Sales professionals struggling to be relevant in a hybrid 'virtual' selling world
The rapid acceleration of hybrid work due to the COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound long-term impact on buyer and seller relationships, according to a new report.
The Sales Agility Report from Wyda says the impact is forcing a re-think on the effectiveness of traditional sales training.
The pandemic has dramatically impacted how buyers and sellers engage, bringing virtual selling skills to the fore. But another significant trend is the self-sufficiency of buyers to independently research, explore and understand the products and solutions they are interested in purchasing, further reducing the influence of a 'sales' pitch.
"Over time, sales professionals who rely heavily on their ability to match customers in the market to solution use cases are becoming less valuable to buyers and less effective as sellers," says Wyda founder and chief executive, and the report's author, Kate Kesbyo
"Some sales professionals have been able to mask this through physical in-person relationships, until the pandemic stripped away the coffee meeting and exposed a big skill gap," she says.
The Sales Agility Report shows fundamental changes in buyer dynamics, the need to offer greater insights and better understand the customer's business, rather than just talking about products or relying on relationships.
"Sellers that don't adapt fast in this new environment are being exposed," says Kesby.
"Customers are still buying, so sellers who can make it clear how they are relevant as partners and how that fuels growth will get attention and ultimately the business."
According to the report, the top three skills to differentiate high-performing sales professionals are:
- Offering and articulating business insights to the C-Suite and Executives: Only 49% of the respondents felt confident that their sales professionals had these skills, 28% lacked confidence that their training provided this capability, with the remaining 23% 'uncertain'.
- Understanding customers' business context: Traditional sales education and training tools struggle in key areas. A staggering 88% agree that traditional sales methodologies need to be combined with more context-specific skills. This means a better way for sales professionals to learn, target and articulate in the current market. Further, 95% want to see an increased focus on 'sales agility' in their training and education programmes.
- Selling on business value, not focusing on product features and attributes: While respondents' preferred training choice is classroom-based instructor-led, interestingly, 30% said they have difficulty changing their behaviour after training. This issue of 'inertia' is even more pronounced amongst companies with 10,000+ employees, with 41% citing it as a problem.
"As one respondent remarked, the agile salesperson needs to use an array of information and people, both internal and third-party, to drive customer insights and trust," says Kesby.
"This point was illustrated by the fact that 95% of respondents agreed that creating greater agility in sales engagement and execution is required."
Remote or hybrid workplaces are now the norm, and many buyers and decision-makers perform their roles in a time-poor environment where virtual meetings and engagements far outweigh face-to-face meetings.
"Sales professionals who previously relied on relationships driven by physical meetings, such as lunches or an event, intertwined with sales stories and pitches, are finding the pandemic has taken that away," says Kesby.
"In a virtual selling world where buyers are remote, juggling additional commitments and are over-extended pivoting their own business, sales professionals need to have less reliance on relationships and a more compelling business reason for meetings to cut through the noise and build credibility and trust."
The report found that 60% of all respondents use a formal sales methodology. But the top three challenges in the sales environment were the increase in virtual selling, having to speak to multiple stakeholders, and the competitive pressure, which requires them to better articulate business value in their interactions.
Less than half (40%) held a positive view that their company was effective at engaging C-Suite executives.
"The three most common barriers for sales professionals engaging customer executives are the difficulty scheduling meetings, the lack of an established relationship, and being blocked by gatekeepers, which we all present pre-pandemic," says Kesby.
"To overcome these challenges, sales professionals must offer and articulate business insights to senior executives, understanding customers' business situations and selling on business value, rather than product features and attributes," she says.
The Path Forward
The pandemic has caused significant disruption to business operations, and the sales engagement process is no different. As organisations pivoted to a hybrid work model with remote employees, we have seen the importance of virtual selling and the articulation of customer business-centric sales messaging significantly increase.
"Successful selling in this hybrid world requires an agile set of skills to overcome the same blockers as pre-pandemic engagements," says Kesby.
"But our data shows us that almost one in two sales professionals lacks the confidence to articulate business issues and solutions in this changing sales environment," she says.
Kesby says many organisations are suffering due to assuming a pre-existing level of foundational knowledge that simply does not exist, or in cases where it does, is not always applied consistently.
"The research tells us sales professionals are seeking a new educational approach that amplifies traditional sales methodologies with more dynamic, contextual sales education that builds accountability, responsibility and agility."