Mercuri Mail

The India Journal of Mercuri International Oct - Dec 2019

The Virtues of Virtual Selling

Whoever Said Virtual Selling Requires Internet or Phone?
Must Read
Screen to Screen Selling
How to Avoid the 5 Glitches that can Derail Your Virtual Meetings


Whoever Said Virtual Selling Requires Internet or Phone?

Face to face isn’t the only way to sell

What's your view? (A) "A sale without meeting Customer face to face? Impossible" or (B) "To make a sale happen, you simply sell. Hardly matters whether it’s on phone, video or face to face".

(B) of course, right? Whether you want a quick snack to satisfy a sudden hunger pang or you’re using the festive offers to order a smart phone, in today’s connected and always-on world, all that’s needed is you and a good internet connection. No human intervention or support required except the person who delivers your order to you. Welcome to the world of virtual selling and buying!

Virtual Selling isn’t new at all and goes back to 1490

But if you thought that virtual selling is a post internet, 20th Century innovation, think again. Because, according to business encyclopedias, the first recorded attempt at virtual selling goes back to 1490s, just after Gutenberg’s introduction of the printing press. Aldus Manutius, a merchant from Venice is said to have floated the first known business catalogue offering 15 books by Greek and Latin authors for sale. Later in the US of the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin is believed to have brought the first ever order by mail business to the public. Mail order catalogues planted the first seeds of virtual selling

Forces that drove mail order business

In the 19th Century world, massive rural demand driven by commercial agriculture in most parts of the world couldn’t be met by local stores. Products available in cities and towns were inaccessible to the people living in rural areas. This was a market waiting to be tapped by companies like Sears Roebuck in US and Pryce Jones of UK whose Customer names included Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria! The growth of mail order business was fueled by the expansion of railway lines and willingness of postal services to deliver packages.

It took the arrival of Internet to unseat Mail order business

By early 1900s, three mail order houses had gained dominance of the US market - Sears; Montgomery Ward and Company, and Spiegel, Inc. They were “generating huge profits by offering general merchandise at low prices. They often made their own products and benefited from large-scale advertising and high-quantity sales” according to Reference for Business Encyclopedia. Sears was publishing 532-page catalogues by 1895 and soon the massive lists of Sears came to be known as the Consumer’s Bible. Rapid global industrialization that generated more high-paying jobs, increased free time for shopping and rising wages and disposable incomes added momentum to the growth of mail order business. India’s current day silver generation has nostalgic memories of home exerciser brands like Bullworker that grew their business almost entirely non-face-to-face through advertisements in magazines such as Readers’ Digest

Interestingly, mail order was not just about B2C business alone. A 1902 Sears catalogue featured even wrought anvils meant for special users!

It took the arrival of internet to unseat mail order business from its entrenched position in the non-face-face business. An oft-quoted Google CEB study done a few years ago found that 56 percent of Customer’s buying is done without any serious conversation with any sales rep. The trend is now evident in all business segments.

3 Timeless Sales Lessons from this slice of history

What are the takeaways from this slice of business history? Face to face or virtual, the principles that make sales happen remain unchanged (a) Understand Customer needs accurately (Mail order houses found a market in rural population, unable to access a larger range of goods) (b) Demonstrate tangible value (Mail order catalogues had product descriptions with clearly listed prices) and (c) Create trust (Mail order houses offered money back guarantees)

All of which is true for every business today, from a tiny tech startup to a global manufacturing giant!

You can access more such vintage stories with perennial sales wisdom here.


How to Avoid the 5 Glitches that can Derail Your Virtual Meetings

Meetings follow the Murphy’s law. Whatever can go wrong, most often does. When your Customers are face to face, you can try and recover from meeting flaws. But in a virtual meeting, a glitch can derail it completely.

Writing for Premiere Global Services’ blog, Chelsea Mize, lists 5 ways virtual meeting can go off track:

  1. Technology fails and you don’t have a backup ready – Technology can be capricious and fail without any notice. And that can be disastrous for virtual meetings. The meeting may end abruptly or could go beyond the budgeted time. In both situations, you will have an annoyed Customer to mollify first, abandoning all thoughts of making a sales proposal

How you can prevent this – Have a Plan B ready and share it before hand with the Customer. This way you can smoothly bring the meeting back on track once more

  1. You are unable to engage the audience – A virtual meeting often takes away the advantage of being able to observe your audience’s reactions and body language and modify your communication to keep them engaged. If the audience get disengaged, it is almost impossible to regain initiative in a virtual meeting.

How you can prevent this – “Go out of your way to address individuals by name” says Chelsea Mize “and ask specific questions”. Make sure you seek reactions from participants who seem to be quiet. By doing this you can not only ensure that all participants feel included, you can also prevent chances of their getting distracted and drawn to their smartphones

  1. Unintended misunderstanding creates confusion – With all eye contact and social cues being deprived in virtual meetings, it may not be clear who the speaker is addressing and who is supposed to respond to a query. Result? Unintended misunderstanding and total confusion.

How you can prevent this – Spend some additional time in the initial minutes of the meeting to help everyone match voices and faces. Encouraging participants to address each other by name is also a big help as it then becomes clear who is to speak next

  1. Background noise drowns out meeting discussions – Have you been there in conference calls where one or two participants forgot to put their phones on mute? Or someone was attending the meeting sitting next to a window that opens into a busy street? Or a participant working from home has children running in and out of the room? Background noises are an annoying distraction and when loud, they can drown the discussions altogether.

How you can prevent this – Enduring the noise isn’t a solution as it diminishes the quality of the meeting. Investing in a noise-cancelling, virtual meeting solution is an option. Till such time, gently calling out the participant who seems to be the source of noise to fix the issue is another option

  1. Lack of sensitivity to time zones reduces interaction quality – Virtual meetings can be great to bring together geographically seperated people. Yes, you conquer distance seperation but the time of day isn’t the same for all participants. While meeting virtually, it is possible that the organizers lose sight of the time zones of different participants. Chelsea says – “… if you are forcing your meeting participants to meet late at night or early in the morning, chances are, they aren’t going to be very engaged in what you have to say”

How you can prevent this – Take care to check the time zones of the different participants and ensure the meeting isn’t fixed at hours that are odd or difficult for any of the participants

Virtual meetings can save costs massively and quicken decision making. But meticulous and consistent preparation is the key to making virtual meetings succeed

You can read Chelsea Mize’s blog post here

Must Read

Screen to Screen Selling

Can you sell, if you can’t be there?     You can, says Doug Devitre’s book Screen to Screen Selling. Not just that, you can thrive.  Face to face is not such an easy option any more. “Have you ever been stranded at the airport because of weather delay or a mechanical failure?” asks Devitre “Have you cancelled a meeting from severe traffic delays caused by roadside breakdowns?” Familiar challenges in any part of the globe today

Benefits of Screen to Screen    Devitre lists a number of benefits for screen to screen: You increase the number of meetings and Customers met, percentage of sales per meeting, lower number of cancellations, clock faster lead response time, cut down the length of decision cycle and save massively on costs

If that isn’t quite convincing, it is quite possible that your Customers increasingly managed by millennials may demand meeting, negotiating and closing entirely on the screen. That makes a compelling case to master the intricacies of virtual selling. The book shows you how.

4 Benefits areas in all 3 Phases of Selling   It coaches you on how you can use technology to improve Sales, Productivity, Cost Savings, and Customer experience in 3 phases of the sales process: (i) Preparation (ii) Conversation (iii) Follow up

What would it take to make the transition to screen to screen selling?   The book lists the skill set, tool set and mindset requirements. In the mindset area, for example, the author suggests a paradigm shift to complement direct Customer selling with inside sales. Things like talent identification, skill set requirements, systems and tools, and selling process may need rework.

Book brims with Practical Tips, Checklists  The book brims with practical tips and checklists. One good example is the point on Customer’s preferred channels. Just as children today would prefer a note via social media over a traditional text message, your Customers would have their preferences too. “Find out your Customer’s preferred channels of communication. Then place your notes about these in your contact manager for the future” says Devitre

In another interesting tip, Devitre urges – “To remove Screen to Screen awkwardness, ask a really good question and wait patiently for the answer without interruption. Listening actively builds trust and is imperative before you can talk solutions, benefits or features offered”

For yet another high impact suggestion the book quotes Peter Cohan – “Begin your demo by showing the best, most compelling screen or handful of screens. You have to complete this in less than 2 minutes”

Salespeople should cultivate cross-application agility     It is critical for salespeople to cultivate cross-application agility says Devitre. “How quickly can you navigate from one application to the next in order to serve the Customer’s best interests and increase overall satisfaction in the sales process?” he asks

A Do It Yourself Manual on Screen to Screen Selling  The book is strongly biased towards action. Each section under the 3 phases of on-screen selling are all divided into specific action areas under which the author offers checklists, suggestions that can be actioned and pitfalls to avoid.

The book could be your Do It Yourself Manual for introducing and implementing Screen to Screen Selling

Usable Excerpt:

Prepare ‘Save Lines”    Save lines are what you say when something goes wrong … The professional will use save lines … to minimize the disruption or impact of the unforeseen dilemma

Following are some common problems that arise in Screen to Screen meetings and some save lines for you to use when you experience these problems:

  • Slow Internet connection: “I’m waiting for the government to pass the tax bill in order to fund high-speed Internet in my area.”
  • Customer unable to join the meeting: “There is this new technology called the phone. We can try that, but I don’t have a manual to use it.”
  • Text on screen too small to read: “Oh, by the way, did I send you the magnifying glass in the mail, so you can read what I’m sharing?”
  • Delay in loading programs and documents: “Do you remember the Jeopardy theme song? Sing it with me.”

Action tip: Now that you have an idea what save lines are, how about creating a few of them for your own company’s context for you and your colleagues to use and share?

Ravi's Corner

Virtual is Real
  • Thoughts travel light
  • Emotions bridge distances
  • Connections happen unexplained
  • The world has always been virtual
  • Wishes that build confidence
  • Prayers that generate hope
  • Love that touches heart
  • The world has always been virtual
  • Needs which complement
  • Conversations which enlighten
  • Intents which synergise
  • The world has always been virtual
  • Bring the best out of me
  • There is no such thing as distant
  • Let me expand my horizon exponentially
  • And make virtual a reality


  1. “While stores continue to be a very important part of our business, there is no mistaking the fact that the customers' shopping preference, measured by both traffic and sales, continues to move to a virtual experience” - Richard Hayne
  1. “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic” – Seth Godin
  1. “The threat that robots pose to employment is directly proportional to the degree to which we treat human beings like robots” – Gary Hamel
  1. “Understanding a person’s hunger and responding to it is one of the most potent tools you’ll ever discover for getting through to anyone you meet in business or personal life” – Mark Goulston, Author of Just Listen
  1. “You can bring tremendous value to your business, your Customers, and yourself by becoming proficient at bringing new business” – Mike Weinberg in New Sales Simplified
  1. “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers” – Pablo Picasso
  1. “If you don’t listen, you don’t sell anything.” —Carolyn Marland
  1. "Sales is an experiment - there's no right or wrong, just varying degrees of effectiveness. Our job is to constantly seek ways we can increase our effectiveness." - Jill Konrath
  1. "If you want to gain market share at your competitor's expense - look for a Customer that's suffering from too much complexity and simplify it." - Peter Cohan
  1. “My goal in sales is to help my customers see and achieve things they didn’t think were possible.” – Mark Hunter


A Sales Lesson from Seth Godin For Making Virtual Selling Click

It’s an all too familiar process. When sales veterans meet first time prospects, they don’t plunge into business straightaway. After the introductions, smiles and handshakes are all done, they quickly build rapport. They pick a topic of shared interest to get the conversation off to a pleasant start. The city’s traffic woes, cricket scores or air quality index, anything is fair game provided it breaks the ice and gets the Customer to open up.

How does this work in the world of virtual selling? In virtual sales meetings, business begins when you share your screen with the Customer. And, as with face to face meetings, you shouldn’t share the screen before you’ve built rapport. Interact first, sell second says Marketing Guru Seth Godin, recounting the story of his encounter with a vagrant in a parking lot. Here it is …

The panhandler’s* secret

(*A person who stops people in the street and asks them for money)

When there were old-school parking meters in New York, quarters were precious.

One day, I'm walking down the street and a guy comes up to me and says, "Do you have a dollar for four quarters?" He held out his hand with four quarters in it.

Curious, I engaged with him. I took out a dollar bill and took the four quarters.

Then he turned to me and said, "can you spare a quarter?"

What a fascinating interaction.

First, he engaged me. A fair trade, one that perhaps even benefited me, not him.

Now, we have a relationship. Now, he knows I have a quarter (in my hand, even). So, his next request is much more difficult to turn down. If he had just walked up to me and said, "can you spare a quarter," he would have been invisible.

Too often, we close the sale before we even open it.

Interact first, sell second. (From Seth’s Blog)


Mercuri Mail is a thoughtful compilation of meaningful articles drawn from Mercuri India archives, and from timeless management literature. Edited by Jaishankar Balasubramaniam & Sridhar Srinivasan of Mercuri Goldmann (India) Pvt. Ltd. This publication is for private circulation only.; |

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