For the last 20 years, Market-Partners Inc. has been researching how customers buy, conducting in-depth, one-on-one interviews with buyers from every industry. But what has become an emergent focus for us is how buying has changed due to the pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns. While the majority of restrictions have been lifted around the globe, many of our clients continue to ask how they should approach sales in this new, largely virtual business environment. As always, we have taken this as an opportunity to ask their market, along with countless others, two important questions: first, what has changed for the buyer, and second, what they would ask of salespeople in today’s world, if they even want to talk to salespeople at all.
The good news is that yes, buyers everywhere still report that there is a consistent and valuable role for the salesperson. However, it is not how most salespeople are operating today. Returning to the second question for a moment: what do you think the number one request of salespeople in the post-pandemic world has been? Hold that response in your mind before reading the next paragraph.
In the words of the buyer, the short answer is, “Stop wasting my time.” We heard plea after plea for salespeople to stop showing up with cookie cutter presentations, ones where the vast amount of information is either available on the website or is of little to no value to the buyer. While we find this answer slightly ironic – as when did buyers ever want sellers to waste their time – it reveals more about the post-pandemic world than one might initially realize. As a result of the shift to virtual, buyers across the board are more conscious than ever of the demands on their time. They are also far more aware of how much they can find at the click of a mouse.
These two phenomena have truly brought the role of sales under the microscope. Therefore, as sales professionals, we must manage the customer conversation far more intelligently to get on our buyers’ calendars and make the most of our time when we do. This means that the days of the “traditional sales call” are over. For decades, salespeople have scheduled time with their clients or prospects, prepared their presentations, then on the big day, put on the production; then, they have followed up and repeated that same process a few weeks later. This can no longer be how we sell.
When engaging with clients and prospects, we must now have multiple touch points, addressing multiple players, on a near continuous basis. These connections are not like the ones used in the “old world.” These may be touches by an e-mail, a text, a digital sales room, via Slack, or through a social media connection. Not only do we need to manage these various channels, but we must also be more intelligent with how we structure our dialogue.
For example, before a live call, a salesperson should reach out to participants to confirm their interests. They should openly share what their agenda and objectives are for the meeting and gain participant input. Then, based on their responses, the salesperson should adjust the meeting content to ensure that with the time allowed, they are bringing immediate relevance and value to the equation. After the call, the salesperson should then follow up with each participant individually, adding fresh insight and gaining their feedback, input, and alignment. Like with outreach, it is key that this follow up is done across multiple channels as well.
This is a very different rhythm and cadence compared to traditional sales, but it exemplifies the necessary changes to sell how our customers are buying. It is beyond time to move on from the era of steam-driven selling to the era of modern selling. We must let go of old habits and embrace technology enabled communication and intelligent, managed outreach to reconnect sellers to buyers.