Since the end of March, we have had the same discussion several times. The discussion keys in on two questions:
There are different opinions on answering these questions. To get to our answer, we need to look at the trends before and during the COVID-19 crisis.
We have been going through a transition in B2B selling for over a decade. Part of the drive to change comes from customers' acceptance of new technology. The change is also driven by the expanded roles of digital marketing and inside sales.
Government lockdowns forced the immediate transition of field sales into inside sales. Teams that had a distributed sales force had an easier time adapting. Many salespeople were already working from their home office or were mobile. But centralized sales teams often needed to become more mobile and set up at home.
Surveys with procurement respondents, since the beginning of the crisis, pointed to a longer-term sales approach issue. Easy, in-person access to customers will be difficult for the foreseeable future. Even as the lockdowns end, many customers will continue to work from home. Home-based customer decision-makers will greatly reduce on-site sales visits. Additionally, trade shows will likely not be a topic until after the pandemic crisis is past. Considering less in-person contact, sales teams will need to re-think their approach. Our view of the current state of sales, during the crisis, is:
Both customers and sellers have expressed more caution in changing strategic relationships. Customers are very concerned about supply chain suppliers and existing sources. Sellers express concern about long-standing relationships. Thus, we will keep Strategic Account Management out of this assessment.
The transition of the traditional sales role is inevitable. The pandemic crisis will only speed up the change. Some companies are already moving field salespeople to more of an office-based salesperson.
The traditional role of a salesperson will change. Companies should assess the situation and consider a pivot early. Companies should install a more situation-adapted approach. The new sales approach should include combining aspects of digital marketing and data science. In-person sales should check how they add value to the customer. The traditional salesperson should be able to be effective both in-person and through digital channels.