seeing that there's been kind of a highlight of where maybe sales organizations are weak and where they maybe were relying too much on one sort of sales activity, like dropping off the donuts and moving on. You can't do that stuff anymore. Or the informal relationships or the formal relationships. One of the realities of this has been that companies have downsized; companies have changed personnel. So, if your primary means of selling to a client was the relationship, and that relationship is gone, that creates quite a challenge for sellers. And so, things like that have been disrupted. Territories have been disrupted. If you can't travel, if you're trying to go to a state with a strict quarantine policy, and you can't leave the hotel for 14 days, well, your travels are going to be disrupted. And so, territories are having to be redesigned, because folks don't have the freedom of movement that they had. We're also seeing a lot of discussion around KPIs and quotas, and how does that look, and what should we be thinking about in 2021, and the like. So, really, there's the obvious disruption, which is the things like I can't get face-to-face, but there's a lot of subtle changes that are going to go and be permanent, I believe, because of this.

Gregg Profozich [00:07:49] Yeah. I don't think that a lot of this is going away. Even if we had a vaccine tomorrow, and herd immunity, and everybody can come out of our "caves" and go back to socializing and interacting, some of these tools have been used now. They've been used successfully. And once that aha moment happens, things aren't going to be the same. So, adopting these things, I think, really does make sense for the long term. It's not just to get me through. It's not a bridge to get me through the pandemic; we're not going to be able to go back.

Gary Fly [00:08:13] Yes, exactly. There's great efficiencies in a lot of ways using the virtual tools. There's tremendous financial savings. There's all sorts of benefits to having a really good skill set in virtual selling. And really, we're starting to use the term remote selling, because it's more than just virtual tools. One of the interesting things we're seeing, and we're getting a lot of requests for is phone training, like phone skills. We're developing scripts for companies and whatnot. So, there's been a return to some of the old. And so, I think this idea of remote selling is going to be very important. And those folks that understand how to integrate virtual tools into their normal sales process will have a competitive advantage against their competitors and be able to take market share, quite frankly, in those that realize, yeah, it's not going away. There'll be some return. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article that claimed that probably 40 percent of business travel will go away and be replaced by technology and tools like this. It'd be hard for me to argue against that. Companies have realized that there can be great efficiencies, that sellers can be effective. We built our own company using virtual tools. Our sellers had a relatively limited travel protocol, but we did all of our due diligence, we do most of our prospecting all using virtual tools.

Gregg Profozich [00:09:29] Yeah. I think those are some fundamental and foundational changes that have happened, clearly.

Gary Fly [00:09:33] Yeah. And there'll be a hybrid. There'll be a role for in-person meetings, and there'll be still, I suppose, some version of trade shows and some of those old-school ways. But we actually just received notification from one of the trade associations we're in, and they are doing a virtual trade show, but they almost have a match.com aspect to it, where the participants have listed what they like and what they're interested in hearing about, and they're going to match that with vendors who are talking about those sorts of things. And so, there'll be this natural linkage. I thought that was really a pretty brilliant strategy. And I don't know why that would go away.

Gregg Profozich [00:10:10] You won't spend time walking around handing out business cards. You'll talk to the seven people who match what you're looking for instead of 100 people to try to find those seven. That's really good. There's going to be efficiencies built into that, I think, right?

Gary Fly [00:10:20] Yeah, exactly. It's not going to be about just business cards and bar tabs; it's going to be about efficiencies, and you're actually meeting people that have an interest in what you're talking about.

Gregg Profozich [00:10:29] Right. We're kind of on this subject. Let's go a little deeper into it. Perhaps you could do a little contrasting. What are the biggest differences between traditional sales and virtual selling? Put them in two columns side by side, if you would. Let's lay it out that way.

Gary Fly [00:10:41] One of the things is, is it a force of personality? Traditional sellers would say how I've got to be there on-site. I've got to be... It's the magic that I create. So, this dependence on personality. Well, in the virtual world, I think it's still important to understand who you're dealing with, and what's their communication style, and how do they like to get information. So, there are still clues and cues you can take. Maybe it's from the way they communicate in emails or the sorts of information they're asking. So, I think communication style is very different, and this reliance on personality, which is an old belief, I think, that's going on. So, I think that's one thing. Secondly, I believe, is efficiency of time. This virtual world allows you to meet multiple people throughout a day. You're not on and off of an airplane. You're not driving and spending half an hour parking in a car and all that sort of stuff. So, there's great efficiencies for sellers who can leverage that. So, on the virtual side, it's like, "Well, how do I do that? How do I prospect and find opportunities out there?" And, again, there's great tools for those that want to use it. So, I think there can be great efficiencies, and the velocity of prospecting and deal origination should go up in this virtual world for sellers that have good tools. One of the other big things is negotiation. It's like, "How do you do that in this virtual world? Do you just fire off a letter of agreement and hope that they read it, or how do you actually do that in a virtual world?" And we use a tool called Gong, G-O-N-G. It's a video recording device. But Gong has done a survey of sales calls, and it's pretty significant. This is just a little thing, but it's pretty significant. Those that use video in their negotiation close at a significantly higher rate than those that turn their video off. So, again, there's this interesting dynamic of what properly using these tools actually can have great efficiencies. So, those are some of the differences that we see or how we see skills lining up.

Gregg Profozich [00:12:44] You mentioned a few moments ago the travel time and that lost time driving to, parking my car, going in. It takes me 2 1/2 hours to have a 30-minute meeting. And so, I can do two or three of those in a day based on mileage I have to go. But wait a minute. I can do a 30-minute meeting at 9:00, one starting at 9:45, one starting at 11:00, one starting at 1:00. With virtual tools you can have a whole lot more interaction with clients if you have the rehearsal done, if you've got the right script in place, if you know how you're going to use these tools to get the message across between video and the demonstration, really storyboarding those pieces out. Having that in place can make you highly effective and really multiply your face time with clients, if you will, virtual face time that is.

Gary Fly [00:13:32] Yeah, that's exactly what we're seeing. And to your point, there's an ability to do great investigative work on who your prospective client is using some very simple, basic tools. And so, when you have that meeting, you ought to be well-prepared and understand who's on the other side, and what they likely are interested in, and the like. And then teaching sellers to pay attention to the communication style and the behavior of the person that you're interacting with we find really pays huge dividends. If you receive an email from me, the whole email may actually be in the subject line. That tends to be my deal. It's one sentence, and there may be a misspelled word in there. Well, I'm not the guy that wants 17 pages worth of detail. And so, we talk to sellers about pay attention to what you're getting from your potential client, how they interact with you, and that should give you some clues in how you want to sell to them. And you would pick up on those things, likely, in-person, because you're watching body language and you're understanding that. Well, you can still pick up on those clues in the virtual world. You just have to be more attentive to it and intentional about it.

Gregg Profozich [00:14:45] Right. And you have less of a view. You don't have the whole person for body language; you have just the bust or just the head on camera. So, you have to be all the more attentive.

Gary Fly [00:14:54] Right, exactly, exactly. And really thoughtful about okay, I received a couple of emails. Here's the way those are phrased. I've had one or two phone conversations. They were either brief or they weren't. So, do they like a lot of detail? Are they going to want a lot of specs? How do they seem to process information, and let me start to mirror and match that in my communication style with them. And to your point, doing that in a virtual setting is just a little bit different. I think successful sellers that have been in selling for not necessarily a long time, but successful sellers have some sort of innate ability to watch body language, and listen to the voice inflection, and all of those sorts of things. So, now you just have to try a little harder and pay attention a little differently than you did in that physical world.

Gregg Profozich [00:15:39] Let's go a little deeper on that. You mentioned earlier the five stages of grief at the beginning of the pandemic. I've thought of those for a long time as really the five stages of change, grief just being a large permanent change, a massive permanent change in your life, when you lose someone, but any kind of change can bring about the anger, the denial, the bargaining, the depression, and acceptance type of cycles. Sales organizations that I imagine are going through those to a certain degree, as well, because they have to change to this new reality of the world. What are some of the things that you're seeing in the marketplace as you're working with your clients about how to recognize and really smooth over some of those challenges around the human side of our own people, our own salespeople having to deal with it doesn't work the way it did a year ago. I was a top performer. Now I'm not. What do I do? How do I adjust to this?

Gary Fly [00:16:30] Yeah. So, that's exactly what we've seen since March. It's been that. And truly, at the beginning, it was, "Well, this is only going to be a few weeks; well, this is only going to be another month or two; oh, certainly by the end of the year." So, we started surveying sales leaders weekly back in March, and the vast majority felt like this was a 2020 issue. "That's going to be done in 2020; Q3 Q4, we'll be back on the road." So, there was this really interesting thought that it was much more limited than it's turned out to be. And I think that's caused a lot of sales leaders to kick the can down the road a little bit about making any change. And really, what we've seen over the last call it eight weeks is this kind of shaking it off. It's like, "All right, the fog of uncertainty is not lifting. This is not going anywhere. We've got to teach our sellers how to pierce this virtual bubble that now protects a lot of potential clients." And so, it started with this idea of upskilling. "Okay, let's figure this out. We've got to help our sellers be focused and energized." And what we're seeing that's helping companies that are doing a good job is that they are providing that focus to the sellers. It's not the gnashing of teeth around, "Gosh, yeah. I don't know how much longer this is going to last; gosh, yes. I don't know; yeah, isn't it unfair that this is happening? or isn't this disruptive to our sales process?" It's those companies now that are saying, "Hmm. Yeah, this is what it is." We as leaders are paid to deal with change. And this pandemic, what it's done is just accelerated the rate of change. A lot of the stuff we're talking about was going to happen naturally anyway over the next couple of years, probably. Well, this pandemic has squeezed it down.

Gregg Profozich [00:18:18] It's been condensed.

Gary Fly [00:18:18] Yep, squeezed it down to months. So, successful sales leaders are saying, "Okay, by golly, this is where it is. Virtual selling is virtually here to stay to y'all's title of this. So, let me organize my sellers; let me give them clear direction; let me give them some of the tools they need to be successful; let me help them have a quick win or two," because that's where they're building some confidence. At the human level, we've heard repeatedly, "My sellers just aren't confident. They're not confident doing this sort of virtual Zoom videos thing. They're not confident prospecting. They're not confident negotiating." So, what I believe successful sales leaders and sales organizations are doing is they're saying, "How do I help them win so that they can achieve some of that confidence?" And the way to do that in the near term is to let me teach them how to use a couple of these tools well so that they then do have some success, and they're like, "Okay, I feel like I'm getting my groove back a little bit."

Gregg Profozich [00:19:17] So it sounds very much like we've jumped from the denial phase to the acceptance phase.

Gary Fly [00:19:21] Yeah.

Gregg Profozich [00:19:21] We've moved into that point where it's time to move forward. The figurative cheese has been moved, and we can tie our shoes and get working, or we can stay there and be upset about it.

Gary Fly [00:19:32] Yeah, exactly. And there's a delineation. There's a separation. There are still companies that are very much in that camp of, “Now we've got to do it live; no, this will be over at some point," and those that are saying, "You know what? We've got to organize our sellers, keep them engaged in positive activity, and this, by golly, sales training around tools is the way to do that." And we're seeing them put distance between themselves and their competitors.

Gregg Profozich [00:20:02] So, let's go into that perspective just a little more. I'm hypothetically a person who believes this is going to end, and tradeshows are going to come back, and that was 90 percent of my revenue in the past, and everything will be back the way it was, and I'll be happy again. What's the downside of doing virtual selling, even if that's true? What's the downside? Do I suffer any loss by doing virtual selling in the meantime or even when the trade shows return?

Gary Fly [00:20:24] Yeah. I can't imagine that there's really any loss or downside. But there's a huge upside. So, go back to the example of the match.com at the trade show. So, if you know going in that there are 8, or 10, or 12 matches for you, you can spend the 2 or 3 days prior to the trade show really doing a deep dive into who these people are; who is that company; what do I see? If it's a public company, what am I reading in their annual reports? Let me go on the LinkedIn profile of the person I'm meeting and see if they're a college football fan, or whatever it is. So, instead of having just an impromptu on the trade show floor, you've accelerated the whole sales conversation, because now you're having a meeting with a person that you know has some interest in something about what you're selling, and you now have intel around who that person is, who the company is, and maybe how your solution matches with their needs. I think it accelerates and improves the sales process in a lot of ways.

Gregg Profozich [00:21:23] So, in the trade show world after the pandemic, it's going to be an accelerator of building rapport and getting to the right context either way. There really is no downside to embracing the techniques now.

Gary Fly [00: 21:34] Yeah, I can't imagine what the downside would be, because what you're doing is you're equipping your sellers to learn more about their prospects, to do it efficiently and effectively. They're not having to jump on an airplane. They're not having to spend a lot of money. They're not having to burn hours, and hours, and hours around it. It's not just this wandering in and let me, hopefully, bump into somebody that needs what I have.

Gregg Profozich [00:21:57] Doesn't seem to be a downside.

Gary Fly [00: 21:56] It doesn't to me, either. Yes.

Gregg Profozich [00:22:00] So, Gary, you bring up the point of some of the technology tools. Let's look at it from the aspect of the working generations. I've seen a statistic a year or two back — and I know it's still relevant — that the baby boomers started hitting retirement age at a rate of 10,000 a day. It was true since something like 2009, and it will be true for another 8 or 10 years yet, still. So, it's a very long period of many people having the opportunity to age out of the workforce. The millennials and centennials that are coming up through the ranks are a whole lot more technology native. Doesn't virtual selling give me an advantage as I start interacting more and more with these younger, more tech savvy generations?

Gary Fly [00:22:36] Yeah. there's a lot of things that we're seeing. So, it's oftentimes the buyers. The buyers of our services are changing. And I mentioned earlier about how do people like to consume information; how do they like to get it? And so, we're seeing buyers that like to communicate by text. We're seeing buyers that don't necessarily want to get on a phone call, and the last thing they'll want to do is meet in person. And so, there's a very definite shift in the buyers that we're seeing oftentimes. The second thing, though, that this is highlighting is that it really reinforces the need for a good process. So, yes, it's the opposite of what we've been talking about. We've been talking about sellers that probably have had a good process that are now trying to learn to use digital tools. So, the group that are the digital natives still need a good process to plug those tools into. So, from the sales side, I think where the opportunity for sales leaders becomes is, "Hey, do we have a good process that's in place so that this new generation of seller understands how to move through the sales cycle?" and then they probably have a more natural inclination to use the tools inside of there. So, we're seeing this play out on both sides of the equation — buyers who now want less contact, who want to negotiate through text, and sellers who are good digitally but need a process.

Gregg Profozich [00:24:03] Absolutely. Significant insights into some new realities that are right in front of us. We just have to recognize them, right?

Gary Fly [00:24:08] Yeah, exactly. I don't know if you've bought a car lately, but I bought a car earlier this year, and half of the thing took place on text. It surprised me. But I got a text from the salesman. It's like, "Oh, my gosh. Am I negotiating by text now?" It was a younger fellow, certainly, than I am. And it was just a real aha for me.

Gregg Profozich [00:24:30] Right. And I think the younger generations do. I've sent some younger generation folks some emails, and I asked them a week later if they got it. And they're, "What are you talking about? I never check email. Text me, or send me an Instagram, or just send me a post on social media." That's the way they communicate. That's not good or bad, but it is the reality of large portions of the workforce. And increasingly large portions of the workforce, that's their preferred method of communication. So, we have to adapt to the tools to be able to get our message to the right people, to the decision-makers.

Gary Fly [00:24:59] Right. And I think it's important for sales leaders to acknowledge that. It's not only their team that's changing, but it's who they're selling to is changing. And you got to recognize that it changes both sides of that equation. The one, again, to me interesting thing around that is now the reemergence of what we're seeing of phone skills and how important that is. And the younger generation didn't grow up with a phone in the kitchen chatting on it, and so, there's a whole new set of skills that are being taught that I take for granted. But it's been an interesting turnabout.

Gregg Profozich [00:25:34] Right. So, let's switch gears a little bit here, shift gears over to small and medium-sized manufacturers. What does the small and medium-sized manufacturer need to do, or what do they have to have in place? What's the basic entry-level requirements to be able to do virtual selling, that kind of concept? Talk around that concept a little bit.

Gary Fly [00:25:51] Yeah. The first thing that they need to do is understand their buyers and the change in their buyers' reality. So, I mentioned earlier, some places you can't get into a facility. So, is that happening in your world? It's not manufacturing, but drug reps can't get into doctors' offices anymore. And so, that's a paradigm shift for them. Well, I think everybody has to really do a little bit of a postmortem around, "Okay, what's happening to my customers? Are they locking down facilities?" And then that starts to inform how you need to change. "If my sellers can't get in but my customer service people can, let me start working with my customer service people. If my sellers can get in, then how do I best ensure that that meeting is a good one?" I think what we've also... I don't think, I know what we've also seen is that when meetings happen, they have to be really much more efficient and effective. The person on the other end is not going to give you two hours just to meander. They're bringing somebody, and they want it to be a good meeting. And so, what the manufacturers, I believe, that you referenced need to do is understand who they're selling to, what's their propensity for allowing on-site visitor or traditional selling, and then retool based on what they're seeing in the marketplace. The basics that we believe need to be in place is there needs to be a well-defined process that your sellers understand. And then there needs to be an appropriate toolbox of tools for them to use. And it doesn't have to be tremendously fancy. But a good video platform. We use Zoom. Good cameras, and good microphones, good lighting. It's that basic stuff like that. ZoomInfo is a tool that we use and that we're very pleased with to do some investigative work or prospecting. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is another one. I mentioned Gong. So, all of our sales calls are recorded. And so, as a sales leader I can go back in and watch it. And it's actually a pretty interesting tool in that it measures the amount of time the seller talks versus the potential client. So, again, Gong has some pretty interesting stats around, hey, it needs to be the potential client that's over 50 percent, not you as the seller. None of these are hugely expensive. So, I think that there are some really basic tools out there that manufacturers can arm their sellers with, again, to give them confidence. The last thing that I would recommend, or one other thing I would recommend, is practice. So, just get on, and have your sales team practice using Zoom, and have them switch things around. So, seller to seller. It's the old role-play. But it's like, "All right, I'm going to share my screen, and I'm going to change control, give you control," and those sorts of things. But have them go through those sorts of scenarios in a safe environment, where they can really practice and try things out.

Gregg Profozich [00:28:50] Nobody wants to be learning on the fly, wasting customers' time and losing credibility, right? 

Gary Fly [00:28:55] Yeah, exactly.

Gregg Profozich [00:28:56] I need to know what happens when I click this icon on Zoom or GoToWebinar, whichever platform I'm using. What are the features? What are the functions? What can I do? What can't I do? so I'm comfortable; I know how to respond, how to act when I'm in a real-life situation with a client.

Gary Fly [00:29:10] Exactly. And again, what we're finding is that sellers are having...There's time right now oftentimes. There's some downtime. They're not traveling. They're not doing stuff. So, let them practice this sort of sell, and let them practice amongst themselves. And again, you can record it; you can talk about it; you can coach to it; and just get people acquainted with it. 

Gregg Profozich [00:29:33] Okay. So, The Brooks Group has worked with a large number of companies implementing virtual selling. What are some of the best and creative ways to conduct virtual selling that you guys are recommending?

Gary Fly [00:29:43] Well, there's a number of things. I just really talked about part of it. But one of the things that we do in our training is that we require the participants to use the tools. It's like, "Okay, we're going to use Annotate; we're going to use chat; we're going to do a poll; we're going to do this." And that has been, I think, as much about building confidence as anything else, that just getting the sellers feeling like they know how to use the tools. And then we try to connect some dots, like, "Hey, in the old way you may have gone to a chamber of commerce meeting, and you bumped into X, Y, and Z. Well, here's how you can do that virtually. You can use ZoomInfo; you can use LinkedIn Sales Navigator. There's tools that you can use to give you that same information. Let me look at every manufacturer and ZIP Code 27408, or I want to look at companies between $30 and $50 million in revenue, or those sorts of things." So, what we've tried to do, really, is map back. "All right, here's maybe the way you did do it, and here's a way you can do the same sort of thing." I don't know if that's particularly creative, but connecting the dots in a very intentional way seems to have helped people learn. "Oh, okay. Now I understand." When you would ask a seller, "Hey, how did you prospect in a previous pre-pandemic world?" and they can list that, then we would work to train them and say, "Okay. Well, here's how you do those exact same things," or, "How did you negotiate?" or, "What was important to you in terms of building a relationship? Well, here's how you can do it." We've gone back... It's a little bit more difficult, but we've gone back to some direct mail stuff. We've created kits that are what we call high impact mailers. And we've got a number of them going out today, actually, I just saw them. And we've got a nice Brooks logoed YETI mug in there, and we've got a sales training book, and we've got some local cookies, and the like. And these are for deals that are stalled deals, and we're sending them to the sales leader. So, there's been a renewing of some things that are old or new again, I guess.

Gregg Profozich [00:31:50] We've had the same experience a little. We've tried in little pilot areas sending actual mail for an outreach campaign to prospecting to the CEO of a company. I think the world has changed a lot. Email has taken over so much for regular mail. It's almost like regular mail doesn't get filtered or screened and actually lands on the CEO's desk. So, if you send out 50 handwritten, hand addressed letters to a CEO with a nice form letter inside, it was really eye-opening to think about that. We've moved so far into new school, some of the old-school techniques can be really effective if you use them appropriately. Now, it takes a long time to write out those many envelopes, but it looks like a personal letter coming in or a card from somebody he knows. So, it gets onto his desk. It's like, "Oh, interesting."

Gary Fly [00:32:32] Yeah, exactly. And we sent these boxes to FedEx. Everybody likes to get a FedEx package. And it's like, "Hey, I wonder what I got." And we try to make something of interest but also something of benefit. So literally we put... We're in the training business. So, we have books, and collateral, and stuff, and we put that in there. But we put a nice YETI Brooks logoed mug in there. And everybody loves a YETI. It's like, "Oh, my gosh, I got a coffee mug, and cookies, and a book. Let me at least think about these guys." And we identified... We look at our pipeline every week, and we identified seven stalled deals. And we thought, "Well, let's try this." And again, returned to some old-school tactics.

Gregg Profozich [00:33:13] So, virtual selling doesn't outrule the old-school tactics.

Gary Fly [00:33:15] That's right.

Gregg Profozich [00:33:16] That's my key takeaway. Right?

Gary Fly [00:33:17] Yeah, yeah, that's right. And there could be a good marriage between them.

Gregg Profozich [00:33:21] It's about being effective, using whatever tools are in the toolkit.

Gary Fly [00:33:24] Right. And the reality in this situation is that up to this point, it had been all virtual. We prospected for these clients virtually. We had been negotiating with them virtually or talking to them virtually, and it just slowed down. And there may be 100 different reasons why it slowed down. But we thought, "Well, maybe this will shake it loose a little bit." And so, this was an attempt at unsticking it.

Gregg Profozich [00:33:45] Yes, absolutely. So, can you share with us some client examples without violating any confidentiality, of course, of manufacturers or clients who have pivoted to virtual selling and some other successes?

Gary Fly [00:33:56] One was unable to get on-site. They just couldn't get on-site, because the company didn't want to disrupt the health of the production floor. They just couldn't get out there. What they were really struggling with at first was, "How do I even reach somebody? And when I reach them, what do I talk to them about it, and what would be going on with them?" And the first little crack came in with, "We've got some machinery issues. We need a customer service person on-site." And so, then what we actually talked to the sales team about was, "Hey, talk to them again, and really use this opportunity, this diagnostic of what's going on in the facility as a chance to understand more fully. It's not just this one machine that's down or this one broken part, but let's talk to them about what they're experiencing. What's their production volume looking like? Are they running one shift or three shifts? Are they having to work over that? Just use this as a time to really dive deeper in, because you now have a reason they're interested in talking to you. Don't make it so salesy, but use it as a time to do some probing to find out what's really going on."

Gregg Profozich [00:35:16] So, changing the understanding of the role of the technician from I'm there to solve a technical problem to I'm there to help be the face of my company.

Gary Fly [00:35:24] Yes.

Gregg Profozich [00:35:25] And gather some intelligence as to how we can better help them and help them succeed.

Gary Fly [00:35:29] Yeah, exactly.

Gregg Profozich [00:35:30] Because I'm the eyes and ears for the whole organization now, even though I'm "only the tech guy." Well, no, now you're everything.

Gary Fly [00:35:35] Right.

Gregg Profozich [00:35:35] You're not just going in to fix the machine; you're going in to help us understand how we can better help that customer/client and be there for them in a time of unprecedented change, when maybe they don't know what to ask for. Maybe they don't know what's next.

Gary Fly [00:35:48] Yeah, that's exactly it. The other thing that we've seen is convening groups that maybe you wouldn't have thought of before. But if you are a manufacturer, and you have 20 or 30 customers that maybe aren't direct competitors, but convening them in just open discussions in a really low-risk environment, what we found is that it provides really rich information. "Hey, you as a production manager at company XYZ probably feel like you're on an island out there, and you're wondering what the rest of the world looks like. And we've got company ABC and company 123 that are also facing similar challenges. Why don't we have a lightly facilitated hour-long discussion once a month about what's going on?" And we've actually done this ourselves, as well. And what it did was it built trust with our client... We've seen it build trust with clients, like "Oh, my goodness, this is an interesting idea. I never would have expected my vendor to be so forward-looking into convening this group." But it also allows you to really understand in real time what the current concerns and problems of your customers are. It's not a sales environment, but it's an information sharing environment. And it just informs you in a way that is really pretty unique. And we've seen that work really well. Because again, it changes the nature of the relationship. Like, "I'm not just trying to sell you this machine; I'm not just trying to sell you this part; but I'm really interested in what's going on inside your organization and what you're struggling with. And I'll convene this group of others so you can share ideas and have a forum to talk about things in a really candid and positive way."

Gregg Profozich [00:37:29] A little bit more of an egalitarian approach to what's in it for everybody together as trading partners?

Gary Fly [00:37:34] Yes, exactly, exactly. And let's take what we're all experiencing and learning and compare notes, because maybe we can all help each other out.

Gregg Profozich [00:37:42] Yeah. And those are powerful forums. We've done things like that through the pandemic, but even before the pandemic, we had CEO peer councils.

Gary Fly [00:37:49] Right, right.

Gregg Profozich [00:37:50] When you can get 8 or 10 CEOs, leaders, it's lonely at the top. I can't go to my CFO and complain about the problems; he's coming to me for answers. I'm not sure. I've never been here before. I don't necessarily know what to do. But when I can see perspectives from other people, I can see the other people having the same challenges, have the same concerns, maybe they've already dealt with them, and they've had success or failure, and I can learn from that. All of those things are really important from the human connection level, and really feeling like you're part of something larger and seeing the community that you are part of, because you're part of a community of trading partners in your supply chain. You tend to look one step upstream and one step downstream. Who do I buy from? Who do I sell to? But if you take a longer view, you can start to get some insights into some really important things.

Gary Fly [00:38:35] Yeah, right. If you think about... If you go into a typical facility or client of yours, who else do you see in there? And it's a sales leader. Could you reach out to the sales leaders of those other companies and also convene that? And who knows where that goes? But we just see really robust conversations happening, and interesting ideas sharing, and the nature, again, of relationships changing from this transactional approach to much more of a trusted adviser, friend, somebody I'm going through this with together, who gives me good ideas.

Gregg Profozich [00:39:08] And that pays long- term dividends, no doubt.

Gary Fly [00:39:09] Right. Exactly, exactly.

Gregg Profozich [00:39:11] Let's talk a little bit about the competitive advantage that a small and medium-sized manufacturer might be able to realize now and in the future, from really adopting and wholeheartedly embracing virtual selling as a go-to-market strategy.

Gary Fly [00:39:24] Yeah. So, I think you got a couple. One is you would have a first mover advantage. I know that companies that have said, "This is here. There are efficiencies, or there's going to be some permanency around it. Let me train my people right now, and let me start with some skills-based training so that they have some confidence," what we're seeing is that's providing real near-term first mover advantages, because it's allowing their sellers to connect in a way that their potential clients find of value. They understand the challenges of what's going on inside of an organization. They know how to reach out to people. They know how to present information in a clear, concise way. They know how to do things that... We mentioned it earlier, that the buyer or the person on the other side doesn't feel like it's a waste of time. So, the companies that are teaching their sellers to use these tools appropriately are finding more success, because the people that they're dealing with are appreciative, and recognize and understand that they've put in some prework, and they've done some things to get ready for this. And there's more alignment from the get-go than the old prospecting thing, like, "Oh, well, Gregg, tell me about your problems," or, "Oh, Gregg, tell me what..." that kind of stuff. So, we see that there's a first mover advantage. And then it's just like anything else. I think that once they get accustomed to it and practicing it, you'll see them getting better at it. And so, they can maintain that distance between them and their competitors. But there's also, then, a recognition of, "Gosh, these tools really can help me." And what we're seeing is that the rate of change in the tools themselves is pretty rapid. And so, companies that have a bias towards understanding how to use them and sellers that are trained on how to use them we believe will also be much more comfortable taking the next gen of these tools — version 2.0, or 3.0, or 4.0 — and building that into their toolbox. So, I think it's a bias towards learning and using these tools that's a mindset that's critical for companies that provide lasting competitive advantage.

Gregg Profozich [00:41:35] I think that makes a lot of sense, too. Once I get familiar and experience with it, it's now familiar; it's now my normal way of doing business. Now I'm trying to figure out how to experiment with it. Now I'm riffing off what I can do this way or that way and trying to... What capabilities? How far can I take this? How far can I use that? I need a tool that does this. You start getting into that whole cycle, that positive cycle of reinforcement around I've developed a skill and a competency here, and I'm having success, and I want to do more. I want to get better at this so that continuous improvement element can start to come in.

Gary Fly [00:42:04] Right. Yeah, exactly. And at the end of the day, again, we're seeing two camps. We're seeing one group that's saying, "No, we're going to do business the way we've done business," and we're seeing this other camp about, "You know what? I do need to change." So, I think that those first movers will have a competitive advantage, and they'll be able to take market share, I believe, from competitors.

Gregg Profozich [00:42:22] Yeah. I think so, too. Well, thank you, Gary. A lot of information you shared, and I think some really comprehensive and very actionable takeaways from what we talked about. I think that it's key for our listeners to really recognize and understand that virtual selling is likely here to stay, at least elements of it, anyway. Even if we went back to the non-social distancing world like before the pandemic, it would still be in a world of trade show 2.0. We have this match.com kind of intelligence or capability that's matching us up to high potential prospects. I think that's not going away. And so, using tools like social media, LinkedIn, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Gong, using conferencing platforms, video conferencing platforms like Zoom, and GoToWebinar, and others, all of those things are here to stay, and I think they've shown themselves to be very effective, I think, from what we talked about. I think the keys for anybody trying to implement virtual selling are that they really need to have a well-defined and coherent process for how they're going to pull the various tools together, and they have to be the tools that are going to resonate and allow them to reach their customers, their clients, in ways that their customers and clients want their communication. And then once we have that well-defined coherent process, we need to have appropriate and detailed training to make sure that we build confidence within the sellers. What is the process? How do I use the tools? Practice and role-play using the tools. Get comfortable with the features so that they can be somewhat improvisational when they're live with a client, and have the confidence to be able to do that, and to be themself, and to be credible. And those, I think, are important pieces. And the other really is to think a little bit differently about sales within the landscape, which is look at convening groups. How do I get a group of trading partners together, and how do we look for our common ways that we can help and support each other? And in noncompetitive situations, I think that can be very powerful. So, I think those are also very important takeaways that can have some significant impact on small and mid-sized manufacturers' business. Gary, anything else to add to that summary? Did I miss anything?

Gary Fly [00:44:20] No. Gregg, that was a wonderful summary. I appreciate you including us on the podcast and hope that your listeners find some value in it.

Gregg Profozich [00:44:28] Oh, I think they definitely will. I think they definitely will. So, Gary, thank you so much. Great conversation. I really appreciate you joining me today and sharing your experiences and insights with me and our listeners. And to our listeners, thank you for joining us with this conversation with Gary Fly on virtual selling and how it is virtually here to stay. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Stay safe and healthy. Thank you for listening to Shifting Gears — a podcast from CMTC. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with others and post it on your social media platforms. You can subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your preferred podcast directory. For more information on our topic, please visit www.cmtc.com/shiftinggears. CMTC is a private nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance, workforce development, and consulting services to small- and medium-sized manufacturers throughout the state of California. CMTC's mission is to serve as a trusted advisor, providing solutions that increase the productivity and competitiveness of California's manufacturers. CMTC operates under a cooperative agreement for the state of California with the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (MEP) at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology within the Department of Commerce. For more information about CMTC please visit www.cmtc.com. For more information about the MEP National Network, or to find your local MEP center visit www.nist.gov/mep.

Topics: Sales and Marketing, Innovation & Growth

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