The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies into crisis innovation mode in order to overcome the roadblocks before them. Curbside pickup, remote work, new supply chains, and telemedicine are innovations that rapidly emerged in the face of new challenges. In some cases, however, the requisite response has been less obvious.
In sectors where virtual business environments are a barrier to sales, the necessary innovations have not yet become clear. For instance, business-to-business sales organizations — which have traditionally relied upon conference cocktail hours, golf outings, and backroom dinner reservations — are now left with a pipeline of prospects that do not advance to later stages of the sales process.
Understanding Today’s Environments
The changes in our landscape happened so quickly, it’s difficult to recognize the nature of the new economy. Business models and tried-and-true sales strategies became obsolete overnight. Organizations with the means to make large purchases are scrutinizing new expenditures more than ever.
The challenge becomes how to differentiate affordability/economic uncertainty issues from channel issues. In order to solve the riddle, we must peel back the layers of the onion. Beyond economic turmoil, contributing factors include: limited opportunities to build rapport in-person; saturated media; call & email fatigue; dwindling webinar attendance; new distinctions between essentials and nice-to-haves.
For sales organizations facing these issues, it is important to understand which changes in our new normal are permanent, such as technology adoption accelerations, versus which are more temporary, such as contactless interactions. In this way, organizations can prepare for the next new normal, in which some of the current conditions may revert to pre-pandemic norms.
Some areas to explore include:
- To what extent can traditional channels, such as social and web, move beyond marketing to play a meaningful role in sales?
- Is a different business model now required, such as making it easier to undo a buying decision?
- Is a virtual PowerPoint sufficient to advance prospects through the sales funnel? If not, what creative solutions are possible?
Align the Journeys
A common thread among these considerations is that the buyer journey has likely shifted. The key to unplugging the sales pipeline may very well lie in your organization’s ability to align your solution’s sales journey with this new, unknown buyer journey.
Consider, for instance, that organizational needs are likely being presented, debated, and budgeted for in virtual Zoom conferences. Each decision-maker is likely using search engines and social media to access information while the meeting is occurring.
Further consider that new alternatives which match the new normal are being explored not only by your traditional prospects — who may look outside of your direct competitor set for solutions — but also by non-traditional prospects who may consider your offerings as “outside the box” solutions to their new challenges.
Understanding the ways in which decisions are to be made in the new normal and the next new normal can help make clear the shifts your sales organization is required to make to keep the pipeline flowing.
Aaron Proietti is the founder of the consulting practice Today’s Innovator. He is also the Former Head of the Marketing Innovation Lab at Transamerica.
This piece is a part of the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.