While 2020 is over, we’re not yet out of the woods. Remote work will be here to stay as companies move toward a hybrid workplace. Meanwhile, the old style of sales is done. The pandemic has fundamentally altered the way we interact with and sell to customers, and we will never go fully back.
But this may turn out to be a positive that forces the best sales organizations to innovate and improve. Most of us have adapted well from those initial days when no one thought we’d be forced to do everything over Zoom. As it turns out, the resilience of human beings extends to the pragmatic elements: working, keeping business going, staying productive. After all, products and services are still needed. Sales are still happening. There are very few people who claim a deal can’t get done unless they meet in person. Out of necessity, we have collectively adjusted.
That said, closing a strategic million-dollar (or more) deal over Zoom and the phone comes with new versions of old challenges. Here’s how to think about it as we transition to the “new sales normal.”
Remember the stakeholder factor
Sizable deals have always required the buy-in of multiple stakeholders — and it still does today. Pre-pandemic, sign-off was typically contingent on at least one face-to-face meeting, often with executives (i.e., the economic buyer). Buyers liked knowing who they were dealing with and trusted that in-person meeting to confirm that the deal should move forward. Today, they still want to feel that level of absolute confidence in the salesperson and company before they sign on the dotted line – and that’s something those of us in sales can and should still deliver.
In today’s times: In the absence of inviting you into their offices or having a meal with you, understand that buyers will look to build that confidence they need independently. This is where having a robust social presence can make a critical difference. Buyers must be able to find good reviews and customer references; check G2 Crowd (G2.com), for example, to see how your company looks there. You want to ensure a customer has talked about using — and loving — your product. Finally, make sure you know your product, the market, and the customer problem so that buyers see you as a “trusted advisor.”
At an individual seller level, make a point of ensuring you’re posting on LinkedIn regularly with content that positions you as a domain expert. That starts with the basics of your profile. My headline focuses less on my experience and company and instead positions what I do (“Helping companies scale”) as the takeaway. Make a point of writing posts and long-form content that conveys your knowledge and the fact you care about the space you’re in.
At a company level, stakeholders want to invest in sellers who have a strong point of view around the problems they solve. The company website is the most obvious asset, the first line not of defense, but of passive offense. Current blog content should reinforce the main selling messages. An obvious customer success hotline option on the site — along with comprehensive self-service, on-demand, online training materials — are all elements that are very reassuring to sellers.
Validation remains a must
A million dollars or more is a substantial amount of budget to spend. Customers need more than just a salesperson’s say-so to take the plunge — and that additional evidence used to come from validating the solution in person. They are much less likely to invest if they can’t see how a solution would work for them, their specific circumstances, solving a particular problem, positioning them for the future, etc. Today, of course, that validation can’t occur in precisely the same way.
In today’s times: Without a normal validation process, sellers will have to ensure that some proof of value can occur. Fortunately, the cloud-based nature of most B2B software makes it easier to put this into practice. The other way to shore up buyer confidence is through hyper-detailed customer references. This is more than a case study or a short testimonial. This absolutely vital link in the selling process means developing customer promoters who are so thrilled with the solution that they’re willing to get on the phone or Zoom to talk to a prospect about it.
Build trust with everything you do
A sale almost never goes through without a fairly solid relationship of trust. This trust needs to develop not only with the sales person but the actual company.. A customer needs to feel that powerful sense that the vendor is in it with them. They need to know that in the event of a challenge or problem, you’ll be with them to help long after the ink on the deal dries. But how do you create that rapport and strengthen it beyond simply liking the product to a stronger foundation of trust? Before it was the ability to take them to lunch, give your deck in person, negotiate the financials face to face, or connect in person at a user group or conference. Maybe it was your CEO connecting with their CEO at an event and it kicked off from there. Now that all has changed.
In today’s time: In addition to the elements already discussed, one relatively straightforward way is building up a partner organization for alternatives to deploy your product. It’s often quite a strategic move. Finding a trusted local partner who can be an advocate for you is smart. A Midwest company might like the innovation a large company’s products offer. But they’ll sign on because those products come through a local company with strong community ties and a good handle on the things they care about. We see this with AppOmni, one of our portfolio companies, that leverages specialized practitioners as partners quite successfully.
It’s easy to think about selling in the COVID era as a series of work-arounds but as this continues, this is rapidly becoming just work. More importantly, how sales organizations adapt, innovate and differentiate will continue to make your sales organization world-class. So how will you leverage the new tools and tactics of a pandemic, ‘work from anywhere’ world to close those large deals?