The past 18 months saw sales teams face unprecedented challenges when it comes to selling and building relationships — and if recent lockdowns are any indication, these challenges are likely to remain for some time to come.
Despite sales reps thriving in a face-to-face environment, many have pivoted to virtual sales to overcome today’s hurdles. And while an abrupt transition can be met with deep learning curves, the biggest gains can be made by sales reps in the long term when they are confident in building relationships online and off.
Virtual selling will continue to gain traction — in fact, Salesforce research from the start of 2021 found 46% of sales reps say they’ll mostly sell virtually moving forward. The latest Salesforce ‘State of Sales’ research also found that 58% of sales reps expect their role to change permanently.
With so much riding on building and maintaining relationships between customers and reps, it’s important that sales teams use every tool at their disposal to optimise the experience and gain deeper insights. We pulled some Trailblazer tips from our new ebook Boost Sales Productivity that show what this can look like in practice.
Technology for the sales environment
Relationship building — that’s what the old world of selling involved. Face-to-face selling was a requirement for success, especially in a B2B context. But now, sales reps are facing a different world.
The right technologies have been critical to maintaining productivity over the challenging months of the pandemic, and sales leaders are recognising this imperative: 80% of ANZ sales professionals say their company’s digital transformation has accelerated, and 73% say their technology needs have changed significantly.
With people still adjusting to new working and living arrangements, customers are expecting to be engaged in more efficient ways. They will also be more inclined to do their own research on products and brands before they connect with potential suppliers.
As a result, buyers are engaging when their buying cycle suits, rather than being led by traditional sales cycles. In this new selling environment, a sales rep needs to be quick to respond with relevant information and stay as informed as the buyer.
Leveraging data-driven insights is therefore becoming a powerful differentiator, but the Trends in ANZ Sales report found that sales teams are not squeezing full value from customer information. New ways of working and the transition to virtual sales revealed disconnected processes, tools and silos, and this internal complexity is affecting reps’ ability to close deals.
Data-driven insight, enabled by technology
With every salesperson now turned virtual seller, sales reps need to be strategic in the way they connect with customers online. The availability of rich data — and ability to derive insights from it — is creating more effective methods of lead prioritisation and forecasting, which drives success.
However, breaking down data silos is a critical ingredient to success. The latest State of Sales research found high-performing sales teams were 2.3 times more likely to increase cross-disciplinary collaboration than underperformers.
Using a CRM helped REA Group build integrations between disparate teams by creating a single source of truth for critical data. This has not only helped them better leverage customer data insights, but it’s also helped the business take a macro view of business decisions that affect multiple functions.
“We’re constantly reinvesting in our data to support good business decisions,” says Smrithi Kamtikar, Senior Manager Product at REA Group.
“We’re also doing it to make sure we can take the next big step forward, which is about becoming more predictive and proactive across all of our customer channels – whether that’s digital or face-to-face.”
“There’s a lot of work that our Salesforce squad, sales ops and the sales teams are doing to collaborate to build that single point of truth,” adds Rodney House, Sales Adoption Lead: Customer Excellence at REA Group.
While having more conversations with prospects and customers is the goal of every sales team, Rodney says quality is just as important as quantity.
“We can see now in real time whether we are having more conversations quarter-on-quarter, as well as whether those conversations are driving value. Those are statistics that would never have been known around the organisation before.”
With data-driven insights now being handled by artificial intelligence (AI), reps can easily identify the individuals and accounts with the greatest propensity to buy, freeing up their time to do things that can’t be automated, such as focusing on building valuable relationships with the right prospects at the right time.
Rodney says greater insights on leads and customers is feeding into more personalised communications, which has been especially valuable in getting the right messages to customers during COVID-19.
“We had a large focus leading up to 2020 on improving the quality of our data and getting the segmentation right, not realising just how important that was going to be,” Rodney says.
Preparing for the now and beyond
These are unprecedented times, and understanding and exceeding your customer’s expectations is going to require the insights of more than one team. Businesses need to break down silos and embrace a free internal flow of customer data. Collaboration across business units will become more critical.
In addition, AI is quickly becoming a necessary element of effective and efficient selling. Sales reps can boost their productivity by streamlining repetitive or data-driven tasks, including lead prioritisation and data entry.
Virtual selling, backed by AI, enables reps to access customer insights quickly to be relevant and empathic to customers in the moments that count. Technology enables sales reps to show customers they’re there to help them to continue to succeed.
Salespeople also have to rest assured that although technology and the introduction of AI will augment the role of sales teams, they will not replace the role of a sales professional.
Instead, data insights can help sales leaders keep motivation and productivity high and reskill team members for new ways of working. For example, REA Group has leveraged performance-tracking tools and invested more heavily in data-led coaching to identify individuals’ needs.
“Central to everything we’re doing right now is the driving of a coaching culture,” Rodney says.
“When you marry the empathy of coaching and the hard facts of data — that’s when the real magic happens.”
Sales teams that embrace virtual selling and make the most of it will be well placed for business success now and in the future.
For more insights into how to supercharge sales productivity, download the Boost Sales Productivity: How to lead your sales teams back to growth ebook.