In 2020, 52.8% of salespeople who worked as outside salespeople moved from working in a Delta lounge to working in their home office. Sales teams have made unexpected changes to their processes and movements and are still learning how to adapt today.
As organizations solidify their plans for the new buying landscape, sales leaders adjust to the new normal. Many of the changes that occurred in the past year are likely to remain, and this has major implications for sales teams that have had to return to the drawing board in their sales organization and their sales movements.
Since the landscape has changed so dramatically in the past year, here’s what has changed about the traditional inside sales versus outside sales conversation and how sales build new, digitally enabled teams, no matter where their workspace is set up.
Conference room meeting death
Some field selling architectures are basic, such as conference room meetings and stakeholder meetings. Field delegates bring stakeholders together in one room, where the decision is made between the champion, the president, and the approver. Prior to COVID-19, the conference meeting was won once or twice over the course of a 6-9 month sales cycle, but after COVID, it was not won once or twice because conference rooms are not an option.
Field delegates need the same level of visibility they would have in the conference room without insisting that it looks exactly the same as it once did. And truthfully, buyers never liked the boardroom meeting anyway. The challenge for field delegates is to create and deploy a buyer-friendly process that still gets the job done.
Creating a digital conference room goes beyond Zoom calls. Salespeople need to create systems that allow them to get the visibility they would have if they were in the room. They can identify the people who are not in the room but should be, and create action plans and next steps for stakeholders.
Digital field representatives will develop the ability to manage joint business plans or “close plans” in a digital way. All the same steps that have occurred in this field with spreadsheets sent via email and word documents digitized in real time: information security review, legal review, design review, finalization of financing on return on investment, etc.
Embrace change and shift biases
When it comes to adapting sales teams to the new normal, bias from experience will be the sales leaders’ worst enemy. The book that many veteran actors swear by has now been discarded. The real danger to sales leaders is the belief that they have figured out everything. For teams to succeed today, they must forget their biases and accept change.
For field representatives who become digital field representatives, adapting to digital tools and interacting with the client using these tools will be critical. Buyers are digital native, and frequent asynchronous connections are the norm. Sales leaders who can take on this challenge and play in a digital environment will be more productive than ever before. Investing in tools that allow salespeople to see their territory at a high level as well as engage in real, personal and natural conversations with buyers will be key to making this happen.
Internal sales leaders will need to expand their teams, too. Since many teams are being asked to do more with less, internal sales reps will need to work with bigger deals and get into the multi-stakeholder process. As they expand on deals at the enterprise level, they will learn to manage longer sales cycles and extend to selling more and more complex products, products, and services from within.
Sales leaders of any team, regardless of how it is configured, must ease definitions of standard operating procedures.
Strategic Selling vs. Transactional
Tariffs converged between internal and external selling. However, there is still a distinction closely related to the characteristics of the sales cycle. Many sales leaders continue to think of sales teams as inside versus outside when the conversation turns to strategic (organization) versus transactional selling.
This shift in terminology is significant because although field delegates were working from home, they did not become in-house salespeople. They continue to use their unique and valuable skills to work digitally.
Today’s successful outside salesperson embraces technology and uses the right tools. They have seen and embraced the shift in buying behavior and are using it to their advantage. For teams that can draw on their expertise and expand their tools, they will be ready to take on the challenges ahead.
As sales leaders think about their modern sales teams, it’s important to let go of the idea that the sales landscape will return to normal. The challenges facing many teams will not be solved in the same way as before. Salespeople must choose new digital tools and processes that enable them to interact with customers and their territories in new and innovative ways. And as the rules of engagement continue to change, the winners will be the sales leaders who can adapt first.