The “new normal.” This oxymoron has become the catchphrase of the day for what our lives will be like going forward, and there is no shortage of opinions. Yet despite all the forecasting, the predictions, and even the guesses, the global pandemic is a stark reminder of this fact: we cannot predict the future.
As a Sales Leader, you know this firsthand every time you are asked to commit to a number. You know that there are so many variables that can quickly turn the tide during the year, and you try to plan for those uncertainties. Yet as this pandemic has illustrated, sometimes even the best contingency planning gets hits broadside with the unexpected.
And a natural first step in response to the unexpected is to stabilize the sales organization and selling motion as touched on in the previous blog. However, because we are now reminded that the future can change on a dime, to ensure Sales teams are prepared, it boils down to one macro-level area of focus – sales agility. Your sales team must have the ability to rapidly adjust the way they engage, not simply from a technology perspective, but from an end to end selling motion perspective. Consider some of the changes that sellers have experienced:
- Buyer Alignment: – For an outside rep, especially one covering medium to large enterprises, “walking the halls” has most likely been a part of their selling motion. Successful field reps know how to do this well – in the old world. What does this mean now? We know that in larger, more complex solution selling, there are multiple people involved in the buying process. And in the new world, it is much more difficult to align with your stakeholders – the influencers and decision-makers. Yet you still need to interact with people in that ad hoc sort of way to build relationships, scope out a project, understand decision criteria, and identify desired outcomes. This informal alignment is critical to long term success in Enterprise sales. However, alignment takes on an additional dimension in this new world and individual alignment is proving to not be enough. The dynamics between stakeholders have changed within many organizations. For example, certain stakeholders may not be as involved or engaged in a project because they are not as “visible” in this virtual world as they once were in the office, and perhaps even lost their influence. Successful reps will recognize this changed dynamic and take a consultative sales approach by becoming the connective tissue that drives alignment between customer stakeholders.To adapt to the future, this multidimensional alignment activity; virtual and physical “walking the halls” as well as individual and group stakeholder alignment, should be intrinsic to the selling motion. Sales teams will need to be agile enough to lean in any direction should the customer, market, and even world dynamics dictate.
- New expectations: While the term “Digital Transformation” may be one of the most overused phrases in technology sales these days, as nebulous as the term has become, one thing is certain – transformation does not happen quickly. Depending on the strategy it can take months to years. Yet, when this pandemic hit, companies made radical changes and “transformed” into a “work from home” or WFH environment practically overnight. No doubt many technology vendors were pounding on their prospects doors to tell them how their product could help them in some way. However, the sales reps who stepped back and took a consultative selling approach were the ones who became part of the solution and were selected to help the customer navigate through troubled waters.To adapt to the future, sellers must think differently about buyer expectations. Customers will be looking to those vendors who are offering – as cliché as it sounds – solutions. The organizations whose sales teams are strong at focusing on the big picture and talking about business outcomes and not point products are the ones who will be invited to the table.
- Changed Conversations: This pandemic made many sales opportunities irrelevant overnight as priorities were shifted and many projects put on hold to focus on the immediate issues. Conversations that were working for sales reps just three months ago are no longer resonating as the landscape has changed so dramatically. Some sales organizations made quick adjustments at the beginning of the pandemic – they told reps to add empathy at the start of their customer conversations and acknowledge the challenges because of the pandemic. This quick-fix however did not resonate with most customers, especially if the conversation defaulted back to the same message that was being used three months earlier. Because we have now seen how fast things can change, Sales leaders do not have the luxury of time to train their reps on new messages and new conversations. There are just too many variables.To adapt to the future, sales leaders should consider how their teams are being trained and put an emphasis on conversation (not pitching) training. The sales teams that win will be the ones who are not “fed” the message but are taught how to fish – how to structure their own, compelling conversations that drive new insights and outcomes.
While there are plenty of other changes in the buy/sell process because of this pandemic, until we can predict the future, the “new normal” for sales teams will be agility. Those teams who can quickly adapt to our changing environment will be ones who win.