The future of sales in a post COVID-19 world

Sales & Growth

153 days ago, on January 1, 2020, we couldn’t have imagined this. All of this. A global pandemic like we’ve never lived through.

And yet, here we are, in a world where we’ve adapted remarkably quickly, using tools that we were vaguely familiar with to stay in touch and run our business and unsure of when we will find out what the new normal is going to be.

We are asking the question as owners and sales teams about how we will work in the near future, and how sales and growth will happen in what is likely going to be a very different situation.

How much of this change is going to be long-term and do we simply go back to the structures, tools and approaches that we were using a few short months ago?

The answers to these questions are complicated and filled with guesswork, but it does appear that we’ve made some shifts that businesses and customers expect to be long lasting and there’s a real opportunity for thriving companies to strongly differentiate.

Sales is still sales—the transfer of value in a product for the return of money in a transaction. That boring description describes how sales has always worked and although it’s true we’ve changed sales dramatically before the pandemic and changes will continue.

In fact, change will escalate because we’ve now experienced just how effective working remotely, working differently, can be. Even as these changes occurred there were some fundamental challenges that salespeople and teams were fighting through—and we should look at how we can help sales organizations improve while providing prospects and customers with the value they feel they should get from the sales and marketing process.

Taking a step back from this evolutionary change we have a chance to decide what problems we need to resolve. There are several fundamental issues that have escalated over the past two decades and data from companies like Hubspot and Pew Research have shown some key areas that we can address, and use this crisis as the opportunity to do so:

Sales teams have become less productive, pipelines have been eroding and the number of salespeople hitting targets has reduced over the past 5 years.

This is in conjunction with a decrease of time spent directly with prospects, down to 39% of the average salesperson’s time—a 5% drop in the past 5 years. Along that timeline the amount of time that salesperson spends answering emails has escalated to 28% and searching for relevant content has increased to 19%.It is not a surprise that as time with prospective buyers decreases and administrative tasks increase we find that sales results also decrease.

Everything is quicker and is expected to be nearly instantaneous.

Time spent assembling content or looking for an answer for a prospect is a problem if a competitor is working in real-time and you are not. Personalized information and content is key to being relevant and timely for prospective customers.

We are meeting prospects virtually now and there is a growing comfort with that.

At the same time, prospects fully expect to learn about our solutions digitally, without our assistance. As salespeople we no longer control the narrative and that’s a key difference. We no longer have the luxury of booking meetings weeks or even days in advance to have those discussions. If your digital presence is not meeting the need for instant information you are being ignored in the buying cycle.

The buying process has changed dramatically over the past decade to the detriment of traditional sales teams.

The first contact with vendors has moved well down the timeline and salespeoples are learning about buyers much later in the process (Pew Research says about 40% of the buying journey later from initial contact at 30% in 2008, to 70% completion of the sales journey today before that first contact happens) and that means two bad things.First, it’s too late to build relationships and understand client needs and second as a seller you have no idea how often you are being dismissed in that buying journey before you even know the prospect is looking. And that is all about useful digital presence. We discussed that awareness gap as the “red arrow” of time lost in the sales process—and that is the biggest issue that needs to, and can be addressed.

The key to being digitally relevant and getting back to prospect awareness earlier in the process requires a major change in how we collaborate.

There is huge value in sales and marketing working together in the role of SMarketing—a combined organic growth engine for a business. This requires a change in how we see, deploy and reward marketing as a revenue-generation team.

We no longer have the luxury of considering leads handed-off as the only measure for marketing groups. Everyone has to work together, achieve together and be rewarded together:

  • Creation of useful, personalizable, and relevant content that is heavily dependent on video and imagery is necessary. If it does not stand out in a few seconds you’re going to be scrolled past.
  • A marketing and sales technology stack that resolves real world issues is required. Knowing who is accessing information and developing means of providing information in a way that keeps your business and products relevant has almost nothing to do with traditional collateral and media. It’s all about what questions you are answering and how the customer can tailor their experience.

Planning is critical and metrics against performance must be easily tracked while reducing the administrative loads on sales teams.

The required technology needs to support the salesperson first, the marketer second and the manager last. The solution needs to provide data as a result of what the salesperson does during a sales process and it should not be designed to first feed rigid processes, data demands and reporting requirements internally.

Plans should be provided for individuals, teams, products and companies.  The plans should be simple and easy to track, review and update as opportunities arise. The planning process should support the flexibility and agility we need to build into the growth side of our businesses.

There’s no shortage of supporting tools in the sales space. Pair a strong digital tool with ongoing training, coaching and human to human support to keep salespeople aware of solutions and strategies, and alert for the opportunities that would move the business forward rapidly.

Sales will change post COVID-19 in those businesses that recognize the value of investing in productive, informed sales and marketing teams, with tools that allow them to reach further back in the customer’s buying journey to become recognized as a solution that merits attention.

Dave Cavan

Dave Cavan

SALES & GROWTH

Dave Cavan is a life-long believer that taking positive action is the best way to turn challenges into opportunities. He loves working with small and medium businesses, helping them grow their topline revenue.

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