Career Paths

Here to stay: sales trends accelerated through Covid-19

min read
Mikaela Thompson

The way we do business globally has been rapidly transformed in 2020, thanks to the global pandemic and its widespread consequences. Most of us have experienced how our working landscapes have been reshaped affecting the way we interact with those around us. This has been instigated in part by an unanticipated halt to travel and remote work quickly becoming the norm. Naturally, many professionals are now wondering whether these changes are temporary or here to stay.

Those working within the sales industry — leaders, managers and executives alike can vouch for how challenging it is to adapt to uncertain times. As luck would have it, sales expert Katharina Darisse has narrowed down the sales trends that have been accelerated by Covid-19 for you. Her insights enable sales professionals to evolve alongside the developments spurred on by Covid-19 and ultimately use them to their advantage.

Katharina is the founder of The Skill Shop, which provides tailor-made learning programs for sales professionals and businesses. Having been in sales for nearly 15 years, she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that allows her to work with businesses of all sizes. Her ultimate goal is to help businesses ‘refine the sales skills of their teams, to win more business and offer consistently high levels of customer service along the way’.

Tapping straight into Katherina’s insights we ask…

The Skill Shop team

How can salespeople upskill themselves to keep themselves relevant?

As a sales professional, your role is to consult and guide your customer to the best possible buying decision for their business. To be able to do that and to become that trusted expert, you need to learn about trends, as well as new and relevant sales skills on a regular basis. Here is what I would do:

  1. Subscribe to blogs, such as Hubspot, Pipedrive or more personal ones, like mine at The Skill Shop
  2. Intentionally review what you did when you won or lost a piece of business. How did you word your first piece of client communication? How did you present your product? What questions did you ask? Compare exactly what you did in each scenario and draw lessons from it — very few people actually take time to do this!
  3. Make learning part of your personal goal setting and discuss with your manager what training they can buy you access to. It doesn’t have to be overly expensive. My live, virtual sales training courses, for example, are very cost-effective. By registering one participant, you even receive a recording to allow you to share your learning with others in your team!

Are there tools or hacks you recommend for salespeople today?

Absolutely. The most important one is having a CRM, such as Pipedrive, Hubspot, Salesforce or others. I have to say though that just buying the tech is not enough ;) It has to be fully adopted by the entire sales team to generate excellent sales data. Just to name a few functions, with a CRM, you can track links to be alerted when a client opens your proposal, schedule your entire contact strategy into your future activities and understand your sales metrics, such as deal time and conversion rates.

Once you have a smooth running CRM, I would add additional outreach technology. Covid-19 has changed the way we interact with our clients and now clients are bombarded with salespeople trying to schedule Zoom calls…. So the question becomes, how do you make that interaction with your client interesting and look different than your competitors? Enter video tools — it’s worth checking out tools like Vidyard, Drift or Loom video and to think about where in your sales process you can integrate a video message.

Another tool that helps closing contracts faster is e-signatures, as it allows your client to sign anywhere and quickly, instead of printing, signing, scanning…

Hacks? So many! From how to build rapport to how you word your subject lines, to how you create value for your clients or make a great first impression in a virtual meeting… there are do’s and don’ts for each step in the sales process. I worry my reply will get too long, so I will just share my favourite one:

End your initial sales email with a detailed question, as this will be much more likely to trigger a response than a simple “Let me know if you need anything.”!

Building rapport has always been important for sales meetings, are there different approaches to take in a virtual meeting vs face to face?

You are right, rapport and trust building remain incredibly important. Actually, recent studies show that Covid-19 and the uncertainty we face has only reinforced this: 88% of buyers buy from salespeople they trust.

First, in the absence of lunch invitations and travel, I would encourage salespeople to come up with creative ways to get clients to agree to a meeting. Inviting them to learn about your product is not reason enough. What does the client stand to gain by scheduling a call with you? Leading through insight has never been more important, but also try to create that “bonfire” moment by sending your client a coffee gift certificate before the call.

Next, just like in an in-person meeting, you need to make a great first impression. This involves being intentional about introductions, preparing and practicing the flow of the call, wearing bright, solid colours, but also getting some additional tech, such as lighting or a headset.

Lastly, re-design your sales materials for the virtual sales journey and remember that your customers attention is much harder to get when he or she is able to click on other windows, see his messages or look at their own image during the call! So be brief and really think about what you want to stand out for your client.

KPIs have always been a way to drive sales teams, is this still relevant or is there a hybrid approach to take? And do sales leaders need to review the way they drive sales KPIs / teams in a more virtual team and environment?

That’s a really good question and very timely. The pandemic has had a profound impact on buyer behaviour. Just to give you an example, buyers respond less to sales emails, sales cycles have become longer, and decision making processes on our clients end are changing. Some positions have been eliminated and the CEO is now often looking at each expense!

You can imagine how this changes our sales approach. My recommendation is to give more weight to warm outreach and to client retention, rather than new lead generation. KPI’s should reflect that.

A second aspect that I would like to see in KPI’s is employee well-being. Yes, the buying behaviour has changed and we need to adjust the sales process, but also think about all the social salespeople that excel at networking the conference floor or building in-person relationships. Many of them, I believe, suffer from a shift to working remotely and leveraging mostly technology to connect to their clients. Sales professionals should get access to learning or a sales coach to support them during this shift.

For some time now, we’ve been wishing ourselves back into a pre-COVID world. How do you feel about that from a sales point of view?

I miss traveling and love personal gatherings, but with many changes we see being here to stay I decided to think about the opportunities sales teams have right now. And there are many!

Remote work had been on the rise already, but through Covid, working remotely in Sales has now become the norm. I remember having conversations about working from home with my last (wonderful!) employer, but there was a concern that it would “set precedent” and would cause issues. Now, sales organizations have to invest in the infrastructure and culture to enable remote work. This will allow them to hire for skill, not geographic location. It is also a huge opportunity for mothers or anyone who wants to work in a specific location throughout some part of their life (while taking care of sick family members, for example). I’m also a huge time management fan, so being able to scrap commutes from my 25-hour work week is fantastic!

Collaboration is another area where I can see a silver lining. I hear from some sales people that through the remote setting, teams have to make a very intentional effort to stay in touch. There are virtual coffees, virtual TGIF parties or virtual team birthday parties. Also, you can now add guest speakers from employees based in other countries to your weekly sales meeting, which is something we wouldn’t have done before.

Through what we have experienced in 2020, learning & development is the other huge opportunity I see. Sales leaders now have the ability to shape their sales department in a way that the organization will benefit from for the next decade. The need to invest in the sales skills that are needed today, as well as the sales technology, is obvious.

You mentioned that you believe that changes in the sales world are here to stay. Could you elaborate a little bit on what these changes are?

Sure! For one, I think all things virtual are not necessarily considered second best anymore. Even the most tech anxious sales managers now see the need to upkeep their CRM, learn about some new sales technology and rock that virtual meeting. I see it in my private life too: my 69 year old father hosts Zoom calls and my parents will attend the virtual school start ceremony for my eldest this week!

As a result of our clients using more technology and companies having spent money on implementing new tools, less money will be spent on getting to face-to-face meetings. If I was a CFO, I would certainly expect my team to leverage these new skills and technologies we purchased!

Secondly, we will see more cross-functional collaboration between Sales and Marketing, but also Sales and HR. Marketing has seen more engagement with their content since Covid-19, making it an uber valuable source of warm leads. Sales has to understand that marketing data and work hand in hand with their marketing peers. HR will become more relevant to Sales leaders, as a new skill set is required in addition to the traditional sales skills. Therefore, HR will have to assist to make training and learning experiences possible for sales teams or hire additional staff members to allow sales to continue to thrive.

Lastly (and not to sound gloomy), the economy is simply not going to recover that quickly. That means that the competition for our buyers’ trust and attention will remain strong moving forward. Understanding sales data will play a key role in this and sales professionals have to now define a data-driven sales approach. They also need to be able to move quickly (empower their decision making!) and to act when they see an opportunity.

The Skill Shop's Katherina Darissse

Being a sales leader sounds almost a little overwhelming. What would you suggest to sales leaders to keep positive and help guide their team through this shift?

As a sales leader, it is a privilege to be in a position where you can help your clients, guide your team and shape a department. My advice is: one step at a time. The reality is that small to medium sized businesses will not make huge investments in technology, but you can do a lot by simply being an inspiring leader:

Put the wellness of your team first — let them know that you are there to help them. Make yourself available through chats, schedule regular support calls with each team member and listen to what they need from you. If you don’t yet have a “thank you” mechanism in place, create weekly “thank you awards” to highlight team collaboration and best sales practices.

When your team is at ease, I would next focus on having quality conversations with my customers. Have their needs changed? Do they need you to make changes to your product or service? Based on your client’s insights, adapt your sales process and sales messaging.

If this research shows that there is a need for a different sales outreach or additional technology, be transparent about it and get your team on board to implement these changes. Offer them support through creating the right infrastructure, hiring external support or giving them access to a sales training.

Ok, let’s talk tech. With sales teams working remotely, do you anticipate that we all have to be tech-savvy?

Interestingly, trends through Covid-19 don’t only highlight the need for more sales technology. They also highlight how buyers value basic sales skills that have always been incredibly important: active listening and trust building are two of them.

In my opinion, the future sales professional is someone who excels at relationship building in both a personal and virtual setting. It is someone who has the business acumen to lead through insight, understands sales data and puts the customer at the center of all his or her actions.

The execution of the future sales playbook does involve more technology than it used to, so enjoying the use of different tools and being a quick learner of new technology will be a relevant skill.

Is a move to virtual selling a threat to more experienced sales professionals, that may not have grown up with digital technology all around them?

Yes. if you refuse to embrace new technologies. No, if you are happy to learn about how to leverage marketing data and using new sales tools.

Can you share any prior experiences that have equipped you with the knowledge to advise individuals in the sales industry about adjusting to a post-COVID environment?

Throughout my sales career, I went from working in a sales environment that used very little sales technology, to an organization that used sales intelligence tools, connected the CRM to its various business units and teams and also lived an amazing corporate culture.

Going through this change myself made me realize that in sales, you can feel anxious and blind, or empowered, strategic and efficient. It all depends on the mindset leadership takes to selling, the skills the company trains and the tools that are being made available to the team.

In addition to this, I had to re-learn sales 2.0 when I started my own business! When you don’t have a brand name behind you and can’t operate within an existing customer base, your learning curve is huge. As an entrepreneur, you take all sales, marketing and technology decisions yourself, so you are likely to be more up to date than when fulfilling one function in a big company. Helping small to medium sized businesses navigating through this changed sales landscape has become a huge passion.

For those of you who have benefited from Katharina’s insights and advice, get ready to delve further into how to refine your sales skills! Katharina is offering a unique opportunity to attend three virtual learning sessions that are part of the “Sales Evolution” series, advising you on which sales skills to employ right now and how to excel at virtual selling during Covid-19. Virtual courses are prepared with the same care as live workshops and just like in face-to-face training, hands-on group work is conducted along with access to additional resources. You will be provided with the knowledge to grow your business and engage with clients successfully during these uncertain times.

So all of you sales leaders, executives and managers out there, get signed up and keep pace with the latest trends whilst brushing up on your skills this September!

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