In early 2020, tens of thousands of sales professionals stepped onto an airplane or set out in their vehicles, on their way to what would turn out to be their last in-person sales meeting of the year.
Never before has there been such a significant change to business-as-usual than when the pandemic closed the doors on face-to-face selling. An industry full of seasoned veterans were suddenly deprived of their ability to travel to customer sites, a tool so useful that it’s been built into their job titles: outside sales.
So with one major tool taken away, can they find another to help fill in the gaps? Some experts believe that pandemic-related changes to the sales process are driving the need for sellers to derive more meaningful data from customers.
According to Frank Heenen, SVP of Sales for Distribution at Epicor Software, this need existed before but the pandemic, perhaps, kicked it into overdrive.
“What the pandemic did was just force more distributors to think differently about how to work with their customers and prospects,” explains Heenen. “Now more than ever you need a central system to manage your sales cycles and processes.”
So instead of bemoaning the need to alter their strategy, distributors can view this as an opportunity to integrate certain technology solutions into their process in order to help streamline their efforts.
“There’s so much more competition online than ever before, and it changes the way successful distributors need to operate,” adds Heenan. “Distributors that want to compete need to know more about their buyers. You need to know the account and their habits and their business and what interactions you’ve had with them. You need to know what your service levels have been with that account. What their transaction history looks like. What open orders are out there, or what quotes you’re waiting on.”
Heenen says the bottom line is that distributors can use this time to lean on their CRM systems. “The pandemic has shifted so much more buying to online – it’s increased competition so much – that distributors need an accessible CRM with data about their accounts they can actually use to make fast decisions –about pricing, or recurring revenue, or service opportunities, or any other opportunities that may exist with your accounts,” he says. “It’s not going to be possible to keep the business you had without better tools for accessing customer data in a meaningful way – and quickly, whenever you need it, wherever you are.”
Raj Manghnani, Head of Customer Experience Marketing, SAP North America, agrees. “2020 made organizations realize how critical their software is to operate – and it also forced many to dive deeper into their digital investments to find new functionalities and tools they hadn’t needed to rely on before.”
So what kinds of practical ways are these CRM tools being applied? According to Manghnani, when supply chains and fulfillment started to get impacted by shutdowns early this year, many sales organizations took some time to catch up – continuing to focus on backfilling orders without focusing on where new fulfillment was coming from. “When it was clear this wasn’t changing any time soon, smart organizations started using their CRM software investments to solve this in new ways: like better understanding the market to incentivize customers to purchase alternatives,” he explains. “Now that we’ve managed to stabilize supply chains, the current focus is how CRM systems can help engage customers through new experience – for example, in an entirely online Commerce world – and we’ll be seeing the impact of that play out into 2021 and beyond.”
So will the successful salesperson of the present circumstances remain the same post-pandemic? In a recent article on IndDist.com, Mark Allen Roberts, CEO of sales consulting group OTB Sales Solutions, said their internal research revealed that 60 percent of customers preferred virtual sales meetings to in-person ones. Likewise, many experts believe the rise in e-commerce sales will continue, meaning the face-to-face selling strategies of many organizations will need to face continued modification, like it or not.
And as Morgan Stanley reminded us late last year, if you’re not investing in technology solutions, your competitors surely are: the pandemic was enough to fast-track investment in much needed mobile and communication solutions, in what has amounted to “a wake-up call for businesses to accelerate digital transformation.”