I know I’m not the first to say how much the pandemic has changed the ways we live, work and play, but I may be the first to acknowledge just how much the pandemic changed the life of a salesperson.
To say this simply, the rules of selling are forever changed. And those who want success, need to embrace it.
Before the pandemic, B2B sales was undeniably a contact sport. Reps’ success was made in-person on the sales call or over a nice meal. Quotas were met after lengthy commutes to customer visits, the establishment of lasting trust through interpersonal relationships, and of course, the formal handshake that sealed the deal.
It was a sellers’ playground, but the pandemic stripped them from the field. Now most leads become contacts and then customers without ever being in the same room - and at least for now, there’s no going back.
Understanding the sellers’ growing pains
Few roles have transformed as much over the past two years as that of the salesperson. In the B2B context, sellers historically relied on forging relationships through in-person interactions. They were used to reading body language, tapping into their intuition and putting in face time to build trust and close deals. While cloud and automation technology turbocharged their success compared to the Rolodex days, the fundamentals of B2B selling remained the same.
Embracing the promise of a digital-first world
Now, salespeople are figuring out how to thrive virtually. According to Gartner, B2B buyers spend just 17% of their time meeting with suppliers when considering a purchase, and when they do meet it’s virtual. The Digital Imperative is upon us. In this world every sales organization will transform from transaction oriented to relationship centered. From selling to guiding. From pitching products to deep listening. From deal value to business outcomes. From intuition based to data driven. The list goes on. Every sales leader has to reimagine their organization to stay ahead in this digital-only buyer centric world.
Yes, the pandemic was a tipping point, but it accelerated a pre-existing shift toward digital transformation in sales. Interestingly, buyer-centric organizations have discovered that the new way of working is often more efficient and preferred by customers. Amid economic uncertainty and a talent shortage, organizations are unlikely to abandon an approach that promises higher productivity, greater agility, lower costs and a better buyer experience.
Five ways to ensure sales reps can win
To thrive in today’s digital world, salespeople need to embrace this new model rather than fight it. For those who transform their strategies, this moment presents an exciting opportunity to be more productive and effective than ever.
Here are five tips for sales reps who want to succeed in today’s B2B marketplace:
1. Go from seller to coach
When customers agree to a 30-minute video call, they don’t want a hard sell — they want someone to help them solve their problems. Being a good salesperson today isn’t about running demos and displaying a price list. Rather, it’s about being a trusted advisor that can coach customers through their journey, and along the way, prove the potential of a product that will help them achieve their goals. In the process, reps have the opportunity to drive business value for their customers and truly form meaningful relationships.
2. Embrace digital
Nostalgia is understandable, but smart reps recognize that the advent of a digital-first or digital-only landscape can be a major asset. Now, they can have ten times as many meetings without spending half their week at airports. They can use those extra hours to truly connect with customers and understand their challenges. Instead of trying to carry past game plans online, develop a digital-first strategy that guides customers through an immersive buying experience.
3. Automate what you can
Many sales reps today still spend a large share of their time on grunt work. Choose technology that allows you to automate rote, time-consuming tasks, like sharing schedule availability, forecasting and compiling data. Deploy self-service bots that can answer buyers’ basic questions and seamlessly hand them off to reps. Automation creates capacity without adding expense and gives sellers more time to do what they do best: exercise intuition, judgment and creativity while interacting with customers.
4. Arm sellers with actionable intelligence
Making connections can sometimes be harder in a digital-first world. That’s why it’s more important than ever to tap technology that equips sales reps with comprehensive intelligence about every buyer’s background, needs and priorities. Understanding prospects and customers in advance can help reps make data-driven decisions and drive sales growth across every channel.
5. Support continuous growth
Most sales reps need coaching on how to do their jobs better in today’s environment. With sales reps now working from anywhere, taking several days off for training is not realistic. At the same time, the landscape is evolving so quickly that reps need constant opportunities for coaching and development. Adopt technology that provides bite-sized, actionable enablement right inside their workflows.
Invest in your sales reps to make buyers happy
The past two years have transformed sales roles as profoundly as did the advent of the internet, and a lot of reps are struggling in the new paradigm. To win in today’s digital-first and digital-only marketplace, organizational leaders must have empathy for their salespeople and invest in the technology they need to remain agile and thrive. The result will not only be more effective sales reps, but also customers who get the delightful buying journey they expect.
So, as we move forward in this new world of selling, I urge you to ask yourself this: is every sales cycle building and strengthening my relationships with my buyers?
If you can’t confidently answer yes, you don’t have a game-winning plan. The facts and stats are on the wall, so it’s up to you to determine if you are going to dismiss buyers’ new needs or if you are going to lean into the changes that are required to give them (and your reps) a rewarding experience.