Corona pandemic: What is the future of sales and distribution?
The Corona crisis is an accelerator for the use of digital technologies in B2B sales.
Due to the Corona crisis, the usual sales activities have almost come to a standstill. Personal contacts to customers are only possible virtually if at all. It is an opportunity for future sales forces to focus on digitization to a greater extent than before. It means to think and act in an interdisciplinary manner.
What effects will the Corona pandemic have on the IT business in Germany? The sales consulting company Compris GmbH investigated this question and, according to its statements, spoke to 228 people from the top 1,000 IT companies in the German-Speaking region.
Although the results are sector-specific, they are likely to be similar for many other sectors, at least as far as the negative consequences of the corona crisis are concerned. Many customers react with uncertainty (94 %) or postpone orders (89 %). However, things do not look quite so negative for IT companies either, as the corona crisis led to at least some new orders for 83 %.
Customers postpone or cancel orders so that revenue declines and, in the worst case, companies slide completely into bankruptcy. The corona crisis is, therefore, a significant challenge, especially for sales: How can we retain customers and even win new ones, despite the general uncertainty, despite the reluctance of many companies to make new investments?
After all, distribution is not dead overnight just because a virus got in its way. The distribution continues, but the way it does so will be different in the future. Sales employees are used to addressing customers personally. However, the personal contact at trade fairs or other events that is so important, the personal interaction with the customer, has been missing since the Corona pandemic.
Sales of the future needs digital know-how.
Sales of the future solves the problems of customers by finding out where their most significant difficulties lie or what needs customers have. Therefore, the sales force of the future will not only sell or collect leads. His most urgent task is to make the added value of the company and its products or services visible to potential and existing customers- i.e. through knowledge, advice, and concrete solutions. The sales department of the future will pick up customers where they stand. Product-centred thinking, which solely focuses on the conclusion, is a short-sighted philosophy, which will not help in the future.
The Corona crisis shows that in the future, sales must also be more creative and imaginative than before. The timely response to customer enquiries is mandatory, the identification and understanding of exceptional customer needs, supplemented by individual offers, the freestyle.
Virtual customer communication will also become an essential capability. In times when trade fairs, sales talks and other customer events are cancelled and replaced by virtual formats, sales and marketing cannot avoid building up digital know-how. Keyword: Digitization of customer service. In the meantime, we all noticed that events on specific topics also take place via webinars or video conferences. Although this form of communication does not replace personal customer contact one-to-one, moving images can create added value in customer relations through a particular “closeness”, especially in the case of products and services in B2B-business that require explanation.
In “future sales”, therefore, personal interaction will be replaced – at least in part – by virtual communication. As a result, the sales force should proactively deal with digital technologies. Most now use tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom for virtual meetings. So probably many customer appointments and consulting sessions will also take place via the digital path in the future. The important thing is that the customer gets the feeling that he is being taken care of – and in the most digital-authentic way possible.
The sales force of the future will think and act across divisions.
It’s banal but still true: even virtual contacts, where customers and providers can see each other via digital technologies, cannot replace personal customer contact. But it is better than no customer contact at all! In the future, it will become apparent that sales-related selection and decision-making processes will shift to the digital world even more frequently than before due to the lack of “analogue” channels.
Nowadays, customers go on a digital customer journey. They make purchasing decisions without ever having communicated with the sales department. The first point of contact for potential customers is usually the provider’s website. Here the first actions happen, and you can see almost every click – and at the end, you have a lot of data. Every click leaves behind data traces that companies and sales can view and analyze. As a result, the customer’s opportunities for contact with the company come to the fore, and a rigidly prescribed sales process is outdated. Today, the customer determines how and when he or she uses various consulting and purchasing options.
Every click leaves behind data traces.
The sales force of the future focuses on the customer journey and therefore requires a reorganization. In the future, sales processes will be cross-divisional; above all, there will be closer integration with marketing. The sales force of the future thinks in terms of processes and is oriented towards customer benefit, no longer just towards departmental and individual interests. Binder or lubricant for these cross-divisional processes is customer data.
They provide information on where customers have had contact with the company and how they have behaved at the respective contact points, for example, when calling up a product in the online shop. The sales department of the future is an important part here, providing and evaluating data from a wide range of channels and contact points as part of an integrated multi-channel strategy.
Corona pandemic: What is the future of sales and distribution? – Conclusion
The corona crisis is an accelerator for the use of digital technologies. In the future, the sales department will also use them to communicate more intensively and build business relationships.
Although virtual channels will not wholly replace personal customer contact, they will at least complement it to a large extent. That makes many sales-related business trips obsolete because of virtual customer meetings. It also becomes clear that rigid divisional thinking in sales is a thing of the past. The sales department of the future thinks more strategically and across departments, no longer just turnover and contract oriented.
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Link to Compris´ Survey (only in German): Welche Auswirkungen hat die Covid-19-Pandemie auf das Systemhausgeschäft in Deutschland?