Why Companies Need To Rethink Their Sales Approach In a COVID-19 World

The transition to purely digital-based sales has seen many organizations struggle to remain relevant

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Five years ago, Forrester released a report titled ‘Death of a (B2B) Salesman’ foreshadowing that 22 per cent of business-to-business (B2B) sales professionals would be made redundant by 2020.

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Pre-COVID-19, Forrester attributed this bold prediction to the rise of ‘self-serve e-commerce,’ a phrase used to describe the proactive and self-educated mindset of the modern buyer.

Fast-forward through the world’s biggest public health and economic crisis in modern history, and the slow death of the traditional B2B salesperson is accelerating rapidly, spurred on by several variables beyond increasingly discerning buyers.

As the world went into lockdown, virtual channels became the only point of access for salespeople to connect with already disconnected buyers. The transition to purely digital-based sales has seen many organizations struggle to remain relevant, with just as many experienced salespeople left questioning their role within the ‘new normal’ business landscape.

Best practice sales execution is now more holistic, requiring a rethink of the vendor to customer relationship, as well as the end-to-end and omnichannel customer experience. More than just sales jargon, these practices are fundamental to engaging buyers who already seem to know-it-all.

Despite the writing on the wall, more companies and sales talent are yet to adapt to the changes COVID-19 has enabled in customer service, automation and technology. Here are four reasons why companies need to rethink their approach to sales to avoid the B2B sales function becoming redundant.

Preaching to the proactive buyer

The world’s most successful companies all have one thing in common: a strong online presence. The modern buyer uses this to their advantage, analysing everything from customer reviews, native content, LinkedIn profiles and media coverage to determine brand-fit, solution-fit and to mitigate risk.

According to research by Salesforce and Publicis Sapient, nowadays, 87 per cent of buyers start their search online, presenting a unique challenge for sales teams to form connections with buyers who are empowered to explore markets saturated in choice.

The way vendors sell their products into target markets has been turned upside down, with information parity as the critical driver behind the changing buyer and seller dynamic. When buyers can readily access information and solve their own problems, the role of the salesperson becomes vastly different.

When buyers change their behaviour, vendors must adapt.

Outdated brute force sales models that relied on interruptive-push models and scattergun approaches are ineffective with educated and informed prospects. Sales teams must now create a new model reliant on customer-pull, over vendor-push.

Goodbye hand-holding, hello self-serve

Over the past several years, large technology vendors including Microsoft, Oracle and IBM have redirected talent and investment towards virtual selling practices or ‘inside sales’, customer success and sales enablement (SE) models to meet the evolving needs and expectations of buyers and corporate decision-makers. 

COVID-19 has cemented this shift to a more holistic, digital sales funnel, harnessing several levers that support and inform the sales process rather than relying on face-to-face interaction for conversion. Sales success now hinges on engaging and educating buyers where they reside: online. This requires a whole new set of soft skills to garner attention, initiate conversations and nurture online relationships.

The shift away from ‘heavy touch’ sales roles towards buyer self-serve processes (or ‘light touch’) are supported by more innovative and creative sales functions, indicating that the B2B salesperson is in fact not dead, however their role has been augmented to support new light-touch techniques, which can dramatically reduce the cost of customer acquisition (CoCA). 

Buyers are ghosting salespeople

‘Ghosting’ is a millennial term used to describe the practice of cutting off all communication, or in sales-speak, ‘blocking’ traditional vendor outreach like emails and phone calls.

With so many companies vying for buyers’ attention, ‘ghosting’ is on the rise, making it even harder for salespeople to get a ‘seat at the table.’ The statistics say it all: 99 per cent of cold calls are unsuccessful; 92 per cent of buyers delete emails or voice messages from strangers; and 3 per cent of unsolicited sales emails are successful, and 76 per cent are unopened.

Entrepreneurs and salespeople must now be digitally driven, socially connected across multiple platforms, agile and specialized to successfully engage with time-poor and inbox-laden buyers of today.

Outsmarting the smart buyers

Old-school sales techniques were focused mainly on ‘closing’ sales, however in our current digital landscape, ‘opening’ deals has become more important than conversion. You never convert, if you can’t ‘open’.

Generic messaging and blanket marketing jargon simply won’t fly with the modern buyer ‘openings’ must be centred on a tailored narrative that can be carried throughout the sales process. Moreover, every interaction must be personalised to the nth-degree.

Personalization requires proficient use of data and analytics that offer results-driven insights into buyer tastes and preferences. Buyer intent data such as Bombora, and tools such as Datanyze, Zoominfo and Discoverorg are designed to enable salespeople and entrepreneurs to become more sophisticated about how they engage prospects.

In contrast to the old ‘scattergun’ approach, modern salespeople need to narrow their focus and personalize the target’s preferred messaging, platform and timing to see results.

The information and tools are there; salespeople and leaders must now learn to use them to execute a modern sales playbook that matches the buyer journey, building a delightful buying experience (BX)  across every touchpoint. When leveraged effectively, this instils loyalty in customers who not only repeat purchase, but become walking brand ambassadors for your organisation: the Holy Grail of sales.

Graham Hawkins

Written By

Graham Hawkins is a globally recognized futurist, author and international key-note speaker specializing in the rapidly shifting world of B2B sales and marketing.

Hawkins was awarded LinkedIn Top Voice in 2018 and is regularly voted in the Top 50 Global Sales Thought Leaders. Hawkins has authored two books, the most recent is an Amazon bestseller.