As coronavirus (COVID-19) forced restrictions on human interaction due to social distancing requirements, companies across many industry sectors rapidly altered their customer interactions. 

Organisations embraced new digital capabilities and enabled teams to work virtually with speed never before seen. However some business functions will find it harder to adjust to this new virtual environment, especially ones where building customer rapport and trust is at the forefront of a successful interaction – such as sales teams. Innovation needs to be sought in how these interactions can be successfully fostered through virtual applications and the adoption of new technologies.

How companies plan to structure their sales teams, and supporting teams, to respond to changing customer demands and requirements will be a differentiating factor across many industry sectors.

Customer first, even more so

Now, more than ever, businesses will need to pivot their efforts towards the customer’s needs and wants for future success. Customer demand will be very different on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, not only will their essential habits change almost overnight, but their desire for safety will be at new levels. Whereas before many businesses deemed it essential to interact personally with customers to meet their needs – new ways of working adopted during coronavirus have redefined the sales operating model, and these will be embraced well into the future. For some sales force executives, they will be challenging themselves as to whether there really is a need for face to face interactions with customers, given the effective outcomes achieved while working remotely.

This may mean that the sales teams support requirements will change, a focus may be put on content support, FAQ sessions, demonstrations and the ability to bring subject matter experts into discussions that were often restricted to rigid sales call cycles.

However these requirements will move on from businesses adopting a one size fits all approach to their call cycles and sales enablement collateral. In a virtual selling environment, it is critical to show compassion, empathy and patience. The way a business sells to, and treats, each of its customer needs to change with the individual customer. Businesses will also need to be open to a longer sales cycle. Building trust is a critical criteria of a successful transaction and is one element that is more easily built through face to face interactions – businesses should consider giving customers the ability to trial versus moving directly to a conversion discussion.

Current restrictions are forcing sales executives to work remotely whilst helping businesses to think differently and be far more targeted to the individual needs of segments and the customer’s they are serving. Customised content, webinars and education, in addition to sales based forums, are proving to be the model businesses are setting as a new foundation. These businesses are leveraging emotional drivers, showing empathy to new models of engagement and leveraging educational drivers as well as the traditional functional drivers for selling to their broad base of customers.

Sales force operational structures will need to change

The standard approach to sales structures and operating models are based on traditional call cycles that are account and geography-coverage based – this is up for review. A virtual approach means time that was historically used to travel to face-to-face meetings can be utilised to create more customer touch points, across all stages of the sales funnel and to re-engage with lapsed customers.

This additional time can provide businesses with top line opportunities to grow their coverage and client engagement but also leads to assessments and potential cost out efficiencies across channels, ultimately delivering an enhanced cost-to-serve for a business.

The wider business will need to consider how it can also adapt to support a more digitally-enabled sales force. Greater levels of sales support such as the growth in the sales and trade marketing enablement teams may need to be considered to aid the delivery of increased digitally delivered content. Sales teams will require more support material to educate customers as opposed to direct selling material. Brochures, which may have previously been relied on for face-to-face selling, will no longer apply as the core sales tool. Instead digital-first supporting materials such as interesting videos with FAQ’s capabilities, chat-based Q&A’s and webinar type forums will help drive sales through to conversion without direct customer contact.

Operational model is up for review

Future sales teams will require a new set of tools and digital enablers to help them take advantage of the new ways of working. Currently, most organisations use some version of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool – a tool that has historically been adopted or rejected by sales teams. Adopted – as the single source of truth on their customers, supporting a business to prepare and appropriately drive a high performance sales engagement culture. Rejected – as purely an administrative duty that obstructs account management activities.

In this new way of working, a business’s CRM will be a critical tool to track the performance of its sales team, to measure the efficacy of the traditional funnel that they work in, and to re-forecast business impact aligned to sales coverage and customer engagement. CRM-based insights will also help identify the geographic hotspots of success that other team members can learn from with renewed and digitised sales efforts across segments.

With an effective CRM established, an organisation can focus on the more historical elements used to manage a sales team such as call volume tracking, sales performance review, account management and leadership meetings. These will all also need to be performed using the latest available technology, such as video conferencing. CRM can assist in setting a new, more frequent, sales call rhythm and, with support from digital enablement tools for call cycle and meeting notes, can lead to more real or near-time accuracy of what is driving sales performance.

Operating model challenges and opportunities

As sales teams adapt to new works of working, transitioning from a physical to a virtual environment, it is worth being mindful of the tax, legal and regulatory implications of the resultant changes to the organisation’s operating model. Organisations should ask whether they are availing themselves of opportunities and how they are managing their risk and obligations. For example, tax concessions may be available when providing benefits to employees working from home, and employees may be able to share funding of work-from-home requirements through salary sacrifice arrangements. A sales team member working during a length overseas stay could inadvertently create an offshore taxable presence of the organisation – potentially exposing themselves and the organisation to corporate, employment, as well as personal, tax, registration and filing obligations. Investment in new technologies, cross-border service payments, the emergence of new products and service offerings and changes in the operating and service models will all have tax, legal and regulatory impacts that will need to be considered and managed.

Reinventing the service model

While there will still be sales activities that will be face-to-face, now is the time to consider process automation. It must be remembered, the key to digitising the sales process is still the people - businesses will need to determine how best to keep the sales team motivated. Sales teams often run off a culture of competiveness and motivation through the interaction with others. This experience is now very different in a digitally-transformed sales world.

Leaders will need to consider what are the right things to benchmark teams on across leader boards, what and how to communicate when things are going well, but equally addressing the areas that need focus. This needs to be done in a way that’s dynamic and empathetic for the people in the team. Which in turn puts pressure on sales leaders and the people responsible for maintaining a strong, high performance culture.

For many businesses this new way of working is an opportunity to reconsider their overarching service model – what comes after the sale? Future considerations will need to be given to adoption, delivery, ongoing questions and aftermarket service activities. It’s now time for businesses to automate many of the manual, non-value adding activities, remove cost out, enhance margins and build a leaner, more efficient and effective business for now and tomorrow.


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