The past year has seen a drastic change in B2B sales across industries. Where in 2019, only 5% of business sales associates had access to remote work arrangements, that number increased to an astonishing 90% within a month of the first COVID-19 related workplace shifts in the United States.
That shift, in turn, comes with some significant necessary adjustments. Put simply, most high-level sales reps are used to in-person selling opportunities. Experienced sales professionals could effectively leverage in-person cues, body language, and follow-up meetings for effective pitches and conversions. Now, the game has changed.
In other words, we’re in a brave new world of B2B sales. The adjustments have come with some drastic challenges, but also opportunities that savvy business leaders can leverage. Let’s dive into the details.
How COVID-19 has Affected Global B2B Sales
In March 2020, the world changed. That was as true for the larger globe as it was for business sales, which had been so reliant on personal interactions for decades.
In April 2020, McKinsey launched a survey spanning 11 countries to evaluate the B2B sales environment in light of the pandemic. The results were significant in many ways:
- Across the board, companies were reducing their marketing and sales spending to account for lower revenues.
- Digital actions quickly became preferred, increasing threefold in importance compared to traditional sales avenues.
- Implementation of self-service sales mechanisms, like live chat and recorders, accelerated drastically.
- Videoconferencing became the primary means for sales agents and buyers to interact, connect, and close deals.
One month into COVID-19, the changes seemed temporary. A year later, it becomes increasingly apparent that they will lead to a permanent new reality. When McKinsey followed up its B2B survey this past December, only 20% of B2B buyers said they would like to move back to more traditional models while the clear majority preferred the new digital reality brought about by the pandemic.
In light of these changes, sales reps have and will need to find new ways to connect, communicate, and impress their prospects. That has been made difficult by the challenges individual reps, as well as companies, face in these changing conditions.
5 Challenges Sales Reps Face in Light of Remote Conditions
As we move from temporary adjustments to a new B2B sales reality, the challenges brought about by these environmental changes are becoming increasingly evident. Most significantly, these challenges include:
- Establishing individual rapport between buyer and seller. Distractions on both sides, along with the lower need for commitment in a digital environment have made it more difficult for buyers and sellers to connect and build the connection that tends to necessitate a sale in longer buyer cycles.
- Gaps in training for B2B sales agents. Most sales professionals rely on in-person methods and were not prepared for the move to virtual selling. Without the proper digital sales training, teams will be ill-equipped to meet the new and changing expectations of their buying audience.
- Lack of home office or suitable working conditions. In an industry traditionally so reliant on in-person meetings, most professionals do not have the environment necessary to make crucial sales calls. Pitches from the living room or a guest bedroom can become less effective when distracted by others in the home, the mail delivery, and more.
- Overworking and burnout. Mental health complaints, especially in relation to working too much and losing work-life balance, are at an all-time high. Sales agents who have burned out from the perceived requirement of working at all times will naturally be less effective in their work.
- Heightened competitive environments. B2B sales, in many industries, is traditionally regional. Travel naturally restricts the ability to attract and engage core buyers outside specific geographical regions. In a virtual environment, these boundaries disappear, leading to more competitive environments that increase the difficulty of closing individual deals.
Ignored, these challenges can become significant points of concerns that can threaten any organization’s revenue and customer flow. Fortunately, the past year has also provided some crucial learnings on how companies are beginning to adjust, turning sales challenges into opportunities in the process.
How B2B Sales Teams Can Adjust to Turn Challenges into Opportunities
The challenges are both undeniable and ubiquitous. At the same time, they’re far from impossible to overcome. A few core adjustments can allow your B2B sales efforts to adjust to the new normal, creating lasting opportunities for change that ultimately benefit all stakeholders for years to come.
Adjust Your Processes for Remote Needs
Selling without physical, in-person contact requires some significant changes. Contacts with potential buyers are likely to be shorter, less planned, and more informal. Because buyers also expect self-service opportunities, creating sales scripts around these digital channels can help to optimize your processes.
Build Long-Term Strategies
All signs point to the fact that we truly are in a new normal, and that the end of the pandemic won’t mean a return to traditional sales. Buyers will continue to expect digital-first approaches by your sales team. That means now, with the initial tactical adjustments out of the way, is the perfect time to create long-term digital and remote sales strategies that will work as well in 2025 as they would this year.
Provide Digital Sales Training
Virtual learning is vital to keep your sales team engaged and provide them with the resources they need to succeed. Ideally, that training comes in short, snackable micro-modules. Combined with self-service training opportunities, these efforts allow your sales team to learn at their own pace and improve their performance at the same time.
Create More Flexible Sales Strategies
COVID-19 has made the need for flexible strategies apparent even in the most rigid industries and sales environments. Part of your strategy should be an effort to evaluate your market on an ongoing basis, putting the pieces in place to pivot quickly and efficiently should new opportunities or environmental changes arise.
Build Up Your Digital Lead Pipeline
Finally, especially as in-person lead generation and nurturing is replaced by digital opportunities, a digital lead pipeline becomes an essential component of B2B sales. It’s the most reliable way to build your prospect database for targeted, individualized outreach.
We can help. If you’re looking to improve your B2B sales strategy, let’s talk. Book a demo with Sapper today to learn how our platform can help you adjust to the new normal of remote selling.