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Virtual Sales Skills & Challenges: 18 Need-to-Know Stats

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Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

Developing relationships, collaborating online, leading virtual sales conversations, gaining and keeping attention, leveraging technology, making the ROI case, delivering value—these are challenging regardless of the selling and economic environment.

But are they more difficult in a down economy while many sellers are transitioning to virtual sales? Are some sales skills more difficult to apply than others in a virtual environment? Where are sellers succeeding and failing according to buyers today?

To find out, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research conducted a global study of 528 buyers and sellers. Our findings are shared in the Virtual Selling Skills & Challenges report with expert analysis and advice outlined in our new book, Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely.

We share highlights from this report with 18 need-to-know stats below.

Selling in the New Normal

Sales organizations are now conducting more of their sales meetings online. We found a 163% increase, from pre-pandemic to now, in the number of sellers conducting more than half of their sales activities virtually. That’s a major shift in a short amount of time.

According to studies by firms like Bain and McKinsey, virtual sales will continue to be the new normal even when face-to-face is an option.

Virtual selling is here and it’s here to stay. Sellers must adjust to this new normal.

Top 3 Virtual Selling Challenges

The vast majority of sellers (greater than 62%) rated each one of 18 challenges studied as at least somewhat challenging. It’s surprising just how challenging sellers find the new virtual sales environment.

Bubbling to the top of the challenges list:

  1. Gaining buyers' attention and keeping them engaged virtually: 91%
  2. Changing buyers’ points of view on what’s possible or how to solve a problem: 89%
  3. Developing relationships with buyers virtually: 88%

To succeed, you must adopt new virtual sales skills and approaches to overcome these challenges.

Virtual Sales Skills—What’s Important and How Sellers Stack Up

While many factors influence purchase decisions, we asked buyers: When interacting with sellers virtually, what factors have the greatest influence on your purchase decisions?

The top four factors include:

  1. Leading a thorough discovery of my concerns, wants, and needs: 71%
  2. Showing me what’s possible or how to solve a problem: 68%
  3. Listening to me: 68%
  4. Making the return on investment (ROI) case clear to me: 66%

And how are sellers doing in these areas?

Not well.

Consider this:

  • Only 26% of buyers believe sellers are skilled at leading a thorough needs discovery virtually.
  • 34% of buyers report that sellers are skilled at showing them what’s possible or how to solve a problem.
  • 26% of buyers say sellers are competent listeners.
  • Incredibly, a mere 16% of buyers say sellers are very effective at making the ROI case when selling virtually.

The sad truth? Only one to three in 10 sellers do well in the four areas that matter most to buyers.

Top Purchase Decision Factors and Seller Effectiveness


Indeed, there are huge gaps in virtual sales skills across the board (download our Virtual Selling Skills & Challenges report and refer to page 11 for the full list of 15 skills studied).

Common Mistakes Made by Virtual Sellers

Finally, we asked about the mistakes buyers are experiencing. Here are the six most common mistakes, all experienced at least sometimes by more than 80% of buyers:

  1. Experiencing technology problems: 89%
  2. Using poor or no visuals during online meetings: 86%
  3. Not responsive to my question or concerns: 84%
  4. Not prepared: 83%
  5. Lacking presentation skills: 80%
  6. Sending poorly-written emails: 80%

You may look at this list and think, “That’s not me….” Or, “I would never…” Perhaps, but for most people and most sales leaders, these mistakes are too common to ignore. To get a sense of what you need to do well, check yourself against our Virtual Selling Checklist, a handy tool to help you succeed with virtual selling.

Challenges abound when it comes to virtual selling. When you know the challenges, and know which sales skills you need to improve, you can adjust accordingly. Study these 18 stats and think about what you can do differently and how you can improve. Your buyers will thank you for it.

Download: Virtual Selling Skills & Challenges Report
Last Updated September 15, 2020

Topics: Sales Research Virtual Selling