It has been said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. So how do you succeed when —because of the pandemic — you can’t show up?
While this is a dilemma that workers worldwide have had to face, it seems that it would be particularly harrowing for salespeople, a profession ostensibly synonymous with personal presence.
For many, the typical salesperson is the field sales rep, an extrovert who is constantly on the go, pitching prospects or visiting clients. This stereotype is apparently outmoded. Even long before the Covid-19 pandemic, for every field sales rep hired, there were 10 remote sales reps being brought onboard, according to the sales software developer Salesloft.
Now, in the midst of the health crisis, a McKinsey analysis of business-to-business sales internationally found that more than 75 percent of buyers and sellers say they prefer digital to in-person interactions, a trend that has increased even after the end of lockdowns.
Only 20 percent of buyers want to return to in-person sales, even in sectors that are traditionally served by field reps, like pharmaceuticals and medical products, the management-consulting firm found.
Not just for small purchases anymore
In the past, e-commerce was seen as the realm of small, low-cost purchases. Crucially, McKinsey found that customers are now willing to purchase big-ticket items either through self-serve digital platforms or remote sales reps.
Seventy percent of B2B decision-makers would make purchases of more than $50,000 through these new methods, and 27 percent would be open to spending more than $500,000, according to the study.
“B2B decision-makers globally say that online and remote selling is as effective as in-person engagement, or even more so — and they’re not just talking about selling to warm leads,” the report said.
Sellers are saying that digital prospecting — pitching to new customers — is equally or more effective than in-person meetings.
Videoconferencing tools are a salesperson’s best friend
Videoconferencing and live chat are the two breakout technologies that are enabling remote B2B prospecting during the health crisis. The McKinsey report states that in-person sales meetings have plunged 52 percent since the start of the pandemic, while videoconferencing and online chat increased 41 and 23 percent, respectively.
That has translated to a surge in revenue generated by these two technologies since the start of the pandemic: 69 percent for videoconferencing and 31 percent for online chat, McKinsey said.
This is no surprise to Scott Edinger, the founder of Tampa, Fla.-based Edinger Consulting, who works with senior executives to drive revenue growth.
“The pandemic is really the water that found the cracks in the dam,” he said. Before the pandemic, “companies could get by with great products and services alone. It’s not enough anymore.”
He believes the sales experience must be primary in a company’s thinking, and that it can be beneficial to both the client and the seller, helping to shape customer expectations and create opportunities for the seller.
Both aims are made easier because of the videoconferencing software that the pandemic made ubiquitous and widely accepted, he says.
Adding value to the sales experience
Videoconferencing software such as Zoom makes getting multiple people together much easier — and makes it much more likely that those people will meet earlier in the sales process, Edinger says.
Before the pandemic, scheduling an in-person meeting might take weeks and could involve extensive (and expensive) travel. Now, scheduling is easier and travel has become unnecessary.
These facts make two things possible, Edinger says: sellers can bring their technical and subject-matter experts into the sales process cost-effectively early on, and access to the executives on the client side who ultimately make the decision can happen more easily and earlier.
Getting decision-makers and experts together promptly can generate discussions on topics the client may not have considered or simply allow experts to provide insight into the client’s situation, he says, adding that the client may then decide to make a larger investment than originally envisioned.
“These [insights provided by experts] are very valuable to customers, especially when what the sales team is selling is sophisticated, complicated or requires a lot of customization or implementation” such as enterprise resource planning systems, big technology implementations or sophisticated approaches to insurance, Edinger said.
Businesses are not seizing the opportunity the pandemic presents if they are simply making more calls or doing more Zoom meetings than before, he adds.
Instead, it is an opportunity to “rethink [the sales experience] from the initial contact to contract. Where’s the value, where’s the insight … and how do we use our resources … to help the customer see things they hadn’t seen?” Edinger noted.
Remote sales: a boon for productivity
Remote sales not only provide safety (amid social-distancing protocols) and unexpected opportunities, but they can also boost sellers’ productivity.
Jeroen Corthout, co-founder of Salesflare, a customer-relationship-management platform, notes in a company blog that a typical field salesperson wastes a lot of time that a remote sales model can help recover.
“A lot of the time we’d normally spend moving around, getting coffee, waiting for something or someone, exchanging pleasantries … could all of a sudden be reduced to a minimum,” he said.
Corthout used to go on the road and see four prospects a day, at the most, he says. When he switched to remote sales, he was able to quadruple his sales capacity.
He has reduced his email volume by booking meetings through a scheduling link, as he no longer needs to calculate traffic and transit times, Corthout says. In addition, he can switch easily between sales conversations and other work since all are done from his computer.
At the same time, Corthout has become more connected with his team because he is spending less time on the road.
Edinger of Edinger Consulting says that his own approach to sales has changed forever.
“I will never travel again just to meet somebody to consider an engagement,” he said of pitch meetings. He cites the “time, expense, hassle, being away from my family” as things that can be avoided with videoconferencing.
He points out that in the past, big companies would spend millions of dollars on outreach to potential prospects.
“That has become much more efficient” through remote sales, he said.