COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the nation, and it feels like we are “returning to normal.”
But some of the changes brought on by the pandemic will stick around.
While distributors have always sold products on multiple sales channels (for example: outside sales, inside sales, customer service, ecommerce, and VMI), COVID-19 shifted the dynamics and reliance on each. Outside sales reps are now expected to manage more accounts, and to manage more of their relationship-building remotely.
Inside sales teams are becoming more prominent altogether. And ecommerce sites face the pressure of adding consultative value in a similar way that the best B2C sites do. To stay resilient through these shifts, sales practices will need to evolve. Close to 9 in 10 decision-makers say that new go-to-market sales practices will be a fixture throughout 2021 and beyond.
Distributors must revisit their sales-enablement toolkits so that sales reps can be just as good working with a customer remotely as they are in person.
How Distributors Can Equip Sales Teams for Success
More than 90% of B2B companies shifted to a virtual or hybridized sales model as a result of the pandemic, according to McKinsey, and we believe the hybrid model will stick. Because of this shift, distributors should re-evaluate the responsibilities of each of their sales teams, and the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.
Outside sales reps need to be adding constant consultative value when they visit a customer, and they need to provide better support remotely (for example, knowing when a customer they visited last week has been browsing a new category on your ecommerce site, then following up with the customer to ensure they find what they need). Inside sales reps should be taking on more accounts, which requires guidance toward customers that most warrant their attention and prompting on what to sell during their quick interactions with customers.
It sounds relatively simple to embrace these changes, but many distributors view this new reality as a big hurdle. In Distribution Strategy Group’s 2021 State of Sales survey, one of the primary drivers of dissatisfaction over the past year was “forced changes to sales processes in light of COVID-19.” This includes sending more emails and making more video calls. Outside sales reps struggled to make remote communications as effective as they perceived face-to-face interactions to be.
Distributors need to combat the resistance to these changes by embracing technology that does two things:
- Helps reps increase the number of meaningful customer interactions they are having (whether they be remote, in person or over email/text)
- Gives reps exactly what they need to sell more during each interaction
Simply put, when effectively done, these strategies will lead to incremental sales and an adaptable salesforce.
AI can help. Think of AI as an assistant to your sales reps, helping to increase both the quality and quantity of customer interactions. AI identifies when a customer is due to reorder as well as opportunities for cross-selling and upselling. It can trigger reps to follow up on high-potential sales opportunities that might have otherwise slipped under the rug.
When great tools handle the planning and prioritization of sales activities, sales teams can turn previously lost time into more conversations with customers.
COVID-19 might have hastened the transition to working with customers remotely, but it will be AI that helps those reps provide the best customer experience moving forward. Combining the skillsets of sales reps with the capabilities of AI will result in more satisfied customers and increased sales.
Benj Cohen founded Proton.ai, a growth engine for distributors. His company’s mission is to help distributors harness cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) to drive increased sales. Benj learned about distribution firsthand at Benco Dental, a family business started by his great grandfather. He graduated Harvard University with a degree in Applied Math, and speaks regularly at industry events on the benefits of AI for distributors. Benj has been featured in trade publications including MDM, Industrial Distribution, and Industrial Supply Magazine. His company, Proton.ai, announced a $20 million Series A round of funding in 2022, led by Felicis Ventures.