While most await the day when things “get back to normal” following the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be time to realize and accept that they never will, especially in our work lives, and specifically if you happen to be a salesperson.
Depending on who you talk to, the pandemic has either totally changed the sales world, or it has simply accelerated changes that were occurring naturally. But there can be no doubt the pandemic has resulted in a profound shift to remote selling. A McKinsey analysis from July of 2020 revealed that 96 percent of B2B sales teams have gone to remote selling, either full or part time. In addition, 79 percent of B2B companies are likely to continue utilizing remote selling for at least 12 months beyond the pandemic’s end. What shifts should salespeople expect to see around them? What changes should they make themselves to adapt to their new reality?
Pandemic Does Not Change Sales Obstacles
Is there a bright side to such a huge shift to virtual sales meetings? You may think it could bring about increases in efficiency due to fewer office distractions and less small talk. Yet according to research by Forrester, there has been no such change. Pandemic or not, time spent by salespeople on administrative tasks and meeting preparations is still about 63 percent (36 percent on pre-engagement research and 27 percent on internal administrative tasks).
When things stabilize, whether selling remotely or not, sales management will still have to grapple with four traditional obstacles to success: meeting preparations that are time consuming and often ineffective, lack of opportunities for learning and coaching, suboptimal knowledge sharing, and data entry that comes at the expense of selling.
No doubt, it takes a strong management team to finesse a work culture to mitigate these obstacles. It also takes a lot of collaboration. While technology has provided us multiple ways to communicate during the pandemic, there is still a strong need for solutions that provide a structured daily work routine that inculcates learning from past successes and failures.
Embracing Collaboration to Meet Challenges
The lack of a systemized way to realize collaboration as part of a daily work routine means sales teams miss critical opportunities to maximize personal and business growth. Collaborative real-time learning can be installed throughout the sales organization and become the mainstay of improved performance. It comes through the regimented capture and sharing of takeaways from each customer interaction. Team members gain immediate access to what works and what does not, providing a perpetual view of tips and strategies when engaging in a new sales activity and reducing the time spent on meeting preparation and note-taking.
A trend towards embracing collaborative real-time solutions is occurring. Gartner predicts that in two short years, nearly 70 percent of sales teams will rely on collaborative technology as part of their daily work activities. These solutions can integrate with existing tools (e.g. Salesforce) – transforming tedious data entry tasks into timely learning opportunities that can be shared with team members and elevate team performance.
Hanging On to What’s Best About the Water Cooler
Many people familiar with working from home lament the loss of natural opportunities to exchange ideas and knowledge with their co-workers or supervisors. Some of the best ideas are generated via water-cooler chats, impromptu deskside gatherings and after-hours business get-togethers. This is perhaps the most profound effect of COVID-19. These informal collaborations contributed to an environment that fostered understanding and helped turn individual salespeople into a unified, cohesive team.
Collaborative real-time learning allows a sales team to hang on to a learning and sharing culture that has always been needed to succeed in a hastily changing business climate. Who knows when stimulating water cooler chats will again be part of the sales equation? By adopting and then embracing virtual ways to collaborate and learn, salespeople can still enjoy the benefits of teamwork and be able to adapt quickly to meet the next unforeseen challenges of the moment.
The pandemic has made it harder than ever to keep sales teams performing at their best. But there is no reason to be disparaged by this. Sales leaders should view the post-COVID world as a means to foster new approaches. It is possible to entrench new practices that empower their teams to pivot quickly as a hedge against uncertainty. Tools and methods that help sales teams constantly learn and adjust will keep them competitive as the world changes.
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