Whatever label we choose to hang on our new preferred style of selling, there will be considerable implications for sales management. It is my view that for companies to remain competitive now, their sales organization must be able to respond rapidly and positively to the numerous changing tides post-COVID
As businesses strive to establish a new customer orientation, new sales partnerships and a re-thought strategic approach to selling, they will be demanding more and more from their salespeople, but ensuring that these new methods are widely practiced and smoothly implemented falls to sales management – where else could it possibly fall?
So, what will this brave new sales world look like? Feel like? Be like?
While the role of the order taker salesperson will go the way of the Internet, in the case of the complex sale, for the foreseeable future, the role of the salesperson is secure. There will always be a place for the professional business consultant – the “Top 5% Player.” These people consult more than sell, as they assist their clients in making sound buying decisions.
The ability to gather and analyze data will help salespeople to be more precise in identifying customers and anticipating their needs, so they get to them before those customers get to the market.
In fact, everything will be more precise. I see sales organizations not having a defined sales process, but rather multiple processes for renewals, new business or accounts at risk, etc.
Video calls will be the way of typical sales, and face-to-face will be reserved for major deals and major milestone points in the sale.
What else will a sales organization need to do to survive?
I see two avenues that will be vital – the first is expertise and the second is relationship. The second being the greater challenge.
Expertise is exactly what customers will look for. Customers will spend time with salespeople who they believe will bring them relevant expertise, and who will help them solve their business challenges. In the content era, expertise was product expertise, but it will go far beyond that to business acumen, industry knowledge, company and stakeholder knowledge, and team leverage knowledge and access, etc.
Relationships: Technology has given us so much, but as young people rely more and more on online communication, they are not developing relationship skills such as the ability to read people’s expressions, read body language, or tone of voice. People need to relate, they need to trust and use intuition in making decisions. Research shows emotions are more a factor in decision-making than data. The need to connect is hard wired into people. But my concern is salespeople and customers alike will not have the skills needed to connect. The ability to connect and build relationships will be the big differentiator.
It is the ability to earn trust, which is built on transparency, vulnerability and genuine concern in working with customers to bring value that will help them grow their business. Face-to-face is warmer than phone and video, and both of those are warmer than text. Computers will win out with data, but making emotional connections is the advantage humans bring to the table.
The bar has been raised for sales organizations in how they select and develop their people. Sales coaching and sales tools will be the primary developers. Classroom will be 20% of development at best in the next five years – maybe three. But, frankly, ensuring salespeople have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed will be easy compared to developing relationship skills.
And those challenges for the sales manager?
The trend in industry – post COVID meltdown – of removing layers of management between the sale force and the general manager will present a challenge to those sales managers who remain.
To begin with, they will become an essential link between company strategy and what takes place in the customer’s office. He or she must not only grasp the corporate vision, but be able to communicate it to the sales force in terms of the real effects on sales practices.
Sales managers with an intimate feel for the selling process will succeed, because their staff will regard them as part of the sales team. But coaching the team is as important as playing in it. In other words, sales managers must be prepared to provide training, feedback and support to every individual within the team.
The very best sales managers will engage in frequent coaching and feedback, even when their sales people work in remote locations. While encouraging salespeople to air their problems openly and discuss their concerns, sales managers must be able to offer clear and specific feedback for improving sales performance.
The sales manager will be charged with translating the company’s reward system into specific improvements in sales performance. Both salespeople and corporate managers will count on the sales manager to recognize and reward outstanding achievement – formally and informally.
As competition intensifies, and finally there is a recognition of client loyalty, organizations will base their ‘salesperson of the year’ award on the basis of customer satisfaction or customer retention, rather than sheer volume of orders or activity.
Summary – And Now the Good News
Traditional sales methods will be relegated to the annals of history. The new, more discerning customers of tomorrow will see to that. They will wield greater bargaining power, demand more value for money and become more knowledgeable and professional when it comes to decision-making.
Yet, the key to differentiation lies within these expectations since more complex buying decisions will lead customers to value closer links with their suppliers.