It's from Gartner's "Chief Sales Officer" report for the first quarter (calendar) of 2021.
In the report they say "The most frequently reported challenge reported by frontline sellers was gaining access to customer stakeholders in a virtual environment (Figure 1), with 59.0% of sellers reporting this item as a challenge."
The context being "Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many frontline sellers have conducted their entire sales cycle in a virtual environment for the first time."
But there is more "Other virtual selling challenges reported by sellers included bringing buying groups together virtually (38.6%), navigating consensus or a purchase decision with a buying group (32.9%), lack of customer confidence when making purchase decisions (28.6%)." and
"For many frontline sellers, selling in a virtual environment is the new normal for the foreseeable future. The challenges reported by frontline sellers may have several important implications for a CSO’s current sales strategy."
If you are interested in a tried and tested solution to this, then read on.
How to gain access to customer stakeholders in a virtual environment
"It to looks at Gartner data and a panel Gartner ran.
Buyer preferences have been changing for a while but it seems that most organisations haven’t been listening. The pandemic has put a rocket under this trend and it made the webinar an interesting listen.
Here’s my takeaways…
Changing Buyer Preferences
- B2B buyers prefer to engage through digital and self-service channels. This is not opinion, it is fact.
- A third of all buyers are fine not meeting with a sales rep throughout the sales process.
- This is even higher if you look at Millennials. Almost 50% don’t need to meet with a sales rep anymore. They want to do things online.
Less access to buyers
No sh*t sherlock. With everyone at home it became much easier for the buyer to control who they met and when. Interesting though that this was voted the number one biggest impact to achieving revenue growth in the pandemic world.
What Gartner wanted to drive home was that we shouldn’t expect a radical change in access to buyers post pandemic – their data tells them that it won’t go back to the way it was.
Field sellers have some decisions to make
This was the message of panelist Maria Boulden, Exec Partner Sales at Gartner.
Sellers must build up their digital presence. Maria made no excuses for her direct approach. It was the job of the sales leader to help their people evolve and support the people who will make the shift. Perhaps those doing Inside Sales roles will be better placed to make the change. And for those that won’t? Her view was that they’d need help to find a ‘soft landing’ – I’m guessing she means elsewhere.
In 2020 sellers turned to LinkedIn with some disastrous results
We’ve all received Inmail that starts with phrases like “I hope you’re keeping positive whilst testing negative”.
We see people write *NO SALES* in their LinkedIn headline as a means of self-defence, and read posts berating the lack of skill and sheer volume of approach that potential buyers have had to endure.
We’ve been experimenting with a way to evolve for almost a year now…
In April 2020 I launched a programme to explore social media as a place for closing distance between our clients, our remote employees and our future recruits – when we scoped it a few months earlier we had no idea we’d all be remote by the time of launch.
It included exploring the role of the digital seller.
The Social Organisation initiative is one of the most progressive pieces of work I’ve ever led.
Most people mistake it for being a one-dimensional exercise. This is wrong. It builds and connects beautifully with my previous programme to transform our marketing from product-led to experience-led communities, which pre-Covid, were predominantly face to face encounters.
The programme included coaching to support our sellers that were interested in becoming more visible through blogging. We worked with them to develop their writing skills, to trust their own personal style and find like-minded people in their network to spark their creativity.
Brands today are people. We trust our fellow humans, and so helping our own people to be heard and to listen well, was central to the idea.
We’ve helped our team get better connected and transition their face-to-face skills online and they’ve been an absolute joy to work with.
Here’s some of my favourite observations along the way….
- You wouldn’t walk into a face-to-face event, shake hands with someone new, then launch into your pitch – so don’t do it on LinkedIn. It’s a definite no no.
- Networking on LinkedIn is much more democratic than the events network where typically only the most senior decision makers are wined and dined. We all know there are many more influencing voices in a buying process now and engaging digitally allows a much more balanced range of voices to be heard.
- The thing people find hardest when they start blogging, is sharing something about themselves in their stories so that people could get to know them like they would do over a coffee or a beer. Yet we also discovered that human stories about ourselves were magnitudes more popular than stories about our work.
- This is the fastest way to get a conversation going with someone new. It’s insane. As a marketer by trade, I have been hired many times over to help organisations find ways to start conversations with new people. This is by far the fastest way to connect with new people and get to know them. It’s also one of the nicest ways - if you do it well.
- You can solve your perceived collateral gap with employee advocates. In my experience, salespeople often like brochures. That magic piece of collateral is perceived to be the missing link in the sales process. At the start of our programme, senior account managers told me that our business had a collateral gap that was holding them back. 3 months later this problem had vanished. The articles and posts that our employees were writing had more than filled this hole.
- Being entirely genuine will attract the right people. We’ve encouraged the people we coach to be themselves. In our B2B tech world, often your only differentiator is YOU. People that like you are more likely to buy from you. So be yourself and you will naturally build a network of people that connect well with you.
- Intellectual acceptance of a concept is not enough to create long lasting change. I should not get excited because people say they’re going to do something. I should get excited when they consistently take action. Change is hard.
- There’s wonderment at seeing the creativity of your sales colleagues emerge. Reading what they publish is a joy. No two pieces are alike. I’ve been moved, inspired, and amused and have got to know them all so much better – which I guess is the whole point!
Change is always hard but as Maria Boulden of Gartner says, if you have a willingness to build the skills then this is an opportunity to define a new mode of operation. Some people go their whole careers never getting to do anything like this.
So there you have it, a solution to the dilemma, already tried and tested in companies.
And finally ...
Late last year McKinsey and Co reported that its corporate clients experienced on average 7 years of digital transformation in the first six months of 2020 as they hustled to adjust to the global economic COVID disruption.
Another way to think of that statistic is that if you didn't start transforming your business in those months you are now 7 years behind your competitors!
Where Do We Go From Here?
Just give me, or one of the DLA Ignite team and hour of your time and we can walk you through what we are doing in the form of case studies, what we are doing for other businesses to transform them to digital. No hard sell, just practical examples.
DLA Ignite is a global business and we understand that a "cookie cutter" approach to digital does not work, we have to take into account local language and cultural sensitivities. Which is why we have built teams across the globe, that can support you by country and industry sector.
If you’re interested in reading more from Catherine about their modern seller initiative, then here’s a few other things she has written about it over the course of the year.
Unveiling my new focus; The Social Organisation
Read 3 reasons why employees should be the voice of your company
Piloting the Social Organisation; 16 learnings so far...
Inspiring Industry Influencers; Reviewing our 10 week pilot
LinkedIn is more social than ever; Here’s the staggering proof
3 Sales Technology Trends for CSOs to Know in 2021 Discover emerging trends in terms of technology deployment, ROI and importance to help CSOs make technology decisions.