Article researched and written by Charles M. Vaughn
The systems and processes that were once seen as unchangeable in the world of sales, have been disrupted and forced to change because of the transformation caused by the pandemic. Businesses have realised that by being flexible and adapting innovative ways to keep up with the changing conditions, they can not only survive but also increase their efficiency and profitability levels.
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Sales was traditionally seen as an area with a focus on person to person interaction. At the backend the sales meetings, induction training and workshops require intensive interaction to train and prepare the sales staff. At the front end, the sales personnel need to interact with the customers to pitch the products and sell the products and services.
The pandemic threw a wrench at this whole process by limiting movement and transferring the bulk of communication to the online medium. The sales function has perhaps been the fastest one to adapt to the new normal because the livelihood of every business is linked with the efficient functioning of the sales department.
By switching over to distant working and online selling, businesses have realised that they can not only survive the pandemic but also create new opportunities that were previously not possible.
The pandemic has revamped the traditional sales model. As countries closed down, more and more businesses moved to online selling. The most immediate impact of this change has been an increase in the velocity of sales.
According to a survey by McKinsey, almost 70% of the buyers now prefer to buy online instead of visiting the store or vendor. Similarly over 60% of the buyers are showing increased tendency for high value orders, as compared to pre pandemic levels.
The time people spend travelling to shops has been reduced. It takes less time to open an app and order online, as compared to travelling to the shop, thus leading to more sales and increased profitability.
Secondly, this has broken down geographical barriers. A store that could previously only host buyers from the vicinity, can now easily sell products to a global audience. This has allowed businesses to focus on previously unavailable niches and segments. While this has removed the limitation on the customer reach, this has also made competition more intense because the barriers have been removed for every business.
One of the outcomes of businesses transitioning to online selling has been a reduction in the workforce. Sales personnel have been at the receiving end of this transformation. While this has ticked up unemployment figures, the outcome for businesses has been positive.
Downsizing reduces the costs and ends up giving the business a more competitive workforce. How? Businesses do not lay off employees randomly. They choose the weakest sales personnel, this leaves behind the strongest sales personnel who can then effectively deal with customers in a better manner.
All of this has created a need for those in the sales function to upskill. Traditional skills such as good intrapersonal communication are still required but there is also a need for digital literacy. Employees need to be able to easily use distant working platforms, understand the ethics of online meetings to avoid embarrassing situations and keep the online interactions thoroughly professional.
However in addition to digital literacy, there is also a great need to develop skills that involve greater perception and empathy. In a client meeting for instance, the sales personnel need to exercise greater perception and empathy to understand the body gestures through the online medium. They also need to understand that the clients too are digitally overworked and exhausted and so a meeting that could previously go on for an hour, now has to be cut short to half an hour or less. This involves the ability to deliver the message quickly and effectively.
The world of sales is changing amidst the digital and fintech revolutions. Eventually this transformation will cover every other sector of economy and department of business. Therefore flexibility and the ability to adapt in a transformative environment is going to be the key for survival and growth in the coming years.