Digital Sales Transformation: How Done Is Done?
AS THE FULL implications of the COVID pandemic sank in last year, with warnings to shelter in place, if not outright orders for lockdowns, businesses across the world had to make quick decisions regarding how to conduct their operations in a time of unprecedented change. A key focus of organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry’s recent “Virtual Selling Study,” involving 522 sales professionals, was to assess what implications this had on selling.
To start to answer that question, the survey participants were asked to compare the primary methods they used to engage prospects and customers before the COVID outbreak, and then during it. This analysis was completed for various stages in the sales process: initial discussion/needs analysis; product education/presentation; and deal negotiation/closing.
The study found that sales organizations made a massive shift in how they engaged buyers. The adoption of technology to conduct web-based meetings, coordinate calendars between sellers and buyers, provide remote access to key systems and data, and so on skyrocketed. The scope of this transformation was put into perspective by a chief information officer we interviewed who shared that his company fully implemented a projected multiyear digitalization initiative in fewer than three months.
We noted that some vertical industries and geographies were hit harder than others. But while on average sales cycles lengthened, average deal sizes slipped a bit, and buyer expectations increased, many sales organizations found a way to conduct business with customers.
But the survey also asked study participants for their views of the changes made by sales organizations in how they sell. How long-term are these changes? The figure shows the breakdown.
The majority opinion is that COVID has fundamentally changed how companies sell. When we shared this with a chief revenue officer on our advisory board, however, he had this reaction: “They say that now, but as soon as companies lose big deals because competitors went to meet with clients, you are going to immediately see more sellers getting in cars and flying on planes.”
Our recommendation is that before a company decides what its sales future looks like, it should take the time to map out its pre-COVID and during-COVID sales processes and assess the strengths and weaknesses of each. As far back as 2008, we started benchmarking firms that were implementing a process that blended high-tech and high-touch. The conditions we find ourselves in now might make that a necessity versus an option.
If sales organizations go through that exercise, they will find that while they may well have gone a long way toward supporting remote selling, they still have a lot to do. To optimize a high-tech/high-touch process, companies will need to implement more advanced CRM solutions to support areas such as virtual models for sales training and skills reinforcement; best practices for sharing/collaboration; sales coaching; and seller and buyer solution co-creation and collaboration. As we do so, we might very well see that when it comes to digital sales transformation, done is never done.
Jim Dickie is cofounder of CSO Insights and is currently a research fellow for Sales Mastery, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking case study examples of how companies are leveraging technology to transform sales. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jimdickie.