In this article, I refer to tomorrow as the day we emerge from this current pandemic and begin to resume some normality.
Sales might arguably be one of the most costly functions in many organisations, but generally, the cost is accepted as a necessary expense to grow the business. However, I think the current climate has highlighted some of the flexibilities available in working practices that could reduce costs and increase profits. Smarter work habits learned from a way of life forced by nature. I also think that this will change the job description of a great salesperson. Here is what I would look to as additional critical skills required in a salesperson of tomorrow and why;
1. Demonstrate a digital mindset.
Having just written an article on how to sell well on video, I think we have to question how many sales encounters genuinely need to be carried out in person and how many could achieve the same if not better outcomes when conducted over a digital platform. As we continue to survive and learn through this very challenging and testing period, we cannot ignore the positives that have come out of it. One of those positives has to be the fact that sales operations can become more efficient if we make more use of the digital platforms available to us.
I created an efficiency matrix for the Jewson group some years ago. It measures the time spent on an account against the profits yielded. I'm sure there are many similar applications out there that give the account manager visibility into the ROI of each of their accounts. It can be quite an eye-opener for them when they first see how little return there is from an account which they might once have considered to be a top client. Still, some salespeople run to the beck and call of their customers without a mutual objective and without realising the cost it incurs. Their reasons for this are that they believe that reacting to a customer’s request in this way will strengthen their relationship. Unfortunately, too many sales leaders have come from the same school of thought, and so it goes on.
I have argued for some time now that salespeople don't always need to be physically present to show support to their customers; just being there for them is essential. By that, I mean be contactable and in the best position to carry out actions relating to their requests quickly with resources to hand. I understand that this is more challenging in some industries than others but, this current lockdown period has hopefully proved that it would be much smarter to take a more considered approach to each meeting set by either party. Here are some of the considerations I would give before setting out on the road to meet a client;
a) Do you need to visit the site or offices as part of your meeting objectives?
b) Do you need to get a better understanding of the culture and the organisation?
c) Do you need an opportunity to catch hold of someone else while you are there?
d) Do you need to demonstrate a product or service?
e) Do you need to present at one of the customers' on-site group/ Senior or conference/meeting?
2. Proactively manage accounts
I think another habit to encourage further is that of regularly scheduled touchpoint meetings. I call them touchpoint meetings though I'm sure there are many other names for them. These are meetings that would previously be known as the 'coffee cup round' meetings. (You know the ones I mean) Where salespeople would travel to 'check-in' with a client and hope that they might influence a sale while there. It is time that those meetings are no longer essential in person. By carrying them out over a video call, a lot of travel time would be saved, and so many more accounts could be contacted more regularly. When a salesperson has to choose where to spend their time, they spend it travelling to their active accounts. What we need is a shift toward working remotely on the active ones freeing up more time for, new market opportunities in the field.
Here is a list of types of meetings that I think could be considered for video calling;
a) A catch-up call to check the progress
b) An introduction to someone new in either party
c) Responding to a customer/client request sent by email
d) Reviewing terms and conditions
e) Closing a deal or gaining commitment
Calls to customer support can also be reduced significantly through the proactive behaviour of each salesperson. By carrying out the remote meetings mentioned above, salespeople can be ahead of any issues or enquiries which would ordinarily be picked up by customer support. I have witnessed this happen when evaluating sales training. Those who regularly communicate with both their customer and their internal support managers tend to be more successful and have stronger relationships with their accounts.
3. Be able to plan sales objectives
A real sales objective is one that is measurable from the outcome. It has to show that by achieving it there will be significant progress made in the sales process. Unfortunately, sales objectives are not always fully comprehended, and so many salespeople tend to set actions rather than objectives. What's the difference you might ask? Well, an action is an approach or a part of the plan. The objective is the planned outcome that the action will help to achieve. So for example;
'To demonstrate the XXX product' is not a sales objective; it is an action that can help to achieve the following objective;
"To agree on approval for a pilot stage."
Having the wrong understanding of a sales objective is one of the main reasons that a salesperson does not carry out enough of a detailed analysis of their accounts. If they had to show objectives as a direct correlation to what they are measured against in their sales process, then they would be more likely to seek out the relevant objectives to move them forward. I know that many salespeople have access to sophisticated CRM[i] systems with some great sales statistics on them but that information is only useful if they know how to translate it into objectives for growth.
I have provided tools which are similar to S.W.O.T [ii]analysis to key account managers to help them to structure their approach to analysing accounts. It involves looking at internal and external environmental factors as well as internal and external relationships on both sides. Salespeople of tomorrow should be able to demonstrate the use of such tools and hence the derived objectives as a result of it.
Selling will become more strategic, going forward. Organisations who want to rebuild themselves tomorrow should be looking to invest in these three key skills to ensure a more efficient recovery.
One caveat to all this is that sales leaders also have to adapt their approach. I'm sure many sales leaders have already started to spend more time to set out plans and strategies because they are no longer travelling around to observe their team. Here are three points I think to consider when we all return to the field;
1. Trust salespeople to work remotely.
Hopefully, this period of lockdown has proved that sales activity does not require a salesperson to be on the road all the time. Most KPI’s [iii]will measure the number of visits or meetings as an activity. However, it's not the number of visits that is the poignant figure, its how many of those meetings convert to progression. By focussing on the wrong side of the measure, i.e. the input rather than the output, a sales leader can wrongly coach or manage a salesperson to spend unnecessary time in the field.
2. Provide commercial training
Anyone liable for their cash flow would calculate cost against potential return. Salespeople who are not aware or made conscious of the bigger picture regards margins and profits are unlikely to consider the cost of their input. If we want to nurture the great salesperson of tomorrow we need to start training commercial awareness as well as closing skills.
3. Recruit to tomorrows criteria
Hopefully, when tomorrow comes, you will have your full team back. In which case, please invest in training aligned to the above points. If you are going to recruit then two very telling questions you might want to use are;
"How did you manage your sales business during the crisis?"
"What would you change about your approach going forward based on what you learned during the lockdown?"
For many years I have fought to help raise the professional profile of sales and tomorrow will be our opportunity to do this. I hope this has been helpful, but of course, it is only my opinion.
[i] CRM - Customer Relationship Manager
[ii] S.W.O.T – Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat
[iii] KPI - Key Performance Indicator