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Virtual Selling during Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented new challenges in the manufacturing industry. We spoke with Darren Pounds, a Sales Engineer at Atlas Copco Compressors UK for South East Midlands, about adapting to virtual selling.

Darren Pounds

Back in March when the lockdown first happened what was your initial reaction as a Sales Engineer whose role involved a lot of face-to-face meetings with clients? 

I was really concerned! After speaking with colleagues that came from a sales background it was evident that many felt the same. We work in an industry where historically selling is best done face to face, or as we thought! And a lot of that sales process is done with a hands-on approach, especially in the infancy stages. First impressions, how you meet and greet, studying the customers body language. Many things went through my mind! How do you overcome this? How can you build that early rapport where you feel you have gained the customers trust? There was a lot to consider as it all happened unexpectedly.

How were you able to adapt from visiting sites to virtual meetings? 

I was open minded and really welcomed any form of contact as I knew it wasn’t just new for me, but it was like this for everyone. My first meeting was good. I was enrolled on a sales course whilst I was furloughed and this took place on Zoom. The host was professional and we had breakout rooms, where we were put into small groups and we all worked well together. It gave me a good insight as to what was going to really become the new ‘norm’. This allowed me to get a real understanding of what would be required of me as a sales engineer going forward. Adapting to virtual meetings was not easy at first but through training and speaking with others I have been able to have many virtual meetings since March.

Having to manage the shift to digital, what has been the best way to communicate with customers and prospects in the current situation? 

I have used several ways. In the infancy stages where most were office bound, using the telephone proved successful. Before the pandemic I mainly used emails to follow up from an earlier phone call, or to clarify something along with arranging meetings. However due to the nature of this business I did find that this method slowed down the communication and sometimes a response just would not be received. Virtual calls have proven to work perfectly well when arranged in advance. I get the customers undivided attention and unlike before where arranging meetings with senior members of staff proved difficult as it was easy for them to be called away at the eleventh hour. LinkedIn has also proved to be a great tool, and I for one am using this more and more often.

What top tips would you be able to offer to others who may be struggling with transitioning to virtual selling? 

For me it was how you interact, and the unknown. Those uncomfortable silences with a new person can be easily overcome when you are face to face. When you're looking at your PC and an unfamiliar face is looking back whilst you’re in the comfort of your own home it can be daunting, but it’s the same for them… I try to remember that you have their undivided attention for the duration of that meeting. So, plan what you want to get from the meeting and try not to deviate so you get the most from it.

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