Selling in the New Normal
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
The pandemic has caused those in the sales industry to reassess their tactics.
By Meredith Landry
In March 2020, when COVID-19 brought normal operations to a screeching halt, the world went online. For a business to survive, it had to quickly navigate the shift to digital without skipping a beat. Some were successful, but many couldn’t keep up.
But what about those people who sell for a living? How has the sales industry responded to the pandemic?
Sales Are Up
According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, about 96% of B2B sales teams have fully or partially shifted to remote selling, and 65% of B2B decision makers say the remote model is equally or even more effective than the way they did business prior to the pandemic.
In fact, the study found that the amount of revenue generated from video-related interactions has jumped 69% since April 2020. Together, e-commerce and videoconferencing now account for 43% of all B2B revenue, which is more than any other channel.
That’s promising news for salespeople, but will the upward trend persist? Many experts say yes, but with a caveat. If doing business online isn’t going anywhere, then you have to get better — it’s that simple.
Tamara Bunte, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based sales coach, author and public speaker, said salespeople are more than lead-generators and cold-callers, they’re “professional friend-finders,” and doing their jobs strictly online can be challenging.
“In sales, a lot of people think it’s business first and relationships second. But that’s not the case,” said Bunte. “People are tired of Zoom these days, so we’ll have to get creative about how we build and maintain those relationships.”
When the pandemic hit, Bunte, whose job revolves around in-person meetings and travel, had to learn new technologies in a hurry, including how to give complete presentations online. Almost overnight, she said, she became a videographer and graphic designer.
“I’ve got lights and a green screen. I can record better presentations in my house now than in a studio,” she said. “But all this tech and all this time alone is enough to burn anyone out.”
The longer the pandemic lingers, the more introverted people have become, Bunte said. Because of this, she’s noticed that salespeople are emailing prospective clients more than they’re calling.
She mentioned that while she too gets more virtual pitches, a simple phone call would perhaps be more successful in establishing better relationships with potential buyers. “I’m finding that a lot of people need [more] phone training,” she said. “I think if people really learn how to nourish and build stronger relationships, they will in turn build a better business.”
The Dark Side of Online Communication
Whether you’re in lockdown due to the pandemic, or you’re selling to people in another country, fostering and maintaining relationships online can be a struggle. Tone and context are often lacking in emails and texts, and not everyone is as good behind a computer screen as they are in person.
“Online communication can be used for good or for evil. And some people choose to go the dark side,” said Sarita Maybin, communication expert, motivational speaker and author based in San Diego.
To Maybin, the “dark side” means communicating online when a more direct approach is appropriate or saying whatever you want without fear of retaliation.
“There’s a feeling these days that if you can’t say something nice, just post it on Facebook. Or if you can’t say something nice, just send an email or a text,” she said. “Some people use technology as a get-out-of-jail-free card to say whatever they want, or they hide behind technology because an actual conversation is too uncomfortable.”
Use Your Manners
So how do you maintain relationships when you’re forced to do so online and keep things positive?
First and foremost, Maybin said, don’t fall back on technology to deliver a difficult message.
“If it’s a sensitive subject, pick up the phone,” she said. “We’ve all heard of bosses laying people off or supervisors giving negative feedback in a review via email. That’s just wrong.”
Next, just like you learned as a child, always say please and thank you. It sounds elementary, but Maybin said she’s surprised by how many people forget these important gestures.
“After I do a spellcheck of my email, I do a please and thank-you check,” said Maybin, a former university dean of students. “These are still the magic words. But they need to be genuine and not snarky.”
You don’t have to go overboard with the appreciation, but small sentiments of gratitude can go a long way in an email, she says.
Of course, punctuation is important — for instance, don’t overuse exclamation points or ellipses. But even more importantly: use emojis with caution.
“If you have to mitigate a negative remark with a winky face emoji, maybe you need to rethink your email,” Maybin said. “But every now and then they’re OK.”
Getting and Staying Motivated
As the pandemic continues to drag on, finding the motivation to stay aggressive in your sales approach can be difficult. Bunte, who trained under sales coaches Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins, has a few ways to get motivated.
“I need to have God time in the morning,” she said. “I find that when I take the time to read the Bible in the morning, it grounds me and gets me ready for the day.” If the Bible isn’t your thing, use some time in the morning to journal, set goals or read a motivational book.
For some more blood-pumping motivation, Bunte recommends listening to an energetic music playlist or exercising, even if it’s just a quick workout video in your living room while gyms remain closed.
“When I worked for Tony Robbins, we had to work out every morning. It wasn’t always easy, but it gets the endorphins going and just makes you feel happier,” she said.
Selling requires discipline, too. Bunte credits a book called, “The Master Key System” by Charles Haanel, for keeping her disciplined. Writer Rhonda Byrne has said that she was inspired to create the movie and subsequent book, “The Secret,” because she went through the Master Key System.
“Unless you’re practicing discipline, you might be practicing procrastination,” she said. “Because of this book, I can say that I am truly a disciplined person. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself personally and professionally.”
Until the pandemic ends and we can return to “normal,” selling will continue to look a little different. Whether you are creating a presentation at home or sending yet another email to prospects, here’s to getting motivated, staying disciplined and using the magic words.