On today’s Daily Briefing, Jim Benton was joined by Bob Perkins, Founder, and Chairman of AA-ISP. They discussed the next evolution of inside sales, especially over the next eight weeks as we look towards reopening the economy.
From shock to adjustment to acceptance, to flourish?
Like everyone else, inside sales has had to transition to remote work seemingly overnight. While it wasn’t entirely seamless, the inside sales structure was more equipped to adapt quickly.
“The inside sales role has been more used to this,” said Bob. “Albeit a challenge going from tight-knit, person-to-person interactions between cubes to more islands.”
Despite the swift, nearly universal change, there has still been an impressive amount of activity across sales teams. “In the beginning, it was a little bit of a shock. Then it was an adjustment period. And now there’s an acceptance,” said Bob. “We’re getting back to normal. We realized we have to keep speaking to clients, keep speaking to prospects. It’s probably why we’re seeing consistent productivity numbers.”
The most commonly heard challenge facing sales teams now is motivation. This isn’t a particularly new challenge - sales leaders have come up with ways to creatively motivate their teams for time on end. But right now, the challenge is felt more acutely as the energy of the sales floor has been replaced by Zoom links and Slack competitions.
Bob agreed. He has seen two challenges come up time and time again: Motivation and isolation. “You’ve got to understand if you were part of a highly productive, high energy team with a lot of buzz, and now you’re off on your own that’s a big change.” What’s more, he added, “You might be sharing an apartment or a home with other people. And kids! It can be tough.”
Jim agreed, joking, “Or ‘ice breakers’, as we call them nowadays.”
Bob and his team have set up weekly round tables to get their teams motivated. “Team days, we call them,” he said, “We ask them what they are doing to stay motivated. We hear everything from two 15-minute yoga breaks during the day to a walk around the block. Managers are putting together strictly social video calls that have nothing to do with work, just chatting and hanging out. Even some with virtual games. Just like you would if you were in person. You would have a chat with friends or go to lunch together. So managers will order lunch for everyone and we’ll all take lunch together. That kind of thing.”
Another ever-present challenge is currently staring down sales teams: Dried up event-driven pipeline.
Events have pivoted to virtual.
Bob quoted the old adage: Necessity is the mother of all invention. “We’re a conference centric business. You get creative on how to do business virtually. I think people are accepting it now.”
And field sales in the same boat as inside sales now. “Travel has largely stopped. I’ve heard of some people that have to travel if it’s an essential product. But field sales is now inside sales, we’re all working from home.”
We were building trust before we were traveling. Here’s how you do it. You shut up and listen. I listen to you and provide value to you, without asking for anything.
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Executive deals done virtually
In a large, complicated deal, trust and rapport is everything. For deals that relied so much on in-person rapport building and travel, quick pivots are harder to make.
Still, deals are still being won. “The good news about building trust,” said Bob, “ is that even though we prefer to shake a hand or look a person in the eye - video is so accessible now. Oxytocin is still released when we’re meeting virtually and we’re building rapport.”
It has been floated by some that it’s almost impossible to build rapport digitally. Bob disagrees. “I disagree that there’s no way to build trust without seeing a person. We were building trust before we were traveling. Here’s how you do it. You shut up and listen. I listen to you and provide value to you, without asking for anything.”
“Today’s buyer is different,” he said. “They’re a heck of a lot more self-sufficient than ever so that speeds up the sales cycle. Are field reps going to stay at home? No, there’s going to be a desire and a pent up demand to get at an event. It may come back stronger than before.”
Jim agreed. “I don’t think you’ll fly out to go through a deck. But you will have more experience. You may reach out to let them know you’re in town, ask them to go get lunch or go to a game.”
It’s about finding the ways to connect that feel the most authentic. “I think we will learn what is meaningful,” said Bob, “what is valuable. I think inside sales did really well in the past, we were forced to add value remotely. Even in 1993! It was all phone - email was just emerging at the time. We had people that would only buy from the person that served them so well over the phone - that’s trust. It can be done.”
Jim speculated that meeting in the future, when the economy eventually opens, will be about experiences that are more than just work. “It’s up to us to make it fun to meet for work. You have to justify not meeting on video.”
Bob let us in on a secret: “Executive retreats are fun. I get to play golf with people I never get to see.”
There has to be a strong tie between the person you’re contacting and the purpose of your reaching out.
Bringing the purpose back to sales
Like Bob said before, there has been a transition from shock, to adjustment, to acceptance. Teams have had to pivot messaging, adapt their tech stack, set up their home offices. But now, we’re past the thick of it. We’re settling down. “This is the new normal,” said Bob, “we’ve got to get after it.”
Personalization is the hot topic - and has been for some time. But there are still problems with personalizing at scale. “There are some of the basic problems still,” said Bob. “It’s a ‘spamidemic’. There’s still so much non-personal stuff. It’s one thing to talk to someone new and say, ‘I saw that chorus released this new study, it’s pretty good research.’ That’s pretty good. But everyone is doing it. You have to dig deeper. Say, ‘I want to understand more of what this means.’ There has to be a strong tie between the person you’re contacting and the purpose of your reaching out.”
Once the risk is mitigated and we’ve got a vaccine, I think there’s going to be a new purpose and reason to get back together face to face. There will be a new appreciation. Who doesn’t want to get the heck out of their home right now?
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Future of in-person meetings
Everyone is wondering when things will get back to normal. But what does normal look like after this? Will customers actually want to meet in person? Will this take longer than it takes for businesses to open back up?
Bob thinks that it’s only a matter of time before we’re meeting, in-person, with gusto. “Once the risk is mitigated and we’ve got a vaccine, I think there’s going to be a new purpose and reason to get back together face to face. There will be a new appreciation. Who doesn’t want to get the heck out of their home right now?”