Engaging in person may have been the go-to sales tactic for decades, but COVID-19 has amplified what many in the industry have felt for years: Buyers and sellers want a digital and remote experience. No office drop-by, conference room pitch, or long dinner necessary. But it doesn’t just check the social distancing box. Adapting to an online sales structure makes for easier scheduling, cuts travel expenses, and can often be more efficient. And there’s no looking back.
According to an October 2020 McKinsey survey, more than 90% of buyers expect to continue with a remote or digital model even after COVID-19, and only 20–30% of buyers want to “ever interact with reps.”
Those kinds of numbers prove just how disconnected much of the industry is from the zeitgeist, explains InterimExecs RED Team executive, Philippe Lavie, who specializes in sales transformation and helps high growth companies more effectively plan, accelerate, and manage their revenue growth.
According to Lavie, selling in 2021 (and beyond) calls for a deeper understanding of the buyer, the seller, and just how drastically the marketplace has evolved.
Here, he dissects the four critical ways inside sales teams need to change in order to stay afloat and succeed in our new normal.
Become a Resource for More Self-Reliant Buyers
“The drive by, ‘Oh hey, I’m in the area for a territory manager,’ ain’t happening no more,” Lavie says. “That’s done.” COVID-19 forced many businesses to cut off access to facilities and offices, which has meant less of the back-and-forth a sales team might be used to. Buyers are now having to assess what their own needs are head-on, rather than listening to a pitch or page through a deck.
But just because that one-on-one time is lost doesn’t mean you still can’t be a resource, Lavie says. You can and must remain critical to their decision-making by helping them review their buying journey up to that point, help determine if their preferred solution is adequate to help them achieve their goals or resolve their challenges, and further help pinpoint other pain areas that the buyer may have overlooked. That means creating, in addition to virtual learning tools, such as webinars, demos, and guidebooks, virtual discovery conversations before any offering prescriptions (solutions) are offered.
“It’s helping buyers identify what is needed for a specific problem or goal they want to achieve,” he says. “It’s been a trend for four or five years already—the ability to develop intimacy with your customers and then advocacy for and with them.”
The turn towards a more self-reliant buyer speaks to a greater emphasis on digitization. Much of the B2B buyer-seller interaction has moved to the remote digital world and will likely stay that way once we’re on the other side of the pandemic. And that means sellers can’t rely on the ways of the past.
Go Digital—and Stay There
It boils down to becoming a thinking partner now more than ever, catering to the buyer’s business and the way they like to do business, namely, online.
“Anybody who’s still picking up the phone is going to have to migrate and move to an online world,” Lavie says. “It’s a huge behavioral and psychological change that needs to occur, and a lot of people are going to be left behind.”
In fact, when surveyed, more than 75% of respondents said they prefer video to phone, whether it’s meetings with coworkers, existing clients, or prospects. (Online chat also trumps in-person meetings but comes behind video conferencing.) The promise of returns is more than optimistic. McKinsey found that in terms of end-to-end digital self-serve and remote interaction, 99% of B2B buyers would feel comfortable making a maximum order value of $50,000 or more, 32% would go up to $500,000, and 15% are willing to go all the way up to $1 million.
Lavie sees a trend towards sellers segregating cut-and-dry transactions from more complex, larger sales. The former calls for a fast, streamlined, user-friendly buying process, while the latter requires more thoughtful mirroring and aligning the seller-buyer interaction at every stage. That means sellers will have to invest more in technology and online solutions and possibly bring in an interim expert who can implement the changes and shepherd the business into a digital-first environment.
But going digital doesn’t just mean having the tools. Lavie stresses the importance of “perspective” selling; the seller has to be better prepared, better equipped, and armed with a deeper understanding and laser focus in order to bring the buyers a perspective they don’t already have. He says they also have to be a master of the digital toolkit, from presentation software to social networking platforms to details like your logo on a Zoom Virtual Background. These visual sales styles—and absolutely no T-shirts on those video calls, he says—are just as important as the information a seller is communicating.
Streamline Your Sales Strategy
Cold-calling may have worked before, but with fewer meetings in the office or over dinner, it’s much more important to develop, groom, and call on your existing client base with whom you’ve built trust and confidence. But even with referral selling, the strategy needs to be targeted, outward-focused, and situational to the decision-maker. A.I. and data analysis will be crucial in making these conversations more effective.
“I don’t need 16 brochures, 22 success stories, and a four-page color glossy from a website,” Lavie says. “I need a specific event- or challenge-driven campaign, so that when the right time comes, the buyer can pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’m interested now. Let’s start talking.’ It’s very different from what it was before.”
That theme of specificity and brevity hinges on how much you’re selling, too. Standardizing SKUs—somewhere between Amazon and bespoke inventory, he suggests—is also pivotal in thinking for your seller. It’s the classic adage of less is more.
“Sellers have to streamline so they can build foundational product out of which, with minimum additional customization, they can go and sell to the marketplace.”
Plan for the Next Problem(s)
The two biggest industry-wide shifts—digital fluency and perspective selling—set the groundwork for a whole lot more planning than sales teams have ever encountered. With COVID-19, an abstract situation suddenly became very real. The new normal is anticipating what’s next and having a response to your what-if scenario already mapped out.
Lavie suggests, “What if the coronavirus continues? What if some of my clients need to shut down? What if I lose one or two segments of my distribution? What if, what if, what if, which was never part of the sales conversation. And now you see it coming from everywhere, because they don’t have a choice. If I’m a business owner, I’m going to look at my VP of sales and say, ‘Here are the five what-ifs. Go tell me what you want to do about it.’”
InterimExecs RED Team is an elite group of executives who help organizations through turnaround, growth, or absence of leadership. On-demand interim and fractional CSOs are expert at setting and implementing sales strategies and speeding revenue growth. Learn more about InterimExecs RED Team at www.interimexecs.com/red-team or call +1 (847) 849-2800.