The Post-Pandemic Evolution of B2B Sales: Part 2

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 21, 2021

Last month in an article called The Post Pandemic Evolution of B2B Sales, we discussed how the pandemic had affected B2B sales. In part 2, we will look at ways to help your organization, your sales force, and channel partners navigate the changing B2B landscape to avoid pitfalls, identify new approaches, and some best practices to keep your business moving forward.

By: Ric Neeley

Many of the trends we identified in the previous article began years before COVID-19 was added to our vocabulary. There is no denying the coronavirus not only accelerated these evolutionary changes but shifted them into overdrive to deal with a crisis. 

  • Exponential growth in the number of remote employees
    • In July 2019, Flexjobs, a recruiter specializing in flexible and remote work, reported the number of people working remotely had grown 159% in the 12 years from 2005 – 2017. This meant 2.9% of all US workers worked remotely in 2017. 
  • Traditional in-person sales calls dropped over 50% in 2020
    • As early as 2013, the Harvard Business Review was predicting more B2B sales duties would shift from outside sales reps to inside reps.
    • The rise of the Millennial workforce could also foretell this change. Today, with most B2B buyers being Millennials, nearly 80% prefer remote human interactions or digital service over in-office visits.
  • Finally, ecommerce continues to grow as does people’s comfort with shifting larger and larger purchases online.

Just one year ago, experts were predicting the face of B2B sales to change within a decade; however, the pandemic changed everything and moved that timetable to a single year. So, what can you and your organization do to deal with these enormous changes? How do you re-engineer an entire sales and distribution network that probably took decades to build in a matter of months? Where do you go to identify emerging best practices and get the training people will need to succeed?

First, take a deep breath and let’s take stock of things…

  • The US GDP dropped 3.5% in 2020. This was the worst single year for the US economy  since the end of World War II. Many small businesses were forced to close and most saw a drop in sales.
  • Executives were envisioning enormous 2020 shortfalls as they watched sales and activity tank in Q2.
  • Managing costs has become more important than ever.
  • The market has changed, and there are certainly more supply chain challenges then anyone can remember.
  • People may not be jetting off to visit clients as often as they used to, but sales and channel networks somehow have learned to deal with this new world.
  • Fortunately, most companies weathered the worst of 2020 through the resiliency of their people.

Customer-facing employees are some of your most adaptable people. Flexibility is simply a requirement to be effective in their jobs. They need listen to customers and react to their needs. Undoubtedly, during this pandemic, many of your B2B sales and customer service staff were the most important people at feeding your team information to prioritize orders and processes in what was suddenly a chaotic world.

The lesson here is simple: 

Look to your own people as the experts in adapting to your situation.

Searching out an expert to help train your people on using Zoom or Webex may be helpful, but many of your salespeople have already become proficient using online meeting tools. They have made mistakes along the way and have already learned from them. They have created online capabilities presentations rivaling most of the “free” webinars you will attend and probably much more interesting to their audience. Your team has created centers of excellence that you may not even be aware of during this pandemic to keep your company moving forward. The challenge for you is to identify them and clone their behaviors.

Finding Centers of Excellence

Step 1 – Look for Results

It probably is not as difficult as you might think to find your centers of excellence. Begin by looking at your results in the different customer facing roles:

Look at your sales results between March 2020 and December 2020 and ask these questions:

  • Which of your direct sales reps generated the most sales?
  • Who had the fewest cancelled orders?
  • What dealers grew sales when all other were declining?
  • Which inside sales and service reps had the highest satisfaction ratings or generated the most cross sells or upsells?

Even during a crisis, there will be successful people in your organization or network. Start by evaluating your results and identifying who was most successful. Your results won’t lie!

Step 2 – Learn What Makes Them Different

Next, talk to your top performers. Ask them what they did. Dig deeply. Find out how they were successful generating sales in a crisis or satisfying customers who were calling in to disconnect. Learn about the tools they used. Look for behaviors or actions that could be repeated by others. Remember, sometimes success comes from being in the right place at the right time and simply is not repeatable. You’re looking for behaviors other can emulate here.

Step 3 – Make Them Heroes and Teach Others the Secrets

When you find a repeatable behavior that leads to success, share it with your entire team. Hold up your teammate as the hero who looked at a challenge differently and found a new answer. Publicly recognize them as an innovator to communicate their accomplishments and encourage others to follow this new example. Reward your innovator for teaching their secrets to others. Then, reward others for taking the same steps. 

Even in the worst of times there are successful people. They already exist in your own organization. Seek them out, find out what makes them different and show others how to become successful, too. During this pandemic, you may find your top performers have changed. Embrace the changes and clone them throughout your organization.

Ric Neeley is a Director of Marketing for Hinda Loyalty Group, a US-based loyalty solutions provider that helps engage, inspire, and reward the people most important to your business.