2020 was a year of introspection and reevaluation for the world’s leading companies. While larger business trends took shape, the distinct ways many organizations responded to COVID-19 varied widely depending on the industry.
In some areas, like technology, life sciences and distribution, the pandemic presented a golden opportunity to right wrongs in the current business structure and to reposition processes to scale easily. In others, like travel and hospitality, or oil and gas, the impact was felt in a much different way. They needed to respond — and transform — almost instantaneously to have any chance at survival, let alone success.
Technology partners like SAP had to be more aware and tuned in to rapidly evolving trends and realities more than ever before, providing access to research insights, partner communities and industry expertise that befit the “new normal.” The method of engaging with prospective and recurring customers had entirely changed overnight.
So, what can sales teams learn from this tumultuous time in human history? Allow me to lay out four focus areas that I expect will remain of paramount importance, whatever comes next.
1. The Right People for the Right Customers
We largely deal with small and mid-sized businesses in our work at SAP. Of utmost importance is finding ways to more efficiently and effectively provide them with the information and understanding they need to properly embrace technology and innovation.
Fortunately, because people weren’t on nearly as many planes, trains or automobiles in 2020, we were able to provide greater access to a broad pool of high-end resources that would have been otherwise consumed by travel and transit. Successful sales teams must continue to find ways to provide premier access to experts, assets and insights as time rolls on.
2. Using Technology to Bring Customers Closer
When the lockdowns hit, virtually everything went virtual.
Sales teams had to find new ways to connect while staying grounded in the true needs of customers. For some, this meant putting together entirely new infrastructures that aided in finding and fostering customers through technology. Some key ways technology can help include:
- Data-driven demand generation can increase pipeline and support predictable, repeatable revenue generation
- Automated activity tracking can help eliminate uncertainty in pipeline and forecast analysis
- Email automation and intelligent task management can save time and improve outcomes
- Radical transparency can foster greater coordination and accountability across teams
At SAP, we also revisited how we were using technology to engage with customers, upgrading our tech stack to scale the consistency, quality and regularity by which we engaged with customers. For instance, we use Outreach to engage prospects and customers across different channels, automate engagement sequences and track activity optimization; ZoomInfo to provide B2B intelligence and ensure we’re communicating with the right contact at the right time; Totango to digitally onboard, monitor progress and plan with our customers; and Mural to collaborate online using design thinking.
3. Onboarding and Upskilling a Hybrid Workforce
In 2019, our team at SAP built a more structured onboarding process to help handle a large influx of new hires, using solutions from our teams at Litmos, Qualtrics and SuccessFactors. Little did we know, the processes we adopted in that time would be essential in our coming reality.
So, how can you continue bringing talent up to speed, no matter where they are?
Focus on the Little Things — Without senior sales reps sitting directly across the table, companies with hybrid workforces must increase their focus on clear and concise documentation of key steps.
Create More Time for Practice — Hold regular weekly cadences with team members so they can demonstrate their learnings to the group and ask questions of their peers in a safe and productive space.
Help Build Out Their Networks — Find ways to provide instruction and resources to sales team members that help them successfully grow their networks.
4. Lean on Partners to Enable Sales
In SAP North America’s more than 150 technology implementations last year, approximately 120 were done entirely remotely. And the old way may not return.
In the new world, customers have to believe — more strongly than ever — that everything they want and need to do from a technology standpoint can be done with and through strategic technology partners, from anywhere. At SAP, our partners are the best in the business and are projected to make hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue over the next few years, according to IDC. But no technology vendor can do it alone. High-end strategic partners are integral to the enhancement and enablement of your sales team, now and into the future.
This has undoubtedly been a trying time. However, for sales teams, it’s also been a chance to evolve, to put technology in place that can help prospect accounts more quickly, better understand buyer groups to personalize content, and utilize communications platforms to improve accountability.
In other words, this has also been a time of opportunity, a time to improve and innovate our business and sales practices like never before. A time to embrace the world for what it has become — and not what it once was.