The COVID-19 pandemic has caused sales organizations to adapt overnight to a new world of social distancing and digital-only collaboration. The comfortable confines of the corporate office are off limits; customer calls are virtual-only; and plans for sales kickoffs, trade shows and other in-person events have shifted to a virtual model (or been cancelled altogether).
And yet, as is so often the case, with disruption comes opportunity. The pandemic is forcing companies to question conventional wisdom and engage in experimentation to adapt to the “stay-at-home” world. This type of experiment would never happen during normal times because of the risk of derailing the sales organization. But when the world already has been disrupted, experimenting becomes the most effective way to navigate to a better place. Franklin D. Roosevelt said it well when making his famous speech about the Great Depression: “…the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.”
The questions being asked
The post-COVID sales organization is being formed by the questions sales leaders are asking today as part of their experiments. These include:
- Do we really need to pay for a sales office? If so, do we need the one we already have, or should we rethink what “office work” looks like and design accordingly?
- Were we as remote-friendly as we thought before the pandemic? Did we have the systems and processes in place to truly enable a remote sales force?
- Should we consider transitioning to digital-centric onboarding processes? Is it possible to generate results similar to traditional in-person onboarding? Are there opportunities to improve on in-person onboarding by incorporating digital components?
- How are our people and customers responding to web conferences instead of in-person meetings? What skills do my sales reps need to be effective in a web conferencing setting?
- Do we still need expensive internal sales meetings (e.g. quarterly business reviews), or can we move some of the proceedings into a digital learning environment and invest the rest of the budget into other methods of morale-building and social interaction?
Most sales leaders are learning the answers to these questions in real time. (Nothing shows how ready a company is for a remote workforce like work-from-home mandates.) Some of the answers have been surprising. Here are a few areas where today’s changes are already shaping the future:
Evolving relationships over video
One of the biggest surprises so far has been the impact of web conferencing on professional relationships. One would think that eliminating face-to-face meetings would make it more difficult to build strong relationships with co-workers and customers. It turns out, however, that it’s not more difficult — it’s just different.
With people cooped up in their homes, they tend to use the video feature in web conferencing applications more frequently (rather than just using voice), so they can imitate the social dynamics of a face-to-face meeting. And with family members and roommates also confined to home, it’s now expected (and often accepted) that conference participants might have children running around in the background, or a dog barking off camera, or a roommate bursting into the room. Before the pandemic, moments like these were to be avoided at all costs, because they shatter the veneer of “professionalism.” Now, people are more empathetic and forgiving, realizing that they might be the one with the barking dog on the next call.
This has resulted in more authentic interactions between people, which is actually a positive step toward building more enduring and enjoyable relationships. The increase in video conferencing will likely persist after the pandemic has passed, even when having a face-to-face meeting is once again possible. Sales organizations should adapt to this transition (and the resulting changes in work habits and processes), which will make effective training and coaching essential to succeeding in the post-COVID world.
Learning and coaching for the new world
Web and video conferencing are excellent examples of how learning and coaching will enable sales organizations to adapt to the post-COVID world. For example, video conferencing requires a different approach than typical conference calls. Dressing appropriately and avoiding multitasking are essential, and reps always need to have a backup plan should the conferencing application crash or deliver substandard performance. Reps also should be aware of tips for improving video conferencing performance – such as closing browser tabs, email and other bandwidth-consuming applications. For sales leaders and enablement pros, this means creating learning modules that address etiquette, technical how-to’s and best practices for using the technology, and evaluating rep competencies on an ongoing basis.
Beyond the expanded use of video conferencing, there are other workplace changes that could become permanent after the COVID-19 pandemic that sales leaders will need to accommodate. The most prominent of these is how they will deliver learning and coaching in a world where traditional face-to-face meetings have given way to more frequent virtual interactions. It is critical in this world to have access to a tool for quickly creating, sharing and updating online learning content that can be used for both formal learning and peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges.
These are just a few areas to keep an eye on as sales organizations experiment with new approaches to solving an old problem: getting reps ready to achieve maximum productivity. Some of those experiments will yield results that change the status quo in sales learning, coaching and management.
Liz Pulice is vice president of sales enablement at Brainshark, a leader in data-driven sales enablement and readiness solutions.
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