75% of the buying decision is made before the customer engages in the sale. Most buyers are willing to pay a premium for a great experience. And most buyers don’t bother to give you negative feedback, they just leave. So the experience really matters.
Most sellers spend two-thirds of their time in activities not related to the customer. There’s too much focus on procedural items and record keeping. There’s never enough solution expertise for general sellers to leverage, even if they are interested in discussing a possible solution with the customer. Most first-line sales managers have neither the capability to argue for more resources nor the skill to model a more solution-centric approach to customer coverage.
All of this must change. Listen how.
Hello. Gary Tubridy here, Senior Vice President of the Alexander Group, with topline findings from our 2021 virtual executive forum. We know that 75% of the buying decision is made before the customer engages in the sale. Lori Harmon, VP of Global Digital Virtual and Renewal Sales at NetApp, reminded us of two more critical factors. Most buyers are willing to pay a premium for a great experience. And, most buyers don’t bother to give you negative feedback, they just leave. So the experience really matters. But as we know, many factors lean against delivering such an experience. The silos between revenue functions have already been mentioned, but there’s more. Tiffani Bova pointed out several of them. Most sellers spend two thirds of their time in activities not related to the customer. There’s too much focus on procedural items and record keeping. There’s never enough solution expertise for general sellers to leverage, even if they are interested in discussing a possible solution with the customer. And most first line sales managers have neither the capability to argue for more resource nor the skill to model a more solution centric approach to customer coverage. All of this must change.
The sales motion must integrate digital, and quickly, not because it is more productive, though it is. According to Tiffani Bova, it is because it enables far more customer centric coverage by engaging customers in a dialogue where they meet before a buying decision is made, by engaging experts from around the country and the world in this dialogue, because travel is not going to be a gating factor. By enabling customer centric dialogue back and forth across the entire customer touching ecosystem of marketing, sales and service. And because customers prefer this kind of treatment, the kind they have grown used to getting as consumers of Apple or Amazon services.
Post-pandemic sales organizations will have features that deliver both value and productivity. In a word, that means hybrid. In the 2022 Alexander Group Sales Pulse Survey, we asked, when conditions permit, how much of the sales job will be virtual versus onsite? The answers are insightful and indicated a shift away from the classic field-centric sales force. For the small and medium business market are respondents, 185 in total, indicate that the mix will be 50/50. That is, 50% of the job will be done onsite, 50% virtually. For large accounts, these same respondents said 75% will be done onsite and 75% will be done virtually. So sellers who were formerly outside are going hybrid. They’ll return to client site when it makes sense, where relationships need building or complexity needs attention, but where it also makes sense, interactions will go virtual. Think check in calls at beginning or end of week for admin related items or order processing, and certainly accessing limited technical expertise to conduct virtual briefings and demonstrations. Savings and travel expense across all of this would poured back into investment in talent and tools.
As sales organizations accelerated the transformation from pushing products to delivering solutions, the need for cheaper vertical and product expertise increased. And this led to sales process bottlenecks and constraints. This all changed during the pandemic. At the very moment expertise was in greatest demand, it was also in great supply due to virtual technology. Whether based on the opposite coast or overseas, experts could be beamed in on demand to participate in 2 to 4 client calls per day, virtually tripling their productivity. Roughly half of the participants in the Sales Pulse Survey indicate that specialist positions will be deployed 50% virtually, or more, after the pandemic ends.
There was a time not too long ago when the sales function prized its independence. Independence meant speed and choice. They were isolated and they liked it. This is not the case in today’s customer centric environment. Customer facing functions, marketing, sales and service are interconnected so that as Tiffani Bova of Salesforce put it, customers see one company not separate departments because the buyer needs to determine structure and programs, not internal processes.
Interconnectedness is enabled as sales organizations move away from individual coverage decisions driven by disparate sources of data ranging from functional databases to personal spreadsheets to common platforms shared across marketing, sales and service. This means moving away from decisions on what to sell and who to target based on comfort or past experience and toward decisions informed by artificial intelligence that consider buyer history, probable needs and known tendencies. AI is not going to take over, but it will inform sellers and their managers helping them make better decisions.
All of this will be accelerated by upskilling the first line sales manager, who’s the primary source of coaching and direction for all sellers. Companies can’t afford for these managers to be outdated and overwhelmed when their leadership in transforming sellers to the post pandemic world is critical. That’s why, according to speakers like Warren Stone, President of the Americas at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, top companies are investing to upskill their line managers so they can lead the charge into a dynamic and productive, post-pandemic world that’s facile with data and technology. In 2022, we’ll explore what makes such enduring leaders tick. Join us in the Leadership Series to learn more about the management principles that these companies follow. There will be three major events, Women Revenue Leaders Forum April 18th and 19th at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, the Operations Forum on August 15th and 16th, also at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago and the Executive Forum November 16, 17 and 18 at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort at Dana Point, California. I look forward to seeing you there.