How The Pandemic Reshaped The Way We Sell

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You’ve probably read countless stories about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people, the economy and markets around the world. But what you probably haven’t read yet is how it has specifically impacted the lives and livelihood of the people who proudly call themselves “salespeople.”

As VP of sales for a CRM platform made for salespeople by salespeople, we felt it was imperative to better understand how our customers have dealt with the pandemic environment and how we can best help them move forward into a recovering marketplace. 

In early 2021, we sent out a survey to our customers. More than 1,600 sales professionals and managers from around the globe responded to various questions about how they felt about themselves, their companies, their technology and their outlook during the past two years. Despite the pandemic, the majority (59 percent) of salespeople became more successful, and half (49 percent) of them came away feeling more satisfied in their careers.

While we found several interesting data points about the attitude and aptitude of today’s sales force, we have boiled down some of the key insights salespeople and management can use to help improve their performance:


Solidify your soft skills for today’s buyer

The concept of “soft skills” originated with the U.S. Military in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It was shorthand for any set of skills that didn’t require the use of hardware or machinery. Today it is often referred to as “emotional intelligence” or “people skills,” and most salespeople (88 percent) recognize their importance and regularly work on improving their soft skills. Now, more than ever, it may be these soft skills that make the difference.  

You’ve probably been on a call with someone who has been working from home for a year and wants to talk to you (or anyone) about anything but business. With 47 percent of adults continuing to report negative mental health impacts related to the pandemic, you may find that half of your prospects are not ready or receptive to any type of hard sell. People are still struggling, but you can use some of your soft skills to help make it easier on them and improve your chances.

  • Be an active listener: Active listening focuses on listening intently to the prospect or lead and tailoring an appropriate response based on what you heard. When you practice and deploy active listening, you make your client or prospect feel valued. This promotes a healthy, mutual (rather than one-sided) relationship which is more likely to close a sale.
  • Be on time: This seems simple, but many people are still trying to adjust to schedules that are constantly in flux. Being on time — and prepared — for calls and Zoom and in-person meetings demonstrates good time management discipline and that you respect your prospect’s time as much as your own.
  • Be proactive: This doesn’t mean you should send your prospects two emails a day. It means actively identifying areas in which you can truly help your customers and prospects. Afterward,  approach them with a well-thought-out solution — before they ask for one. 
  • Be on top of your market: Prospects are more likely to buy from a salesperson they like and trust. Being knowledgeable — and honest — about market trends, your customer’s needs, and your product’s strengths (and shortcomings) will go a long way toward establishing that rapport and trust.

Working from home requires better time management

In 2020, 48 percent of salespeople worked from home. That is more than double the number working remotely in 2019. Overall, 60 percent of sales executives experienced a transition into some sort of new work environment in the past year. Any significant shift in the way your company operates can require equally significant changes in your workflow and how you manage your time and effort.

The good news is that the majority of salespeople (57 percent) who work from home felt they were becoming “more successful” over the past 12 months. However, 19 percent admitted that they “rarely” make their quota when working from home versus being in the office or on the road.

One possible reason for the reduction in performance by at-home workers is that their priorities and how they spend their time have changed. Salespeople who work mostly from home spend 6 percent less time selling and are more likely to spend time on prospecting, qualifying leads and account management than their counterparts in the office. Interestingly, this phenomenon was not present in our German-speaking respondents, who on average only spend 13 percent of their day on lead gen activities.

Overall, our data showed that 64 percent of salespeople said that lead gen and prospecting was their number one daily activity, up 10 percent from 2019. Lack of personal interaction, canceled events and disruption of normal communication channels all contributed to the challenges of prospecting and lead gen in 2020. But the fact remains, a salesperson’s number one daily activity needs to be selling, and that requires a more efficient approach to managing the other tasks in their workload.


Use tools and tech to improve your efficiency

The most successful salespeople have turned to technology to better manage their prospecting and lead gen activities regardless of where they are working. Those who use technology and automation tools for lead generation are 14 percent more likely to reach their annual sales targets. 

Adoption of CRM technology to source and qualify leads in English-speaking markets increased 12 percent from 2019 (51 percent) to 2020 (63 percent). In fact, those who utilized a CRM actually reported they found it easier to generate leads during the pandemic than before it. Despite this overwhelming evidence that technology can streamline the entire sales process, 24 percent of respondents claimed their organization still had no need for an automated CRM tool.

For sales managers, getting the right tools and tech is also important. The salespeople who said they were happy with the tools and technology their company provided them were 12 percent more likely to consider themselves successful at sales. That being said, in a challenging market it is critical to retain good employees. Finding and training new salespeople during a pandemic is expensive and can significantly upset your revenue stream. So it is important to note that those same people who were satisfied with their technology options were 18 percent more likely to be satisfied in their current role in the sales organization.


Salespeople are ready to drive the recovery

Salespeople are a proud and resilient lot. Regardless of their performance over the past two years, 9 out of 10 are still proud to call themselves salespeople. Many have viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to demonstrate their worth, which is reflected in their increased job success and satisfaction, as well as in their positive attitude due to the impact that sales could have on the economic recovery in 2021.

Almost all of the salespeople (92 percent) we surveyed believe their role will have a positive impact on the economy this year. More than three quarters (78 percent) indicated that they felt salespeople will be important or very important to the recovery of the economy.


Meeting challenges and creating opportunity

Our research revealed that the majority of sales professionals were well-prepared for the challenges of the pandemic. As a group, salespeople demonstrated great fortitude in the face of new challenges and adapted quite well to the stresses of remote working, disrupted communication channels, and an overhaul of their traditional workflow. 

Instead of backing down, salespeople helped accelerate many of the trends in technology that we see implemented today across organizations at large to help improve productivity and efficiency. This aspiration, drive and resiliency shown by sales professionals will serve them well as they continue to lead both their organizations and the economy out of the pandemic and into recovery.

Jens Oberbeck is the VP of sales at Pipedrive with more than 20 years of experience in sales and digital marketing. Prior to joining Pipedrive, Oberbeck gained experience in contextual targeting, mobile advertising, Ex-Amazon, and programmatic advertising, bringing a wealth of sales and general management experience to the company. At Pipedrive, he is responsible for scaling sales by developing plans and strategies, managing sales teams and organizing and maintaining sales operations.

  • Originally published August 19, 2021