If you walk into any decent bookstore and know where to look, you’ll find plenty of titles for the enterprising salesperson. There are new voices coming out all the time, with new ideas and new angles, adding to a long lineage of motivational wisdom for selling. But the current lockdown cycle is putting a lot of that wisdom to the test.

Countless sales teams have been pared down or reorganised since the onset of COVID-19. Others remain mostly unchanged, at least for now. The question is, how can managers leverage their salespeople in conditions of remote work and seismic change?

Build virtual sales experiences

Selling has always been about building relationships, developing trust, solving customer problems. Face-to-face meetings are an important piece of this puzzle – at least traditionally. Salespeople would typically bring physical sales materials (brochures, product samples, etc.) to support their interactions with customers.

These days, face-to-face sales meetings are off the table in many parts of the world. Boxes of glossy brochures, ordered fresh for 2020, are sitting unopened in storage rooms. Sales associates who rely on people skills have been thrust into the world of Zoom calls and virtual conferences, where social cues are more difficult to manage.

Of course, from a sales perspective, the plight of the seller is far less important than the plight of the customer. If the customer is shifting toward virtual experiences in order to glean information about services and products, the sales team must shift focus accordingly. In some cases, this calls for a new level of collaboration between sales, IT, and customer experience teams – the objective being to integrate personal contact points and sales opportunities into digital experiences that educate customers.

Rather than be bowled over by the digital shift, sales teams can be empowered to study it, learn from it, and find ways to take advantage. This is easier said than done. Then again, collaboration has been known to solve a lot of problems.

Find new ways to motivate

Every high-performing salesforce has a healthy competitive streak. Surpassing the quota, making the big sale, securing an important customer, being out in the world, talking to colleagues at the office – these are vital components of the sales engine. They generate forward momentum and drive a proactive culture.

How can this engine function properly when work has gone virtual and economic conditions are tough? How can a salesforce feel motivated to succeed when the landscape has changed so dramatically?

For now, team leaders must reassess how that engine works. They need to sort out what benchmarks to use, how to recognise achievements, and yes – how to shore up the numbers and hold people to account.

Understanding that many of the changes being implemented now will stay post any pandemic recovery, many sales team leaders are also looking to complement existing team skills. They are looking for new team members in sales, or internal sales, who can explore and introduce these new ways of finding, engaging, presenting to and staying in touch with the customer. They will teach them “sales” whilst building on a mix of different skills bases.

Empathy is a major part of this. The sales force, like every branch of the organisation, is compelled to adapt. Adaptation takes time, effort, understanding. The gears of business are still turning, and will turn faster as conditions improve. A well-adjusted leadership will help the sales force adapt to the present with poise and empathy, whilst looking ahead to a less-restricted future in which traditional sales tactics play a bigger role.

Insights for today and tomorrow

The old ways of motivating and assessing a sales force have not disappeared, and will regain strength as the world returns to a new semblance of normal. As restriction ease, sales teams will begin to re-incorporate travel, personal interaction, industry events, networking, and customer appointments. These tried-and-true practices have been the lifeblood of sales teams for decades, and will find new relevance.

At the same time, COVID has triggered seismic change in the business world and the way in which technology is used. The implications for sales teams are far-reaching, and in many cases, frustrating. By doing the hard work of adapting to the present, teams can develop their own brand of wisdom and acquire the insights they need to sell effectively in the altered landscape of the future.

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