The New Normal: What Lies Ahead for Sales

by Michelle Seger

COVID-19 has changed day-to-day life as most of us know it, and the sales profession is no exception. We’re hearing a lot about “the new normal” where field sales are obsolete, outside sales reps become inside sales reps, and face-to-face meetings with buyers are pretty much a relic of the past.

Not so fast!

While the pandemic has changed the way a lot of business gets done, many core values and practices of B2B selling aren’t going anywhere — though some will need to be reimagined, realigned, and redefined for a post-COVID age.

The changes we’re seeing — the new normal we’re hearing so much about — actually began long before the world saw its first COVID-19 cases. While the pandemic may be expediting the change, we believe that it would have happened anyway. In some ways, this is an exciting time for the sales profession.

There aren’t many positive things about COVID-19, but one is that it has demonstrated what a lot of sales leaders were already thinking: that long-term, complex B2B selling could happen with significantly fewer face-to-face meetings, less travel and entertainment, and more strategic inside support from sales operations and sales support.

Three pre-pandemic factors were already hinting at a new normal where technology and global trends would enable more inside selling and require less outside selling:

  • The age of the informed buyer. Over the past 20 years, the World Wide Web has become a go-to source for B2B buying decisions. Many studies have shown that customers know what they want before they begin the buying process. In fact, around 70% of buyers know what they need before they even engage with a That means that reps need to offer something more than features, benefits, and a call to action. Sales reps who are skilled at creative problem solving, who are committed to helping and not just selling, will stand out.
  • Unified communications. Before the pandemic, lots of people suspected that state-of-the-art conferencing solutions, 3D product demonstrations, and virtual reality could effectively replace a lot of face-to-face sales activities. But no one wanted to be the first to try. Why take that risk? Looking a customer in the eye, shaking hands, maybe enjoying a great dinner, an evening out, or a round of golf were viewed as time-honored necessities for closing large, complex sales. As we all know, COVID-19 forced those changes. So, it isn’t a total surprise that today, many customers are saying, “I really don’t need to see the sales team every quarter; once a year would be fine. I actually like talking on the phone!” Many sales reps are saying, “I enjoy inside sales. I’m hitting my numbers and my family appreciates having me around.” And many sales executives are saying, “We don’t miss seeing those big travel and entertainment expenses.” Of course not all field sales reps will want to become inside reps; some will remain in their old roles, some will join new hybrid sales team, and others may look for new careers. On the other hand, an evolving inside sales universe will attract many individuals who want to be in sales but prefer not to travel — and who see inside sales for what it has become: a profession unto itself, not an entry-level prerequisite for a field sales career.
  • Globalization. Before COVID-19, globalization was already changing the playing field for sales. Rather than being defined by geographical regions, territories could be based on industry, products, customer segmentation, and areas of expertise. A cross-sales team model featuring field and inside reps, sales ops, and account managers can ensure that a sales organization is exactly where a customer needs to be in order to execute a sale.

A few things to bear in mind as we approach the new normal. First, inside selling is not the same as remote selling. Inside reps typically work out of an office, not from home; collaboration is a key to selling solutions and to sharing legacy knowledge. The inside sales rep of the future will be part of a dynamic team, not a lone wolf making calls from a home office. Second, field selling isn’t going away, though right now there are 15 inside sales jobs for every outside sales job. We can’t stress enough that inside sales shouldn’t be seen as steppingstone to outside sales. The two disciplines require different talents and attract different kinds of people. Third, and most important, the future of sales — both inside and outside — will require high level creative problem solving skills. Sales reps who know how to ask the right questions, demonstrate empathy, elicit the customer’s story, brainstorm with buyers, identify problems, and offer solutions will differentiate themselves from the pack.

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Michelle will dive deeper into this topic at WorldatWork’s Spotlight on Sales Compensation on Thursday, August 20, at noon ET. Our friends at Open Symmetry are offering 20% off your registration.