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How the Pandemic Pushed Sales to Its Tipping Point (in a Good Way)

Quick Take: The pandemic upended the sales landscape status quo, but tech and training are building stronger skills for a digital-first world.


“I’ve been around sales since my Rolodex was actually a spinning Rolodex,” recalls Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Evangelist for Salesforce. Back in the early 2000s, she was one of the company’s beta clients. 

“This is the first time I feel we’ve reached a tipping point for the selling profession taking advantage of technology and all it has to offer. Sales teams are waking up to the power of automation, AI and insights — to give them time back, make them smarter when they show up in front of customers and be much more predictive in servicing customers.”

Following the recent Sales Cloud news, we caught up with Bova to dig into how the sales profession has been adapting to the winds of change over the last year. Typically a nonstop traveler with max-level loyalty status across all forms of transport, she joined this interview from her home office in LA. 

Q. How has the role of the average sales rep been disrupted by the pandemic?

The field sellers are now inside sellers, and everybody is selling from anywhere. We actually did some research that found that 61% of sellers were confident their jobs would never be the same, which says a lot about what organizations need to do to continue to support those sellers in selling from anywhere. 

Ultimately it’s great to see how sellers have rallied around the changes that have been coming at them so quickly, especially in certain industries, but also the resilience that they’ve shown.

Q. What are the challenges with digital selling?

Selling and buying are both digital, which means organizations have to shore up how they digitize the buying journey and the selling process. And those two things need to be as seamless as possible to deliver these compelling and amazing experiences to customers. 

“We actually did some research that found that 61% of sellers were confident their jobs would never be the same

Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Evangelist, Salesforce

But, it’s harder to sell virtually. They have to think: ‘What are the things I need to do to re-skill, to be better at engaging with prospects and existing customers in a remote and virtual world?’ It’s video, it’s chat, it’s email, it’s phone. It’s all of the things and all of the channels that your customers actually want to engage with you. But we have to let customers set the pace of how often we communicate in what channels and why.

Video is the obvious one, where now almost everything is either a video message or a quick touch base with a customer, but not all customers want to communicate that way. So you have to make sure that you’re listening to customers and you’re communicating to them in the channels that they want you to communicate. 

Q. In a post-COVID world, do you see digital selling declining?

I feel like we’re going to land in a hybrid environment. Selling from anywhere may be selling from your office, selling from your home office, selling on the road, actually having to travel somewhere — but you’re going to make very different decisions about when and why you would travel to a customer’s location.

Now salespeople will get all these additional tools to be much more effective, but customers will actually feel more confident about buying in a virtual world and buying without physically seeing a remote or a field seller. And there was much research done over the course of 2020 that showed how customer sentiment about virtual sales improved. Early on, it wasn’t so great. Toward the end of 2020, it was much better. 

Q. What challenges or what opportunities will sales reps have as the rise of virtual selling intersects with the rise of sales process automation?

There’s so much opportunity for sellers right now around using technology. Between AI and automation, there’s so much power behind that. Many sellers have been reluctant to use that kind of capability within their CRM systems or other systems because they feel like it’s about replacing them as salespeople. And it isn’t. 

The new power couple is the human and technology. The power of those two things working in concert with each other — AI and automation starts to take off those tedious tasks. Some of our State of Sales research in the past showed 65% of a seller’s time is spent on non-selling activities. Imagine if we could give back five or 10% of that time and focus them on the actual art of selling and closing business. 

“The new power couple is the human and technology.”

Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Evangelist, Salesforce

And that happens when you lean into the technology and you let it take some of that work off your plate, so that it can deliver to you the insights you need to be successful and serve your customers with the right message at the right time in the right channel.

Q. Sales is a career that’s been around forever, and there is so much to learn. How do you think younger sales people will expand their skills in a more virtual world? How can senior leadership set these teams up for success?

Over the last 12 months, what’s been super inspiring is seeing how much people are investing in their own careers from a training and reskilling perspective. We’ve seen it all over the place, whether it’s ‘I didn’t really know how to use AI and automation in my day-to-day life, how do I improve upon that?” to “How do I write better emails?” and “How do I do better video meetings and create better presentations or demos?” 

Everybody has really seen that if you make those investments — small ones, day after day, over the long term — it pays huge dividends. 

Whether you are a digital native, a millennial who was born with technology in their hand, or somebody who’s a digital immigrant, who had to lean into technology a little bit later in their life, ultimately we are all now in the same place. We’re all dealing with the same level of customer expectations in this new digital world, where everyone has access to so much more information than ever before.

“Salespeople are feeling confident. New research shows that 50% of sales reps expect their companies’ revenue streams to grow over the course of 2021.”

Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Evangelist, Salesforce

That continued investment in skilling with things like Trailhead or your own learning listening to podcasts or TED talks; ultimately investing in yourself is something I would do every day. That requires senior leaders to actually reward that kind of behavior. 

It isn’t just about productivity. We want to make sure that we’re also investing in coaching in wellness, mental health and all the things that we’ve now become much more aware of, especially as so many have been burning out over the last 12 months. 

Q. How are salespeople feeling about the future of their businesses?

Salespeople are feeling confident. New research shows that 50% of sales reps expect their companies’ revenue streams to grow over the course of 2021.

They have been responsive to everything that was coming at them over the last 12 months; how to keep deals moving forward, how to protect the pipeline and the forecast, but more importantly, showing up for their customers and making sure they have everything they need. 

I think everybody is feeling much more confident about using technology in these new ways. And getting back to growth is feeling much more stable at this time, because much of the uncertainty is behind us.