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Life on the road

The pandemic threw the B2B sales profession into a different world. Online sales presentations burst into the mainstream, and telephone selling became more important than ever. And the surprising thing was: customers preferred it. One survey after another backed that up, with this one suggesting that 70–80% of B2B decision makers prefer remote human interaction or ‘digital self-service’ (i.e. buying from a website without a salesperson being involved).

So… customers prefer it, we know how to do it, and there are cost savings too. Everyone wins. The age of the 50,000-mile-a-year-plus sales rep is over, right?

Well, it appears not. In a lot of companies, the salespeople are back on the road. I’d be interested to see any research on this, but anecdotally I think that it’s being driven by a ‘we know best’ approach, seemingly in the face of the evidence. Someone I know told me that they felt it was better to get back in front of the customer, because when they did an online presentation, they were always worried that the opposition might be doing a face-to-face one, and would be at an advantage. They clearly didn’t think that the opposite might be the case; perhaps when they arrived for their face-to-face presentation, the opposition might already have put themselves in pole position with an online one?

Comments are open if you have any thoughts on this.

3 thoughts on “Life on the road”

  1. This is an issue we are currently struggling with. We differentiate from the wholesalers by taking a consultative selling approach, in the belief that a large portion of our customers are uncertain of their exact needs. In person meetings, surveys of equipment, appraisals help identify exactly what is needed. We hired a sales manager at the start of this year to rekindle this process, which so far has failed through difficulty getting appointments. We cannot yet answer the question “is it the customer, or is it us”. Further research ongoing.

  2. On-line presentations are open to external distractions and it can be difficult to maintain focus when you lose eye contact as yet another email or other message popping up grabs the prospects attention. When you are a niche supplier of specialist products with significant customisation capability, it is important to have good rapport and the ability to explore around the requirement to tease out the real needs and highlight our point(s) of difference. I found this particularly difficult when everything was online. Getting “belly-to-belly” with the customer allows much more of a two way discussion, and my current results are reinforcing this.

  3. I believe that complex consultative sales in a B2B environment works best face-2-face – for both parties. Especially when it comes to “high-consideration purchases” when solutions are complex and reaching internal consensus amongst more stakeholders is required. I suspect a lot of these surveys are biased towards SaaS sales, as many of the sales training programs are these days. It is different when selling into manufacturing or other “tangible” areas. Nevertheless, many customers are still maintaining COVID restrictions, which hinders the face-2-face approach.

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