With increasing doubt about the health of the global economy post-COVID 19, where do you see sales planning headed?
I truly believe a post-COVID 19 global economy will not look like the one we were in a mere four months ago. In today’s world, sales forecasts for the coming year have ultimately been eliminated, and many companies are scrambling to stay above water. However, with or without COVID, sales is an ever-changing game. What worked during one quarter may not work the next, and new strategies have come and gone over the last decade.
That being said, I believe this will completely change sales planning and strategy once again. We are moving back to a “humanized” version of sales, one that focuses on relationship building at its core. People now want to connect more than ever, and they are unlikely to give the time of day to people that they don’t trust. That’s the first area I see being changed and should be considered when planning for the next few quarters.
The second is pricing. I don’t think the “one size fits all” model will be applicable for much longer. Companies should plan on more customized pricing packages for their current and future customers, as this is what will be the main selling point for many people. They want to feel understood and valued as your customer, and altering your pricing strategy to fit their current needs is crucial and could help you make the sale.
The third areas that will change are target personas and ideal customers. Imagine if your main target market was the travel and hospitality industry right now. You are likely to reevaluate your ideal customer as we speak. I think this is a great opportunity for all companies, regardless of your past target market, to reevaluate and find new verticals that your solution can help with.
Finally, this situation is definitely the time to buckle down on your existing customers. They will be the ones who will come out with you on the other side, and it’s extremely important to keep them satisfied as best as you can.
What role will AI and automation play in the new strategies?
I’ll start off by saying that I am a huge fan of all the advancements that have been made in AI and automation in sales. I think we are going in the right direction. However, I think there is one thing that they can never replace in any sales strategy, and that is personalization.
Automation and AI should be focused on productivity improvement, not on replacing human to human connections. Before the situation we are in now, the trend was heading a lot towards automated outreach and sales sequences that were completely unpersonalized and felt more like spam than genuine messages to prospects. I think people now realize that that type of automation and AI was not the answer – though it was an option.
Especially today, you have no idea what the situation could be like for the person at the other end of your messages. I’d go as far as to say it is unacceptable and tone-deaf to send an automated message to anyone. They could be about to lose their job or have been put in a tough financial situation because of the pandemic, and your automated messages generated by AI will not add any value to them.
AI and automation should be incorporated into all sales strategies in the form of productivity improvement. It should not replace any messaging or human to human communication. What it will be extremely helpful in doing is completing administrative tasks, guiding sales reps through their days, and acting as a “right hand” for them. This is the kind of tool we believe in and are building at Ciara.
How do you see companies adopting this new sales paradigm, and what new skills will be needed?
I think companies will be relatively quick at adapting to this new sales paradigm, especially because the trend of remote work didn’t start just this year. Companies have been slowly but surely moving towards allowing remote work, and this just accelerated that movement.
This means that for more conservative companies and teams that are used to doing field sales will have to move to inside sales, and inside sales will become the predominant way to sell. This will also make sales a much more sustainable industry with a reduced amount of traveling due to travel restrictions. I have a hard time believing that once outside sales representatives get a taste of the amount of success they can achieve using only their phone and computer rather than wasting time traveling to their clients’ locations, all sales will become inside sales.
A shift like this will require two main skills: relationship building and technological skills. Many sales reps are unequipped to build relationships over the phone, which will be critical as sales moves to remote and inside sales. In addition, those reps who aren’t used to having to prospect on LinkedIn or give product demos over video conferencing will have to learn these skills, and quickly, if they want to succeed. Relationship building will also be of higher importance as sales reps will be vying for a smaller budget and fewer resources that many companies are facing. It’s likely that people won’t be giving out their budgets to people they don’t know.
The final piece of advice I can give is to practice empathy. These are trying times for people and businesses all around the world, so make your sales outreach intentional and personalized!
What is your insight into the post-COVID enterprise situation, as far as customer satisfaction is concerned? What should be the top priority for marketers and sales leaders?
In the post-COVID enterprise world, customer satisfaction will be the top priority. Customers will come out of this being even more knowledgeable than before. With more time on their hands to do research, read online, scan social media, etc., companies will need to divert all their resources to stand out.
In addition, the kind of communication you employ and your methods of handling a crisis like this will affect your customer’s satisfaction in the long run. If they have the feeling that you understood them and their needs during this crisis, and you showed goodwill, their overall satisfaction will be higher post-COVID because you established a deep trust. So, I will say it again because it’s crucial, your priority should be to keep up empathetic relationship building with clear value propositions and transparency.
The customer has always been at the center for sales leaders and marketers, and this pandemic will not change that. It will emphasize it!
Martin is an experienced SaaS entrepreneur. Over the past 15 years, he has founded, grown, and advised numerous B2B SaaS companies.
He is a founder of Ciara, the virtual assistant for inside sales agents, where he currently serves on the Management Board and oversees marketing and sales.
Martin holds a Master’s degree from WHU Vallendar and a Ph.D. from LMU Munich. He has been a mentor to over 100 entrepreneurs and sales leaders.
Martin believes in the boundless potential of talent-centric sales organizations, driven through great training and knowledge sharing.
With Ciara, he is on a mission to allow every sales agent to leverage their full potential, reach their professional goals with ease, and develop their careers faster.