How Outside Sales Strategy Will Change With COVID-19

How Outside Sales Strategy Will Change With COVID-19

May 2020

Written by: Kelly Renz, President & CEO

We have experienced significant industry disruptors in recent years:  the on-line travel booking aggregators impact on travel agents, the entrance of UBER and its impact on taxis, and Amazon’s presence dwarfing local retail businesses, just to name three examples. Disruptors in and of themselves can be innovation catalysts, never letting businesses rest on their heels.

Enter COVID-19 and the impacts have been felt in many ways.  However, the way revenue is obtained via an outside salesforce will likely feel this ripple effect long after we return to our “next normal”.  We have talked to many of Novo’s clients and colleagues, and the way their organization will sell their products or services has been greatly disrupted.  Here are some of the impacts:

  • Facilities and offices are not open to non-essential visitors.  Generally, sales meetings are going to be conducted remotely for a long period of time as organizations look to minimize health exposures.
  • Outside sales account executives cannot travel to their clients and prospects.  Their business has moved to video or phone.  For some, this may be more efficient.  For many, it very much challenges an approach that was mostly relationship-driven through meetings and interpersonal connections. 
  • For some sales professionals, more business development meetings can fit into a day when remote.  At first, that might seem great as more meetings = more revenue in theory.  However, the pace of sales burnout will increase.  When there is not “windshield” time between appointments, there is less preparation and transition time to switch focus and gear up for the next one.  The sales day has intensified, or will, as business picks up.  “Zoom fatigue” will be very real for sales teams that are not accustomed, or motivated, by those kinds of interactions.
  • Being remote requires a different marketing angle to get a buyer’s attention.  Increased digital marketing may dilute some organizations messages as some capitalize on larger media budgets and tactics.
  • Corporations will enjoy reduced sales travel and entertainment budgets.  There will be more scrutiny on spend related to sales. 
  • We will realize that buying habits will change again, just like after the Great Recession in 2008-2009.  Companies will flatten and introduce more automation and rigors around purchasing, including the use of technology to procure materials and goods.

Case example:  Let us ponder one industry for a moment that will likely be greatly impacted:  pharmaceutical sales.  If pharmaceutical sales representatives cannot enter facilities, how will those organizations connect with their buyers and influencers inside the clinics, hospitals, and other settings?  Enter the opportunity for disruption.  Will pharma organizations focus more on the general population education for their products through aggressive advertising?  Or will new technology provide different access for education, research and ordering for medical professionals?  Well, let us stay tuned.

What does this mean to sales team structure, recruitment, and candidate assessment? Organizations will need to redefine their sales model overall and then map that to the right candidate competencies, capabilities, and profile. Finding and selecting great sales talent was already hard.  Now, it is likely a more flexible and adaptable profile that will be needed to accommodate the new sales environment. 

Perhaps we will see a movement to more inside sales for remote selling, and then incorporate smaller, highly targeted outside sales teams that tend to be more technical in nature.  A more technical sales engineer model also then changes the best compensation alignment to influence the behaviors needed to sell.  That is quite the ripple effect on recruitment and development of sales talent.

Novo’s recommendation:

  • Evaluate how your customers are going to buy from you and others; revisit your market segmentation and their new normal
  • Revisit the current roles and structure of your sales organization.  It might not fit the current and future landscape
  • Update job profiles to match the right capabilities, competencies and behaviors needed for your sales positions
  • Incorporate proven assessment tools to help you select and map talent to the right roles.  Do this for existing team members as well as new hires to ensure you have the right overall talent
  • Next, evaluate compensation structures to ensure they will motivate and reward accordingly
  • Train your sales teams on how to conduct effective remote sales processes and meetings; set reasonable goals to avoid burnout; include metrics and benchmarks to evaluate success and challenges
  • Lastly, evaluate your model over the upcoming months in this quickly changing landscape.  What used to work, or what works right now, may not work in six months