David Deming: Virtual selling has simply become selling
David Deming: Virtual selling has simply become selling
Virtual selling. Hybrid selling. Remote selling. Whatever you call it, 92% of buyers prefer it — and it’s here to stay. David Deming, Partner at Bain & Co., is an expert in salesforce effectiveness that leads to profitable growth. In the episode, he dives into data-driven sales plays and how to retool your front line. Whether you’re fully remote or have a hybrid model, these insights will lead you to virtual sales success.
Devin Reed: Welcome to Reveal The Revenue Intelligence Podcast powered by Gong, were your hosts Devin Reed-
Sheena Badani: And I'm Sheena Badani. Revenue intelligence is a new way of operating based on customer reality instead of opinions, making data- driven decisions based on facts instead of opinions or guess work.
Devin Reed: And it's made up of three success pillars, people intelligence, deal intelligence and market intelligence. You know, the things all revenue teams need and care about. Every week, we interview senior revenue professionals and share their stories and insights on how they leverage revenue intelligence to drive success and win their market.
Sheena Badani: You'll hear how modern go- to- market teams win as a team, close revenue with critical deal insight and execute their strategic initiatives plus all the challenges that come along with it.
Devin Reed: So Sheena, I asked our guest this question but I'm curious and you've already heard the answer. So you might be guided in one direction but I'm curious, do you call it virtual sales, remote sales, hybrid sales, inside sales or D, all of the above or E, none of the above and maybe you have a new term to coin today?
Sheena Badani: Good question. It's interesting because I feel like over the whole, this pandemic time period, we were creating a lot of content. We were talking about this topic in a lot of different ways and we came up with that problem of like," Hey, is it virtual? Is it hybrid? Is it something else?" I think I tend to lean on virtual but I think that's going to evolve again. And I think if you asked me in one year, I think I'm going to be saying hybrid a lot more because it's going to be mixed and it's not going to be a hundred percent virtual all the time. So yes, I may say virtual right now but hybrid I think is going to be the way of the future.
Devin Reed: Brilliant answer. I'm going to just say I agree. But the reason also was when we were as head of content at Gong, we were making a lot of content when the pandemic happened and we were, I remember asking you and Udi, " Is it remote? Is it virtual? Are we talking hybrid?" And I think at the time, no one knew but we landed on remote because that's what everyone felt was like, we just went remote really quickly, so we're going to call it remote sales. I agree with you, we've settled into virtual and I agree we will evolve again into to hybrid, which will be... Right now, we're not truly hybrid or at least not across all teams for the folks that are back in person. But the reason I ask and if you've clicked this podcast, if you're hearing our voice, you probably already saw it in the title or the description but we got to hang out with David Deming, partner at Bain to talk specifically about virtual selling. I had a really good time. I thought it was interesting.
Sheena Badani: Yeah. It was a great conversation and again, the perspective that Dave is able to bring is from the dozens, if not hundreds of conversations that he has on a regular basis with top tier sales and revenue executives across a lot of different industries. So he's able to bring a unique perspective. It's not just from his experience working at one company or only working at high growth tech companies. No, this is what he's able to share, what he's learned from across industries, verticals, geos, et cetera. And the research that they've done on that front.
Devin Reed: Got to give a shout to the Bain research, it's one of our favorite things. You know we like data here. We talk a lot about data in this interview. And my favorite takeaway was the, and when we talked about this a lot, the difference between not just opinions and reality but what sellers think is reality and what buyers say is reality and that disconnect in the perception there. So that's what we get into. If you are interested, I'll tell you what if your team is virtual selling, you're going to get something out of this. I'm going to make a blanket statement and I stand by that statement. You will get at least one thing and you're going to hear a lot of what's working and what's not when it comes to coaching, when it comes to rolling out sales tech, that's a big one. I'm sure, in Q4 or Q1 people usually start to think about new tools and whatnot. So let's get right on into it. And let's go hang out with David.
Sheena Badani: Let's do it. Dave, welcome to Reveal. We're so excited to have you on the show today.
David Deming: Yeah. Thanks for having me, excited to be here.
Sheena Badani: So for the listeners, today we're going to go really deep into the topic of virtual selling and how that's evolved over time. It's definitely a hot topic for many just given everything that's been going on in the world. But before we do that, I want to ask you, Dave, what drew you into research around sales, Bain is known for the data- driven research that it does, which we love and clearly you love too but what drew you to this area in the first place?
David Deming: Yeah, it was actually my first job out of college. I was a technical sales rep or sales engineer, we called it at the time. So I cut my teeth running around, doing demos, trying to help my sales team close deals. And to be honest, we were not very data- driven at that time. So I've had a passion for trying to help teams get better along that dimension.
Sheena Badani: That's amazing. And I expect that even now, as your role as a partner, there's definitely a sales aspect to that role as well.
David Deming: Oh, absolutely. It's one of things I love about my job is, I get to go off and help clients understand their problems and how we might shape projects to solve them.
Sheena Badani: So let's get into the meat of the topic today about virtual selling. So you recently co- authored an article called Virtual Selling Has Become Simply Selling. What do you mean by that phrase? Tell us more about that.
David Deming: Yeah. That phrase actually, it was from one of the first clients that we interviewed. It was a quote from that interview. We were talking about the evolution of virtual selling and how there used to be these great debates of inside sales, velocity sales, all these different terms and where and how might you use these different models. And we came to this epiphany that it's all merging together in some sense and it's no longer a debate between, should I do this virtually or not but really just how and where is it going to work best? And that's a far cry from the way things were not so long ago.
Sheena Badani: There's a bit of convergence, it doesn't matter what you're doing, there's some differences and nuances in how but in general broad strokes there's similarities across all sales motions.
David Deming: Yeah, that's right. You can't ignore it, it maybe another way to think about it. You can't pretend that virtual is not part of your job just because you're a field rep or an enterprise rep or whatever type of sales role that you might have, it's going to touch you in some way.
Devin Reed: Ever since the pandemic, there's these couple of terms thrown around. There's remote sales, hybrid sales, virtual sales. I could argue by definition there's probably some nuance there but I'm curious from you, are those all synonymous? Is there a core difference? Is there a phrase that we should say versus not say when we're talking about virtual selling?
David Deming: Yeah. When we, I can tell you what we mean when we use the phrase, we try to be pretty expansive about it. I do think you're right, there have been a lot of terms thrown around. Inside sales is probably the most widely used one for what people used to think of as being, people all co- located in one spot using the phone primarily to drive usually smaller or simpler deals, that's one phrase but by virtuals and sometimes people think that's what we mean but virtual selling, what we're really trying to do is think of it far more expansively. It's how can all reps use the range of technologies that are at their fingertips, whether that's things like this, video interaction technology or it's some of the technologies that you guys make around using more data to drive how people interact with customers. It's trying to take all of those range of tools and methods and interactions and merge them and use them together in a way that's most effective. And trying to break down a little bit of some of those historic barriers between inside sales or outside sales, velocity sales or enterprise sales. We're trying to get away from that and think of it a slightly different paradigm.
Devin Reed: That makes a lot of sense. Virtual selling has been around for a while. I was in, started in sales around 10 years ago and I was the inside seller. So I learned, I don't know if we actually used Zoom but well everyone says Zoom, to communicate and to sell. And then as I got more mature, I learned to actually go to David's office and shake someone and shake their hand and run a meeting with eight people around a big boardroom. So that's, it's been around for a while but how has the pandemic changed virtual selling aside from the accelerated adoption?
David Deming: It's a couple of different things. I think you're right. There's this historic notion that there was a progression and you'd start at inside sales and you'd cut your teeth there and eventually learn and you'd move to field sales. And then you'd be like,'Oh, I'm not going to be on the phone anymore. That's what I did five years ago." And so there was a little bit of this sense of a one- way street. And I think what's really changed in the pandemic is people's attitudes towards that, have just fundamentally changed. I think it used to be there was these bright lines, oh, deals over this size couldn't possibly be done virtually or new customers couldn't possibly do that virtually. We hear that from clients and field sales reps all the time. And I think the data that we gathered as part of this research is pretty clear that those barriers are not really meaningful on the customer side. They're quite happy with virtual interactions for all types of different deals. I think our research showed it was 92% of buyers prefer virtual interactions in most circumstances. And so what really changed in the pandemic was it's this attitudinal shift of no longer could people retreat back to these prior definitions and walls that had been erected almost for internal reasons. The sales force machinations, the career maturity on the sales side and they're starting to have to worry about more what customers want and how they can actually adapt themselves to deliver the sales process that's most effective for them. So that's really what changed.
Devin Reed: That's really interesting because as Sheena was saying, that we've talked to folks, we heard it all the time too, especially in the beginning, customer round tables and all these things as you know, if we're not in person, our buyers will think we don't care. And then I feel like a couple months later we started hearing buyers say," No, we are fine with virtual sales." If I can just log into a computer, that's actually much easier for me, it's much more efficient. So it's interesting always, the data helps with it but there's that seller perception of what we think works or what we think needs to happen versus hearing, like you said, from the buyers and seeing the data of actually, it's totally fine and it works.
David Deming: Yeah. We saw that in a couple of different ways. The way we structured our research is we interviewed both buyers of complex products and sellers. And you see that disconnect in lots of different ways. One of the other ones that we highlight a lot is, we have this concept we like to call, you need to think about winning the deal before it gets to the rep. And when you ask a lot of sellers," Okay, what's most important in a buyer's journey, how do they make their decision? At what point are they narrowing vendor lists down? Are they defining requirements?" They will consistently overestimate their own importance, which is a little humbling for all of us. It's probably a somewhat human nature for all of us to do something like that. And they will systematically underestimate the importance of their digital footprint. So whether that's the own website or online reviews or forums that customers are doing, all this data gathering and interaction with your products before they even pick up the phone and talk to someone live. And that dynamic is really important we think.
Sheena Badani: It's interestingly, I feel like now, since the pandemic we've been doing a lot of assessments of customers and how receptive they are to virtual selling, did we even ask pre pandemic how customers would have been open to that? I think now it just been a shift because it was forced but maybe buyers were totally open to this five years ago and we didn't even care to ask our customers what they wanted.
David Deming: It's true. I do think back to Devin, I think was really smart when he said," Look, there's these sacred cows almost in the sales force of these career progressions that calcified people into these roles. Like, no, no, I'm a field- based rep and that means I go in the field and I do things this way." And that's wrapped up in your role and how you think about your job. And it's a little disconnected, you're right Sheena, sometimes from the way the customers actually want to be interacted with.
Sheena Badani: So you talked a little bit about digital footprint as part of the success of virtual selling, it is one of the components, it's not just how the rep may be interacting with the client. Can you talk a little bit about what else you're seeing that companies are doing that are leading and contributing to the success of virtual selling overall?
David Deming: Yeah. We have five things we have to talk about. The first one is what you just mentioned. How do you think about taking responsibility for the customer journey holistically and not just where sales traditionally steps in and takes over? So winning the deal before it gets corrupt, that's one thing. The second one is, a little bit what we've just been talking about. You need to be rethinking your coverage models and you can't have these calcified notions of hard decks around inside versus outside sales. You need to be far more nuanced in tuning the type of coverage models and sales plays you're putting together to reach your customers in the most effective way. And then that leads into the third thing, which is we have this concept called sales plays, which is how do you get far more prescriptive around identifying a set of targets and products and sales motions that you can enable your sales force with as opposed to, maybe the old days of letting the Cowboys and cowgirls roam the earth, trying to do deals, how do you give them a far more prescriptive set of tools and enablement to help them go off and close specific things? And then there's a whole set of initiatives and things we talk about around, how do you enable folks with the right digital tools? So we have this concept that we call digital cockpits. What that really just means is, how do you get the right set of curated tools for the right role? What a field- based AE needs, far different than what a territory manager needs, different than what a deep technical rep needs. Yet often we just think of enabling the sales force with tools. And so we have this concept of getting the right tools for the right roles, digital cockpits and then actually the fifth thing would be making sure those are actually adopted and effectively used. So how do you actually not just install the tools but actually get people using them drive to real adoption? So those are the five things we've seen our clients do to be successful.
Sheena Badani: There's a lot of different aspects that you covered there, everything from enablement to using technology, et cetera. Who's responsible for this? Who are you speaking to when you go to these large clients?
David Deming: Yeah. One are the other insights that we've driven out of this is the sales operations team and that can take different forms and roles at different clients, ends up being a pretty important part of this because where we've seen sometimes people fail is when they do this in a fully decentralized way. And every group, whether that's geography or product team or however a sales team might be organized is trying to roll their own. And then that's oftentimes you end up with this mishmash of approaches and tools. And so oftentimes we're also talking to our clients simultaneously about maturing that role because in some sales forces, I'm sure we've all worked there, frankly sales ops can be a little bit of a backwater. It's not necessarily always the most advanced part of a sales team but in this new world where data is more important and you want to get more prescriptive and helpful to your sales force, having a strong operations team is really important.
Devin Reed: In the same article that Sheena had mentioned. You said that sales teams are investing in a mish- mash of tools, which as someone who has sold sales tech for a long time, I can confirm that is a phrase said all the time and that can limit ROI or confused frontline reps. Again, like me, I've been there. How can teams effectively roll out new tools without overwhelming reps?
David Deming: Yeah, you're absolutely right, we see this all the time. Just people overwhelmed and frankly, not even always understanding the set of tools that they have and the capabilities at their fingertips. That's another common and related problem. But a couple different things we see our clients do that are more successful with this. The first relates back to this concept of digital cockpits and really making sure you're curating a set of tools for the right roles. So often we see people think about, we need to roll this out to the whole sales force and I'm like, whenever I hear that pause, does really every single person in the sales force need this tool. And if so, how and why? And being really thoughtful about that is as I think the first step, the second thing is recognize that adoption is the goal not installation. That is a really big shift I think you're seeing in enterprise software sales as well over time. Customers or companies are realizing that it's not simply sufficient to roll the tool out, give everyone a training and keep your fingers crossed. You need to be setting metrics, not just around installation but adoption, monitoring usage, following up with people, finding out why or why not they're using the tool. So keeping that momentum going over time. And the good news on this one is a lot of ISVs are recognizing this too. And they're there to help. I mean, salesforce. com may have pioneered the customer success paradigm but a lot of ISVs are picking this up. They want you to be successful in using the tool because they know that's what's going to drive you to renew. So oftentimes they're there to help you and not disappear the day the software is installed, the way they might've done a decade ago. And then the last one I would say is really just be thoughtful around pace. People could only absorb so much recognize, sellers should be selling. They need to be spending time with clients, whether that's virtually or in person. They don't have a lot of time necessarily to go to trainings and think about adopting new tools. And so be thoughtful around the pace as well.
Sheena Badani: Dave says that adoption not installation is the goal. When it comes to retooling, after all a mishmash of tools limits the return on investment, which can really confuse and overwhelm the front line. According to Salesforces state of sales report, 84% of sales professionals say digital transformation has accelerated in the last year, which may come as no surprise due to the pandemic. AI tools are particularly fast growing in sales with a whopping 76% of sales teams adopting AI tools since 2018, the majority of high performing sales orders are using these tools to improve internal processes and customer experiences. Fortunately, for sales reps, as AI tools mature, they're finding some relief in the form of automation, allowing reps to spend more time learning about and connecting with customers.
Devin Reed: I know David, there's no blanket answer. Is there maybe any insight you can give of what good adoption looks like, maybe over time, if there is such a thing on your mind? And I'd be interested in to hear, just to guide sales leaders, what does good look like when I'm trying to drive adoption for new tools?
David Deming: Yeah. I mean, what it looks like is you really need to be thinking through usage metrics, is one of the most useful things you can see. So you need to be looking at again, back to our earlier commentary, who is the actual target population for this tool? It might not be everyone. And so you need to think through, okay, who are my target audiences? What sort of usage metrics am I driving? And am I actually serving them to ask whether they're getting the value out of the tool or not? It's a combination of those three things, understanding the audience, how often they're using it and are they actually telling you they're getting the value, yes or no? And so good looks like, getting to the right place on all three of those, getting the right set of people using it. Doesn't have to be everyone all the time. And then actually making sure that they're getting value from that through doing real research, you got to actually survey and talk to these people.
Sheena Badani: It's been interesting with the shift to virtual that there's been an explosion of tools and in some ways, there's also been a resulting explosion in data that folks had access to now, which maybe didn't exist before. So with all of these changes and this increase in data, how has that impacted the key metrics and the data that leadership should really be paying attention to? It can be overwhelming.
David Deming: It can be. I mean, I think that's almost the first point. Is that just the amount of data out there is overwhelming. And so again, the first thing I'd is, data for data's sake is never valuable. You need to first be thinking through what's the decision or the sales motion you're trying to drive or improve. So a perfect example might be renewables. Back in the day it was pretty simple, who is coming up for renewal soon and how do I make sure I get a sales rep calling them to make sure we get the order? Well, that's clearly no longer sufficient. So as you think through, what's going to drive renewals? You need to be thinking through some of those metrics we just talked about. How do you have a proactive monitoring system that looks at usage or is the customer using the product? Looks potentially at where a customer's from that, are web searchers from that domain going on our website, are they looking at tools? What are they doing? What web searches are they're doing? How do we put that together into a cocktail of metrics that then gets customers red, yellow, green? Where am I most worried about people churning and doing that far more proactively? That's one example of how you flip that on its head from thinking through, well, I have data, what do I do with it? No, no, no, you need to think through what are the selling motions that I'm trying to improve and how do I funnel the right new data sets into that? Renewables a great example.
Sheena Badani: I love what you just touched on right now because you talked about customer success, maybe the account management team, we going to, we're starting to talk about teams that may be outside of core sales. So what are your perspectives on taking data that may be traditional quote, unquote sales data, who else should have access to some of these insights? How do you best share that to make sense of it from across the orb?
David Deming: Yeah, I think another great example to think through there is most sales organizations do some version of a win- loss analysis and they try to understand, let's look at deals we won, deals we lost, why? And that can take all sorts of forms from qualitative interviews, oh, we lost on price. We got some but again, back to one of the things that we find is if you're starting that analysis with when they first and first interacted with the sales group, you're missing a huge part of the picture and it's not marketing's problem to get you the right leads or whatever the case may be. You need to understand the full customer journey from when they first went to the website and started learning about your product, where else they did, who they talked to and all the way through to really understand what's driving wins and losses. And that requires, you're right, integration between two groups that in some companies are really well integrated and some companies are not and that that's a real challenge operationally but it's important because that's how customers are consuming your product and your company. They don't care who is in marketing and who's in sales, it's all the same to them. And so you need to be thinking about that journey holistically.
Sheena Badani: So, along with the virtual selling, we're also interacting with our own colleagues in totally different ways now and one of the most critical relationships is that manager and rep relationship and the coaching that was so natural when we were in the office. Your manager would just come over and they may have overheard you on a sales call and give you some feedback, give you some guidance or you are able to do that on your own because you heard your peer talking some way, how are the best sales leaders coaching their reps in this new virtual world?
David Deming: Yeah but this is an opportunity I get really excited about. As I mentioned, my first job out of college was, I was a field based sales engineer. And I think back to coaching and training and what it really was, it was like once a quarter, I'd spend a day with the product team getting trained on the product, which was basically a one- way data dump of all the new features. And then I'd run out in the field with whatever materials I had. And if I was lucky, my boss would come on a ride along once a quarter and maybe share some conventional wisdom about," Oh, Dave, you could have said this, you could have done that. Maybe this would have been interesting. Maybe that would have been interesting." And there's the received wisdom of the time would somehow find its way down to me. Now look, things have come a long way since then but I bet that story probably resonates with more than one or two of your listeners. And I think if I think about the opportunities afforded by virtual selling, it just gets you so excited about being far more data- driven and prescriptive with things like that. So, I think there's some great examples. Zoom is one of the companies we highlighted where almost all their demos and interactions for selling their product are virtual, which of course they're Zoom, that makes sense. But what it affords them the opportunity to do is use sophisticated software to analyze prescriptively those sales calls and what leads to better outcomes. Because frankly the sales folks sometimes can be a little bit of a skeptical crowd. Everyone's got their way of doing it and they think they know best. And there's some justification in that. Usually if you've been around a long time, you've been successful and you know what you're doing. And so getting people to change their behavior can be hard. And so instead of," Well, hey Dave, I've been doing this a long time. I think I know better than you. You should do this and not that." They can say things like," You need to listen more and talk less." The sales calls where the customer talked 60% of the time or more actually had 25% higher close rates. And here's the data that shows you that, that's a wow moment for a Salesforce sales person that can sometimes cut through the, my opinion is, type coaching that what I think you see a lot. So I think that's a really exciting opportunity.
Devin Reed: I'll just say, David, you said, that doesn't happen anymore, the conventional wisdom once a quarter, I would tell you it's the same in the inside selling world that I came from. The differences instead of a ride along once a quarter, it's conversations you overhear on the pod. Your sales manager walks by maybe he or she sits next to you and" Hey, I heard on the call, you worded it this way." Minding, you're getting half of the conversation and probably missing a lot of the context. So, and a lot of salespeople, they're usually very ambitious, usually very coachable but the part is like you said, getting prescriptive, I don't want coaching that could apply to everyone at the pod or anyone in sales. I want coaching that applies to me in this moment so I can get better. And that's what we've seen obviously work a lot better from the coaching relationship.
David Deming: Absolutely. I think of this, I think of sales as on this journey. I think a generation ago you'd have this image in your brain of the sales cowboy or cowgirl who's out traveling the world, doing deals, all that sort of stuff, and very independent, doing their own thing. And there's still something to that but I think we're on this journey with sales, where people are learning, well wait actually data matters and I can be more prescriptive and I can be more scientific. I think marketing went on this journey a generation ago from mad men style, what does Don Draper think the ad should be? To really scientific and prescriptive notions of testing and learning and iterating and all the things that we've seen with the transition to digital, I think sales is the next frontier for all of that. And it's just going to be a sea change over the next generation and how sales leaders coach their teams, execute their sales processes, everything's going to change.
Sheena Badani: Dave, are you telling me there's going to be amazing TV series that's going to come out with it's love sales leader?
David Deming: I'm angling for my next job is really that is, really what sales is about, Sheena.
Devin Reed: We'll write a screenplay and pitch it's HBO or whatever network maybe Netflix. Well, so I've enjoyed this a lot, David because we've talked about things to be successful in virtual sales, digital footprint, we just talked about coaching. I'm curious if there's anything else that you've seen from your research or experience that's preventing teams from being successful when it comes to virtual selling?
David Deming: Yeah. I think sometimes maybe another piece of advice I give to particularly the more senior sales leaders as an organization is, approach all of this with a little bit of humility. I think all of those folks reach the position that they're at, whatever position they are, VP of a territory or perhaps running an entire service organization, usually because they were pretty darn successful coming up through the ranks within sales. And so they probably have a pretty strong point of view around what it takes to be successful and how it all needs to work. And that's great but I think you just need to recognize that the world is changing and the way that you did it coming up, probably isn't going to be the winning method going forward. And so recognizing that you personally are going to be on a journey as your sales force is on this journey, I think is really important. And just being a bit humble and willing to embrace change and recognize that you might not know everything and there might be new and different ways to approach things. That's maybe a little bit of a softer thing to think about but I think it's really important.
Sheena Badani: I love that. That's such great advice for all of our listeners. So Dave, we end all of our episodes with the same question. So we're going to ask you the same as well, which is, would you describe sales in one word?
Devin Reed: Fun.
Sheena Badani: Ooh, that was quick. I think that was the quickest response we've ever gotten to that question.
Devin Reed: We don't prep it, we don't put it on the dock. We put people on the spot. So that was impressive David. I was going to say that if he says virtual, I would've appreciated the crosstalk.
David Deming: I had to throw you somewhat of a curve ball.
Sheena Badani: That's amazing. Well, Dave, it's been a pleasure to have you on Reveal. Thanks so much for joining us today, virtually and hope to see you soon.
David Deming: All right. Well, thanks guys. This was fun.
Devin Reed: Absolutely. Thanks David.
Sheena Badani: Every week we bring you a micro action, something to think about or an action you can put into play today. No matter when the pandemic ends virtual selling is here to stay. David highlighted that change takes time but building a virtual sales infrastructure generates measurable results. Here are three questions that will help you assess where you are today with your virtual selling capabilities. First, do you have a plan with specific goals? Next, how are you building digital discovery so that customers can easily find, pick and purchase your product? And finally, have you reviewed the tools you currently have in place? Are they providing the data and help needed to execute or more importantly, are they curated for different roles?
Devin Reed: Did you like today's episode? Subscribe now so next week's episode will be waiting for you on Monday.
Sheena Badani: And if you really liked the podcast, please leave a review. Five star reviews go a long way to help get the word out there.
Devin Reed: And if you're not ready to give a five, check out another episode and see if we've won you over by then.
Sheena Badani: And if you have any feedback or you want us to interview one of your favorite revenue leaders, just email us at reveal @ gong. io.