By: David Jacoby on February 12th, 2021
B2B Sales in a Post-COVID World: 3 Predictions for Selling
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted B2B sales teams, but what happens next? As we begin to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, is the significant move to virtual selling going to accelerate? Or will things revert back to the pre-pandemic “normal” of primarily in-person selling? A good place to start is to understand where customers are going to work.
Shift to Hybrid Model
COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the work-from-home model (WFH) with many companies scaling back their real estate for offices.
Tech giants like Google and Facebook have announced that their employees will be able to work from home through July 2021, which would mean that both companies will have operated for more than a year without most employees coming into offices.
Twitter has gone a step further – it has said that employees could work from home “permanently” if they wished—even after restrictions are lifted. Smaller companies like Shopify and Quora have announced they will be going remote-first, which means they won’t even have offices.
Leading the charge back to the office is Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, who said that he views remote work as a “pure negative,” based on the challenges with collaboration, maintaining company culture, and productivity.
While acknowledging that COVID-19 will cause long-term changes, Hastings argues that these changes will likely not be as dramatic as some anticipate. He has established that the five-day work week will likely become four days in the office with one day being virtual.
Splitting the difference is Salesforce, which recently announced a hybrid model, offering employees three scenarios: flex (employees can work up to three days per week in the office), fully remote, or office-based work options.
Much of the debate over where people are going to work ignores key aspects of basic human nature.
Humans are social animals and typically prefer to engage with others in person. Also, employees will quickly find that if their boss is working on-site, they may have a career advantage working in close proximity to their supervisor where they have spontaneous conversations that don’t happen on video calls.
For sales organizations, particularly those with inside sales teams, working on site allows for better collaboration, training, including peer-to-peer learning, and performance management.
Here is a prediction: While many workers will shift to a remote or hybrid model, the death of on-site work is greatly exaggerated.
Virtual Selling Is Here to Stay, But …
According to a recent study of B2B selling organizations conducted by McKinsey & Company, two-thirds of B2B decision makers believe that new digital sales models adopted during COVID are as effective, if not more so, than previous models. The math of virtual selling is compelling: You can much more easily conduct Zoom meetings than meeting customers in person.
But not so fast. The COVID-19 pandemic created a perfect storm of factors that accelerated the ongoing shift away from in-person meetings. For example, the mass adoption of virtual communication platforms (Zoom and Teams) together with the entire global economy working from home has escalated this trend.
What happens when your customers start moving back to their corporate headquarters? Imagine an enterprising sales rep who meets with her customer on site while her competitors sell virtually. In some selling situations, she’ll have a compelling, competitive advantage.
So here is another prediction: Virtual selling is here to stay (see here, here, and here for key virtual selling skills), but it will live side by side with in-person selling.
Both remote work and virtual selling will create new challenges for sales managers. Coaching is just one example. When you develop and coach your team, their skills improve. With better skills, your salespeople are better able to solve their problems without your constant involvement—and they are more likely to meet or surpass their quotas.
In the pre-COVID days, a manager could spend a day out in the field with each sales rep, accompanying them on sales calls, observing their behaviors, asking them to reflect, and then providing clear, judgement-free coaching feedback in a collaborative way. This is trickier on Zoom calls.
Additionally, the co-assessment process that we consider to be the first step of sales coaching – assessing your salesperson’s skills and having them assess their own skills – requires that same spirit of collaboration plus in-depth discussion.
Because the goal is to improve performance, there will always be areas where you will mutually agree that development is needed. There will be other areas where you may disagree on next steps. In these circumstances, your role is to set up a clear plan to gather more information, and you need buy-in from the salesperson.
Which brings us to perhaps the biggest challenge: making personal connections. This is easiest in person, possible via video calls, and extremely difficult via text and email. Facial expression, tone of voice, body language, energy level – all of these valuable signals are harder to gauge through the filter of technology.
Here’s our final prediction: When some – or all – of your team is remote, there’s a temptation to rely more on analytics and less on social aspects of managing. Sales managers of the future will advocate for in-person or hybrid workplaces to facilitate deeper connections, while leveraging the tools and resources we’ve honed during the pandemic.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.