Is the ‘new normal’ the permanent ‘normal?’

Will we eventually be able to return to the prepandemic ways of conducting business?

That’s a question that has been on the minds of many professionals. The latest survey from the Sandler Research Center, “Leading from the Front During Challenging Times,” asked sales leaders around the world what kinds of changes they have encountered in the era of COVID-19 and how they went about planning for those changes.

The research revealed that 71.4% of participating sales managers, and sales leadership, reported that their sales process had changed as a result of transitioning to remote commercial trading. The bad news is that, unfortunately, 63.2% didn’t have a plan.

The survey results also suggested that those organizations who made the transition more quickly than their counterparts, or competitors, fared the best in the marketplace. By rapidly pivoting, they not only impressed existing customers with their commercial agility, and availability, but were also able to attract new prospects—even though these were fewer in numbers than in years past.

The benchmark for those “pivot points” focused on their preparation, and readiness, in moving to a virtual selling environment in areas including:

• Leadership

• People management

• Coaching and training

• Technology

• Human capital management

• Pipeline generation and management

Pick any one of them and ask: “As an organization, how have we adapted, and adjusted, our strategy and approach?” Going forward, the reality of this new environment can’t be ignored. Almost all business, competitive landscapes and sales processes have changed. And yet, there are still those within the global sales space who remain confident that their days of flying-high-in-the-sky, and conducting business in prepandemic ways, aren’t over.

They may want to think again. Even when the pandemic ends, even when the last vaccine is given, even when the last Zoom subscription payment is made, what can we really return to now that the door has been opened? Your customers, clients and employees are all conducting business in a new environment. We are hiring people virtually, onboarding them virtually, training virtually, selling virtually, closing deals virtually and so on. Even the long-standing business tradition of a handshake may be lost forever. The move to an increasingly digital landscape was inevitable and the buyer-seller relationship has been permanently changed. In the words of the writer Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.” Not anymore.

The secret for sales leaders who expect their business to survive in 2021, and beyond, will look to arm their sales teams with the tools to win in a digital selling ecosystem. What type of sales enablement needs to happen to accomplish that goal? Organizations shouldn’t leave it to their sales leaders to figure it out on their own. The research shows that despite the passing of over a year since the first global lockdown: 

• 67.5% of leaders have not received training on how to lead remotely.

• 42% of frontline sales professionals still have not been adequately trained in how to sell remotely.

• 40.4% of respondents reported no change, or improvement, in customer relationship management use since the start of the pandemic.

This calls for a dramatic change for sales leadership, across every one of the categories listed above. From adjusting sales strategies to re-examining every aspect of onboarding to implementing a reskill/up-skill program, sales leadership must be equipped to transition, and pivot, again and again, in the digital selling ecosystem. Otherwise, they’ll be doomed to fly right by all their virtual selling opportunities and they don’t award frequent-flyer miles for that.

Jim Marshall is owner and president of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or [email protected].

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