New research confirms that ‘omnichannel’ is not a pandemic workaround, it’s a critically important fixture for B2B sales globally, and one that’s here to stay. We explore what this means for the future of sales and why sales training is more critical now, than ever before.
Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work over the last 12 months, forcing businesses to pivot and adapt in order to survive. With the growth of remote working and virtual meetings, sales professionals have had to alter sales techniques, tools and strategies to help overcome the challenges posed. But what impact will this have on the sales industry - a traditionally face-to-face sector - and what can businesses do to prepare for this next normal?
According to McKinsey & Company’s new 2021 B2B Pulse survey, eight in ten B2B decision makers believe omnichannel sales are now as effective (or more effective) than traditional methods, with ‘hybrid sellers’ expecting to be the most common role across sales teams in the next three years.
Buyers say they prefer a multi-channel mix to any one method on its own, and they chose in-person, remote, and digital self-serve in equal measure. Belief in the effectiveness of this new omnichannel selling model has grown sharply throughout the past year too – rising from 54% at the start of the pandemic, to 83% in February 2021.
Most companies say they will return to in-person selling this year, with 90% of B2B sellers expecting to hold in-person meetings by the fourth quarter of 2021. However, only 15% of organisations expect in-person sales to represent more than 75% of their sales interactions.
“The realisation that digital channels can play a much bigger role in the B2B sales cycle is creating business confidence about the future.”
McKinsey & Company senior partner Dennis Spillecke
“A growing number of businesses want to capitalise on the new opportunities that are now in front of them and made possible by digitalised and hybrid ways of selling,” Spillecke adds.
As purchasing goes omnichannel, sales professionals are set to move into a more hybrid role in the future. Hybrid sellers are those who interact with customers via video, phone, apps and occasional in-person visits.
The report reveals that 85% of B2B organisations expect this hybrid role to be the most common sales position in their organisation in the next three years, compared to just 28% of companies that have hybrid sales representatives today. Companies intend to increase the number of hybrid sellers over the next six months, making this model the lead sales role.
Europe’s biggest bank HSBC has revealed that it’s set to nearly halve its office space in the coming years, in one of the most radical overhauls of working trends as a result of the pandemic. It will vacate 40% of its offices in London and other cities around the world but keep its headquarters in Canary Wharf, it announced in its full-year results.
HSBC’s chief executive Noel Quinn said the plan to cut office space in the “long term” was driven by expectations that there would be “a very different style of working than before.” And HSBC is not alone in announcing a complete overhaul of its working environment.
Dropbox in the US has revealed it is becoming a “virtual first company” by letting all employees work from home permanently. It joins social media network Twitter and Australian software firm Atlassian, as major firms that have allowed all employees to permanently work from home. Other companies, like Microsoft and Facebook, have said a portion of their workforce would be remote forever.
Office vacancy is up 45% year-on-year in the City of London to 6.9 million sq ft, a similar level to that seen in the global financial crisis of 2008, according to property consultancy DeVono Cresa, as reported in The Times.
Businesses across the country are reviewing their office requirements as the pandemic leads to permanent lifestyle changes. It is clear that the office environment of 2025 will look completely different to that of 2020 and the remote workforce is here to stay.
With this in mind, forwarding-thinking businesses are responding by preparing their sales force to permanently adapt to a mix of in-person and digital selling. Sales training courses become more imperative than ever, to ensure your business is prepared for the ‘next normal’ and to steal a march on your competitors.
THE CHALLENGES OF REMOTE SELLING
The rapid ramp-up in digital and remote sales has come with a steep learning curve, however, says McKinsey. Difficulties include finding the most effective way for field reps to work from home, making remote interactions feel as intimate as in-person experiences, and providing proofs of concept and digital demos that give buyers an equivalent level of insight to physical walk-throughs.
Nima Nikoobian, partner at sales training company Impel Dynamic, agrees, saying there are a number of challenges for businesses transitioning to a more remote sales model. “You’re always going to be dealing with your client’s attention span,” he explains. “With email notifications and work-from-home distractions in the house, you’re going to be losing their attention. If you’re in a board room, there will be nothing to distract them. It’s also very tiring on a virtual call and you are using up a lot more energy than if you were talking face to face.”
TIP: Schedule your most important meetings in the morning, if you can. If you’re speaking to someone at 4pm, it’s unlikely you’ll have their full attention span.
Remote selling in turn removes a lot of the emotions, there are fewer sub-conscious cues and because of that you’re concentrating a lot more. If you’re talking to groups of five or six people, everyone is looking straight at you and you can become very conscious of yourself. If you have 8/9 Zoom meetings in a day, it can be very exhausting by the end of the day. Both you and the client/customer will lose attention too.
Building rapport is much harder online. If you’re in the services industry, you don’t have a tangible product and ‘people buy from people.’ The conversations you have outside the board room are just as important (if not more) than what’s said inside. People read you by watching what your body is saying at the same time. The trust element is affected. You also don’t have accidental conversations because everything is regimented.
There can be multiple technical challenges with online selling, with cameras not in the right position and the quality of picture or sound not very good. It is also harder for a sales professional to read the body language of the room.
TIP: What you do before the meeting can be just as important as during the meeting. Let people know the rules of the meeting in advance. Email and ask if people would mind having their cameras switched on, for example. This helps set the tone of the meeting in a positive way and gets things off on the right foot.
THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE SELLING
Two hugely beneficial factors are travel cost and time, but time is your biggest win. If you’re an international remote salesperson, you could travel for a day or two just to have one meeting. In many circumstances, remote sales will never replace face-to-face, but companies realise that 5/6 meetings can happen in the same amount of time as one. In terms of efficiency, it can be brilliant.
It can also help with the frequency of contact with key decision makers. You could have a Zoom catch-up once a month but would only see them face-to-face twice a year. Online can allow you to increase the frequency of client meetings, combining this with in-person meetings, to keep up a regularity of contact.
Remote selling also gives you the opportunity to have key decision makers from a company on one call together. This would otherwise be very difficult, if they were all over the country or in different countries.
TIP: Use your contacts within a company, to help get in front of other contacts. You could ask for a three-way Zoom meeting, as a way of introduction. It’s much more dynamic than an email intro. This didn’t exist before digital meetings became the norm and it’s a great tool to use.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SALES TRAINING
If you were good at what you did 12 months ago, you now have to learn a completely different skillset. Clients invariably buy from you because of your personality and it’s a lot harder for this to come across on a digital call.
Impel Dynamic partner Nima Nikoobian says: “Virtual selling is here to stay. It’s never going to go away and will morph into a hybrid version of sales for most organisations.” Even if you scale this back within your own organisation, your clients will still be using it and requesting a Zoom call, rather than a face-to-face meeting. So, sales professionals need the right skillsets to be able to manage remote selling in the most effective way.
We’ve been working with companies for many years, who didn’t have the margins to fly around the world and court clients. We’ve been very successful (Pre-Covid) at helping clients maximise on the virtual world, it just happens that the whole world has caught up with this now.
One thing is clear, omnichannel isn’t going away, says McKinsey. B2B sales organisations that lean into this shift and enable integrated interactions across the buying journey could turn the learning curve of the last 12 months into a new trajectory for growth
Q&A WITH SALES TRAINING EXPERT NIMA NIKOOBIAN, PARTNER AT IMPEL DYNAMIC
Q. HOW DO YOU CREATE A SUCCESSFUL ONLINE PERSONA?
Getting the basics right is really important. One of the reasons that people don’t want to switch on their cameras is that the quality of the HD can sometimes not be good, or people struggle to hear you. The position of the camera and where your head is are really important. Are you in the centre of the screen or is half your head cut off? You need to give your clients the opportunity to see you properly.
Lighting is incredibly important. Invest in a Ring light, which you can buy on Amazon. People can appear dark on screen if the camera focuses on light from the window, for example. This happens very frequently and can be a contributing factor to why people don’t enjoy virtual calls. Also, be conscious of the background and think about framing, make sure there are not many distractions around you too.
You can build rapport virtually by working through a shared problem-solving experience together such as a strategic review, designing a presentation or jotting down ideas on the same page. Remember to book in time on the call to do the pleasantries too. This doesn’t happen organically when you’re on a digital call, you have to make time. You need to show interest in the person, it should be 20% you and 80% them.
Summarise frequently throughout the conversation, this shows you are listening to what they’re saying. Ask them lots of questions and use your hands for expression, but not too much! Your online persona needs to be authentic, but you do need to inject more emotion for this to come across on screen. Subtleness is gone, you need to dial up expressions a few notches to ensure body language comes across in the right way and micro gestures aren’t lost.
Q. HOW DO YOU MOTIVATE SALES TEAMS VIRTUALLY?
Less is more - the manager should only ever be doing 20% of the talking. This is true in all walks of life. You need to understand what motivates your staff members and don’t inflict your own motivations on others. This is where managers can go wrong. Get your sales team involved from the offset by asking lots of questions. Get people involved at the start of the Zoom call by coming up with a new idea together, then ensuring your staff members feel like they’re part of creating the solution for optimum buy-in.