Sarah joined an outside sales team in September last year. Great candidate, good fit for the position, and a great contributor to the team. Jack joined the sales team 7 years ago, and spent time with Sarah when she first started. Jack spends most of his time out of the office visiting clients around the world. He introduced Sarah to some of their best clients on a trip to Africa late last year. Sarah subsequently took over these accounts and really likes the job. In March 2020, Sarah and Joe were grounded from client visits. They both expected this company policy to be short-term, although there was no reason to think it would be. In fact, Jack , Sarah and the other 20 sales reps have been recently advised that they are permanently grounded in 2020. Sales targets remain the same, but their job has changed.
So how many reps are experiencing the same issues? Who are they?
In Canada, there are over 600,000 sales professionals impacted by Covid-19. Job descriptions vary depending on industry, and client contact methods. Broadly speaking there are 2 types of sales reps - inside sales and outside sales reps. Inside Sales reps complete their sales cycles over the phone or live online with new and existing clients. Outbound reps do the same work, but through client visits. Most companies have a combination of both inside and outside sales teams. Inside sales teams are normally focused on remote clients that are difficult to visit, or smaller clients that require frequent contact. Outside Sales Teams tend to be territory based, and are usually focused on larger accounts that expect frequent visits in the territory. Having both teams actively selling and servicing clients normally provides the right level of sales/service coverage to meet sales targets.
How are things changing?
Covid-19 has changed the previously proven sales models of many companies. Existing and new clients are not prepared to meet sales reps face to face. In addition, clients are more difficult to reach by phone. Unanswered phone calls are piling up and ghosting as a client tactic has frustrated reps trying to meet their sales targets. Online screen sharing technology is helping, but both reps and clients are fumbling their way along trying to find the right sales and purchase approach. Essential services and products still have high client demand, while non-essential products/services are being sidelined or mothballed. Products that support online purchase experiences are doing well. Some retailers are doing well with the pent- up consumer demand for in-store shopping. Consumers want to go out, and mostly because they can! Business to business selling is difficult for new account acquisitions, while existing clients are more likely to do business with suppliers they have had previous relationships with.
So what's next?
Well, this all depends...The world is going into a recession. Typically this doesn't bode well for the sales profession. However, these are not typical times. There will be winners and losers when the dust settles.
Who are the winners?
Companies who sell essential services to business and consumers. But don't be fooled into thinking that 'essential' has a classic definition. Quite to the contrary. In fact, companies like E-Bay who have recently sold their world online-classified business for more than $9 billion dollars is a great example of a winner. Kijiji Autos (E-Bay Company) has recently released a study showing that online shopping is on the rise. Car Dealers see their service as essential. Canadian Tire, Wall Mart and other large retailers felt the initial impact of the pandemic but have appeared to bounce back. Essential products and services also require a supply chain that is working and properly capitalized. Sales Teams bridge an important gap between the client and the company and are vital to the company's survival especially with more complex sales cycles.
Who are the losers?
Client facing industries like Restaurants, Theaters, hotels and service industries that require large groups of people to make them profitable. Entertainers are particularly vulnerable given that music sharing apps have de-valued their intellectual property, and the pandemic is stripping away their live performance profits. Consultants, trainers, Key Note Speakers and many other business support professionals fall into this widening client-facing chasm as well. So, is all lost for these groups? No-you are only a loser if you do the same things and expect different results. All these industries did well before the pandemic because they served the needs of their clients. Many of these 'loser industries' are now reinventing themselves. We are seeing a surge of innovation fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit. Sales Professionals representing these industries are more critical today than at any other time in history! Why? In a social distancing world now competing for a customer's online attention, sales reps have a competitive advantage. They know the customers. They can talk to customers. They can help their companies redefine a new value proposition.
My crystal ball?
I believe all companies need to rethink their Go-To-Market Sales Strategies. Experienced business to business sales reps have always provided valuable client insights. These reps need to remain on the front-line as an ambassador between the client and company. Their client relationships are critical. Reps need to embrace the changes, get over the frequent flyer programs, and settle in for next 2 years with the 'new sales rep normal'. Sales Leaders need to lean on the reps for help in bridging client relationships, and find ways to measure success that the rep, the leader and the company agree makes sense. Sales is one KPI, but there are others.
This jungle is uncharted. Many of our most successful clients have developed a new Sales Playbook built on a new set of go-to-market sales strategies. By working with your sales team and their clients, a new sales playbook emerges with best practices that increases client and rep satisfaction. More importantly, it builds new sales and sales leadership skills right-sized for 2020.
Remember, we are not defined by 'what happens to us', but by 'how we react to it.' Give us a call, visit our website or send me an email.
Paul Kidston, MBA, CSP, CSL, ICD.D
Managing Partner, Sales Training Experts/SalesPerson Assessment