Social Selling in Isolation: How Sales Executives Are Coping with The New Normal
Nearly all business executives around the world have experienced difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic both in their work as well their personal life. However, one part of every business organization which is particularly affected is the Sales executives.
Before the pandemic, sales executives’ days were filled with social interaction. They regularly visited customers, entertained clients, and went on business trips for days at a time.
Then last spring 2020, everything changed.
Suddenly, they were forced to work from home. They could no longer interact with people face-to-face outside of their homes. Sales Skills, communication, negotiation, relations building, knowing the best places in town for closing a deal and luring new clients、knowing the restaurants and hotel managers who would get you the best service for a special event… all of these became nearly useless now.
Sales Executives had to learn how to communicate and sell remotely while still chasing sales quotas. Not only did their work routines change, but their home life changed abruptly, too. The boundaries between work and the private, often family lives were now all but gone.
These changes have been difficult for most executives in the field. Yet now, with various vaccination programs slowly rolling out, some wonder if their lives will ever return to the way they were before the pandemic and if they really wanted it to?
We interviewed several tech sales executives doing business in Tokyo to find out how their lifestyles have changed during the pandemic and what they’re doing to cope.
Working from home brings major changes
The executives we talked to had similar stories. Before the pandemic, they called on clients several times a week, even daily. Much of their time was spent away from home even away from their office. Their days were filled with people and conversations. They visited clients in their offices. Other times they took clients out to restaurants and sometimes continued on late into the evening in the bars and other nightlife spots. Business trips, whether domestic or international were the norm, Shinkansens, planes, and hotel rooms were where a big part of their lives was spent and all spent much of their time away from home doing business or socializing.
Then came the pandemic. Suddenly, all face-to-face meetings with clients and team members stopped. So did the traveling and entertaining. Now they just stayed at home.
“Stepping into a room, feeling it, smelling the sweat of the client, charm, and owning the room is what I excelled at for more than 20 years,” says E, Regional Sales Director in an imaging company. “We are a tech company, but business is done face to face over many meetings. We need to build relationships and trust. These are my expertise which I mastered over the years and brought me to where I am. Without being able to visit the customer physically, we only have the business proposition. It is not nearly as powerful, particularly in a rather conservative market like the Japanese market, I feel.” “Discussion over video turns to be much more matter-of-fact, and it’s not my strong suit,” he said. “I feel I lost my edge and a part of myself, not being able to meet clients and even my teams face to face”.
Hyper Social Life Style
Another IT US based software company Country Manager tells us “Restaurants and bars are where we are closing deals. Is where the business was made. A critical part of my job is entertaining.”
“Traveling to the HQ overseas and meeting the top people one on one to convince and make sure my operations get priority. Visiting clients’ sites domestically, seeing their work environment, and assessing their needs firsthand are fundamentals parts of doing business for us. Without these I feel disconnected from my company and customers,” says T, a Software Sales Director. “I had to learn how to close sales in new ways. Connecting with prospects on video calls, live chats, and phone calls”.
An executive at Sompo Cyber said that the issues are not only with the customers but also internally in the organization.“We all have new colleagues and team members we haven’t even met yet!” However, not all is negative, he does feel video meetings with clients, partners, and colleagues from their homes and bedrooms does feel more intimate and honest. “You are not wearing a suit in a controlled office environment. We are people and it is easier to see that when speaking to someone at their home”.
Are tech companies better in dealing with the crisis?
“Yes we are,” says T. “Many of our people are much more comfortable with tech. Also, global organizations are operating with video conferencing systems for many years. However, deals are being closed face to face and the technology is not a perfect substitute. It is often that our clients are not necessarily techy and meeting face to face is the norm, necessary or not”
A Caged Lion
Working from home has brought other challenges of course. Some sales executives traditionally spend so much time away from home that family time is rare and they are not integrated into their families’ daily routine. On top of that, most of them have families staying at home as well, a big part of the day. While they are learning this new way to work, their children are there, needing attention and help with their homework. They show little understanding of the importance of daddy and mommy hitting their quarterly sales target. “We had to come up with ways to make it work. Sticking to a schedule for work and private even when at home,” says E. “We structured sports activity and walks outside to keep healthy and keep our sanity. We often order from restaurants to keep things interesting. Once you start feeling like a caged lion and let the stress and frustration mix with the family life, things can get really bad”.
But, would you like things to go back to the way they were?
Not completely is the general agreement for all executives interviewed. “We used to have a very busy entertainment schedule, and we are saving lots of money from our entertainment bill. With so much less late night drinking, our lives are more balanced and healthy now. I am not sure if we ever want to go back to that,” says R.
“Definitely I would like to be able to meet my customers, partners and teams face to face. But when this is not necessary I think we can do much more work remotely moving forward,” says E.
“The time saved in commuting and traveling is precious and the expenses are significant. Office space is also a major factor. Once everyone accepts it is not necessary to meet in person to do business it reduces the need for meetings and that should last,” says M.
Remote selling to continue
Many sales executives feel that remote selling is here to stay, at least on some level. Surveys of international sales executives and customers in many countries support this.
In an October 2020 survey, McKinsey & Co. management consultants found increasing numbers of customers prefer to make purchases remotely.
Gartner went even further. It estimated that digital sales interactions will soon be the norm. By 2025, they expect sales calls to be done remotely 80% of the time.
Although the sudden shift to remote selling was a shock, it has now become an integral part of the business. Most companies, sales professionals, and customers now accept online video conferencing as an effective method for carrying out business transactions. Time and cost savings make it beneficial for everyone involved. Sales executives should keep working and polishing the new essential skills to succeed in the new environment.
- M- Sompo
- E – Global imaging
- R- US Software
- T: Japanese Software Company