COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Evolution of B2B Sales!

acceleration image

I first wrote on these themes in December of 2018.  The ideas still hold true but what were emerging trends have now rapidly accelerated.  Digital networking and connecting and selling via various electronic media which were emerging concepts gaining acceptance a short while ago have now become every day realities.

How often in the past have you heard from a sales representative, “my customer will only buy from us if I have a regular face to face meeting with them.”

Pretty much all meetings and sales calls are now being done by phone or video-conference.

Will we revert to a version of normal that will be selling as it was?  Let’s look at some of the findings and trends that I wrote on in 2018.

First there were some interesting statistics from a study published by Forrester Research:

60% of B2B Buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep. [1]

68% of B2B Buyers prefer gathering information online on their own[2]

Three years ago, it was discovered that between a compression of time available to meet with sales representatives in flatter and more streamlined organizations and also a new demographic of buyers who prefer digital media over face to face interactions (digital natives), the role of outside sales representatives was changing. 

How is that being reflected in the effectiveness of sales professionals?  Check this data out from Salesforce Research (2018):

57% of Sales Reps expect to miss their quotas this year.[3]

66% of a Sales Rep’s time is not spent on selling.[4]

In the face of COVID – 19 What shifts have occurred?  Looking at the 2020 LinkedIn State of Sales Report we find:

77% of Sales Reps are holding more video meetings.

51% of Sales Reps are sending more emails.

57% of Sales Reps are making more phone calls[5]

In the absence of face to face meetings, travel restrictions and cancelled conferences it is remarkable that these numbers are not higher!  Essentially sales representatives have been taking on the role of inside sales representatives.

What is their selling environment like?

51% said their customers were experiencing budget cuts.

45% said specific industries were at a standstill

55% anticipated a decrease in pipeline (with 14% expecting a significant decrease.)[6]

With these trends in mind, it cannot be more obvious that an organization’s sales model needs a much closer examination.  If there are outside sales representatives managing a territory or a book of business, the sales budget will be under considerable duress.

A common refrain from sales organizations has been that customers that are used to being serviced by an outside sales representative would not ever consider being serviced by an inside sales representative.  This premise seemed dubious in advance of COVID-19 given the Forrester insights but couple that with the insights from the LinkedIn State of Sales and we find that the vast majority of customers are currently being supported by e-commerce or an inside sales function (even if it is an outside sales representative working virtually).

Looking at a world post COVID – 19, what should a reimagined sales model look like?  Can the majority of customers be managed and serviced by a combination of inside sales and e-commerce?  If so, what do you do with your outside sales representatives? 

Let’s start with what is being sold?

Are they complex solutions that need the expert guidance of a sales consultant or are they simple transactions such as items ordered every week?  You really need to be aware of how your customers want to transact with you around these routine purchases.  Forrester found:

Simple or transactional orders are increasingly being routed through self-service, online channels.  This must be offered or the risk will be losing these orders to pure web plays[7]

Other than customer retention there are further advantages to routing these orders to self-serve, online options.  Forrester also shares:

Shifting low-consideration purchases to self-serve, online options results in:

The potential for much lower cost-per-interaction

An increase in incremental revenue

Improved customer satisfaction[8]

So, what is the future role for B2B sales people?  Once again, consulting Forrester:

B2B Buyers want skilled consultants for their high-consideration purchase scenarios.[9]

How do you interpret all of this?

To me, this continues to suggest that a buyer’s time is precious.  If your customer has been sold on your company and the value that you provide, they would very much prefer to utilize a time efficient self-service option for their routine purchases.  There are advantages for your organization with this shift such as the lower cost per interaction identified, increased order accuracy, a greater opportunity to cross sell or expand the product bundle and ultimately a committed, loyal customer.  But with this comes a challenge.

The challenge is that you need to have a self-service portal/ecommerce platform that your customers like to use (simple to use, easy to navigate, convenient and time efficient).  If you cannot deliver this, then they will look for competitive web options that fulfill that need.  What is becoming more and more apparent, they will not be looking for a sales representative to help them with these purchases.

What do you do with your sales people?

They still have a role.  In a lot of evolved sales models, outside sales representatives are used as “closers” or used to support specific technical or complex customer needs in the largest, most profitable customers.

Another important consideration is that increasingly, complex or expensive sales are being approved by a committee within a customer. Your sales representative is not likely to be able to address the entire committee but they can identify a champion or advocate and then coach them and provide information that will facilitate them selling your proposition internally through the committee.

The need is for a skilled consultant who adds value to the interactions which is an absolute requirement for a buyer who has precious little time.  They do not need an order taker taking up their time on simple, routine transactions.

It can be very intimidating and disruptive to contemplate these changes or shifts.  There are ways to plan out an evolutionary transition.  Feel free to contact us for help on this journey!

Consider our Sales Strategy Index where we can look at aspects of your sales strategy, sales model, sales process, sales methodology, sales management and sales enablement to help you determine the aspects of your sales approach that most needs attention!


[1] Death Of A (B2B) Salesman:  Two Years Later.  2017 Forrester Research Inc. Page 3

[2] Death Of A (B2B) Salesman:  Two Years Later.  2017 Forrester Research Inc. Page 3

[3] State of Sales, Third Edition.  Salesforce Research. Page 8

[4] State of Sales, Third Edition.  Salesforce Research. Page 9

[5] The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020 – United States Edition. Page 6

[6] The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020 – United States Edition.  Page 5

[7] Death Of A (B2B) Salesman:  Two Years Later.  2017 Forrester Research Inc. Page 2

[8] Death Of A (B2B) Salesman:  Two Years Later.  2017 Forrester Research Inc.  Pages 5-6

[9] Death Of A (B2B) Salesman:  Two Years Later.  2017 Forrester Research Inc.  Page 4

Leave a Comment