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Screen Time: Virtual Selling Is Your Ticket to Sales Success

After nearly two years of pandemic-prodded digitalization, virtual sales proficiency presents an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
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screen time: virtual selling is your ticket to sales sucess

Time to get over your Zoom fatigue. If you thought that selling insurance virtually was a temporary detour during the coronavirus pandemic, you have another thing coming—if you want to gain a competitive edge, that is.

For Daschle Larsen (pictured left), risk executive and principal of McKinneyOlson Insurance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, his agency began selling virtually before the pandemic.

“We started implementing a virtual selling strategy as a competitive advantage in our area a few years back," Larsen says. “When COVID-19 forced the remote and virtual discussions, we were already efficient in the space and were able to continue to hit the ground running."

“We started sending prerecorded videos to prospects, as well as existing clients," he continues. “And we do reviews over Zoom with existing clients—and prospects if they're open to it."

After nearly two years of pandemic-prodded digitalization, virtual sales proficiency presents an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

“There is an ability to outplay the competition here," says Dave Shaby, co-author of “Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely" and chief operating officer of RAIN Group. “Our research suggests that most people are not great at virtual selling. But if you can improve, you can widen that gap."

And agencies who commit to the virtual sales process will be the frontrunners as the industry seeks to catch up to customer expectations. “We live in a digital age, so insureds are more open to the virtual process," Larsen agrees. “Expand that client base by giving them what they want and need."

Setting the Scene

Consumer behavioral shifts prompted ALLCHOICE Insurance in Clemmons, North Carolina, to center its sales strategy around the virtual medium—a leap the agency had also taken before the pandemic.

“Five or six years ago, we'd gotten to the point in the iteration of insurance selling when no one wanted to come to the office to discuss a quote," recalls Jack Wingate, founder and CEO at ALLCHOICE. “It turned into, 'Hey, I'm going to email you this proposal and then I'm going to call you,'—virtual selling 1.0, if you will—and there was a lot lost in translation."

“We would start only talking about pricing because what we lost was the kitchen table," Wingate explains. If an agent can sit down across from someone as if they were together at a kitchen table and walk through the policy and coverage, the conversation is driven by relationship, he says. “But if all I'm doing is sending a PDF, the prospect only looks at the price—and then that number is the only thing that matters."

To add the all-important kitchen table back to the equation, “we started honing in on video proposals, virtual selling 2.0," Wingate says. “That allows us to change the conversation to what really matters to the buyer, which is the coverage."

“We'll pull the quote, analyze it, and then record a video walking through the coverage for the client," says Jared Bellmund, managing partner at ALLCHOICE. “I got an email this week from a guy who was blown away that I spent 10 minutes putting together a video answering a bunch of his questions. It allows us to be advisers again."

Commercial Break

Where virtual selling really shines, though, is commercial lines. Approximately 70%-80% of business-to-business decision-makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service, according to McKinsey & Company.

Chris Langille, founder and lead support of Advisor Evolved, an InsurTech company that provides agencies with marketing and sales resources, has observed agents' success with the company's QuoteVids video tool in commercial sales. “We get feedback all the time about how folks closed a huge account and the only thing they did differently than the other broker was send the client videos," he says.

ALLCHOICE has focused on commercial lines for their virtual selling 3.0 discussions over virtual platforms. “Personal lines are more transactional and consumer-based, and many people expect that commodified product until they get our video proposal—and that does bring a huge change in their experience," Bellmund says. “But with commercial lines, I have done a full meeting with commercial clients in Microsoft Teams three or four times now." 

In addition to meeting customers' needs and increasing a competitive edge, virtual sales “has allowed us to expand our footprint geographically," Larsen says. “We're based in South Dakota, but our core states are really South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Now that we can prospect digitally with either prerecorded videos or live Zoom calls, there's no limit to our reach."

Further, virtual selling saves time. “Before, someone would have to spend so much time either on the road or in airports," Shaby says. “Now, most people report that they can be more productive and have more time to focus on outreach, prospecting and research."

Additionally, since agents often hear the same questions over the years, “we just go ahead and pre-answer those questions we know they'll have," Wingate says. “You look like a genius, but realistically you've just saved yourself time."

Roll Film

What's the catch? Why haven't more agencies picked up virtual sales?

Virtual selling is often perceived as different from in-person sales, which can be intimidating, Wingate says. “Agents have made good business in the past, and they look at virtual selling as something different than what they've done before," he explains. “But it's not. The medium has just changed. All you've done is implement a few pieces of technology. Virtual selling is just selling."

Here are eight steps to implement virtual selling in your agency:

1) It doesn't have to be all virtual. Virtual sales isn't just relegated to emergency lockdown mode—it's the next selling model, and the long-term implementation can be combined with more traditional prospecting.

“My first touch is normally not virtual—in fact, probably only 20% of my sales come from online," Bellmund says. “I am out in the community shaking hands, and then I transition them to the virtual process."

The optimized sales workflow allows ALLCHOICE to get the best of both worlds. “Understand your funnel and how to incorporate people into your process," Bellmund says. “We've put a lot of work into our virtual process—it's all about figuring out ways to transition people into the funnel."

2) Give up on silver bullets. A plethora of tools exist—for instance, ALLCHOICE uses customer relationship management software Keap to move prospects through the sales pipeline via automatically triggered messages—but at the end of the day, it's about pressing the record button.

“I used to put a link to a YouTube video in an email and say, 'Hey, watch this,'" Bellmund says. “The automation and tools are nice, but you don't have to buy a new software to do virtual selling."

3) Prepare with virtual in mind. “In addition to all the things you need to prepare for if you were selling in-person—knowing your clients, understanding their needs, how you meet those needs—the virtual sales process also means you need to consider technical glitches when you are trying to accomplish those goals," Larsen says. “I always find it helpful to do a trial run."

“A lot of buyers report that the virtual meeting itself is generally disappointing when it comes to technology mishaps," Shaby says. “Make sure you take care of all the things that you can control in your presentation."

4) Perfection is the enemy of the good. “People feel like they need to be polished," Wingate says. But what's more important is being authentic, especially when it comes to prerecorded videos. The temptation to come up with a manicured production should be avoided.

“If someone were sitting in your office, you can't stop and start," Bellmund says. “If you can have a real-time 45-minute meeting, you can do a 10-minute explainer video. You're going to have to pause or check your notes, and that's okay. It should just be like you're sitting across the kitchen table from the client."

“The first time you do something, it'll be worse than the second and third time," Wingate adds. “Just try something."

5) Focus on collaboration. “The biggest advantage of virtual selling is the ability to collaborate with a buyer," Shaby says. “Your virtual toolkit, from annotation software to even just sharing your screen, makes everything a collaborative exercise."

That's different from in-person selling. “Imagine if you walked into an in-person meeting, whipped out a piece of paper and started writing things down," Shaby continues. “People wouldn't like that. They want eye contact and visual engagement. But in a virtual setting, you have some license to annotate and post things, because you're both looking at a screen. Fill in the blanks together."

6) Make the return on investment (ROI) crystal clear. While researching “Virtual Selling," Shaby asked buyers what the biggest gap in sales skills is. “It's the ability to create a compelling ROI case," he says. “The ROI case is really hard to make virtually, to bring home those tangible benefits. That's why you have to collaborate."

7) Be positive. “A big part of sales is the five senses, and you're obviously missing a lot of things when you're not in the same room," Langille says. “They can't see your body language, they can't fully grasp your mood. Go the extra mile to smile."

“In person, they're forced to sit there and interact with you," he adds. “That's not the case in a virtual setting."

8) Stay committed. “Most people are too quick to give up on a new concept if it doesn't bear fruit right away," Larsen says. “We're going to continue to implement virtual sales at our agency, and new tools are always being developed."

“I'm curious to see what the next resource will be," he says. “How do we strategically implement that into our business practice?"

AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.

YAC in the Spotlight

Involvement with the Young Agents Committee (YAC) of the Independent Insurance Agents of South Dakota (IIASD) has been instrumental in advancing his insurance career, Larsen says.

“YAC involvement on a state and national level not only allowed me to discuss my personal experiences with my peers, but early in my insurance career, it also gave me access to more tenured insurance professionals who shared their experiences with me," he says.

One piece of sales advice he gleaned was “'Be yourself and do it the right way," Larsen says. “It sounds cliché, but it has been something I have tried to abide by my whole career."

In addition, “YAC provides a more relaxed setting outside of the office walls to develop a rapport with underwriters, marketing reps and company executives," Larsen says. “Through those additional interactions, many of our carrier contacts have become not only agency partners but also close friends."—AM

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Friday, January 7, 2022
Sales & Marketing