The enterprise sales practice has been highly affected by technological change, in a mostly positive manner. It has also been upended by the recent coronavirus pandemic. So, selling in 2022 has been almost completely turned upside-down. On the other hand, sales is still sales – and it is all about gaining the trust of the buyer with a product or solution that will fulfill their needs.
My History in Enterprise Sales
I began my sales career in the late 1970s when there were no personal computers or mobile telephones. I remember looking for pay telephones wherever I traveled and when I was on jury duty. The sales cycle consisted mostly of responding to inquiries from prospects interested in upgrading their first-generation software systems. Normally, after a short qualification call, we would visit with the prospect to determine what their needs were, and again later for a formal presentation. The evaluation team usually consisted of 2 to 4 people, led by either an Information Technology (IT) or a user contact who was most familiar with the current system and needs. The sales cycle was usually from 3 to 6 months in length. There were competitors, but enough business for all of us.
Then the IBM personal computer was introduced in late 1981, followed by the Compaq portable personal computer in early 1983. That provided two significant changes: 1) Applications were written to take advantage of the personal computer, which allowed for departmental usage. Now the company’s various departments no longer needed to fight in the IT priority queue list. 2) Vendors could conduct live presentations of their products, or slick slide presentations, in front of their prospects. Enterprise selling changed, for the better, as a result. And as more and more staff became familiar with the usage of personal computers, they gained a greater understanding of the positive benefits of using a third-party product that was supported by a reputable supplier.
The typical sales cycle stayed mostly very stable from the mid-1980s into the 2000s. Enterprise systems became more integrated, and several larger global organizations emerged as the leaders in enterprise applications. The products gained in functionality and became more expensive. Consulting organizations were often required to implement them.
And Then Along Came …
And then the world encountered the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, which shut down the economy. Employees no longer went into their office and telecommuted. Suppliers were not allowed to visit the company. The whole sales paradigm had to be changed on the spot – without any prior planning.
Prospects for 2023
Now, as we go into the new year, sellers must make the following 8 adjustments:
- Selling is not going back to the way it was before the pandemic. Companies, both sellers and buyers, have adapted to the new paradigm of limited access and less visits, and fewer visits to meet in person. Sales pros need to adapt their sales cycles and methodologies to the changing environment of limited access to the buying teams and fewer opportunities to meet in person to succeed. In addition, buyers are also not as available as they once were to all suppliers, even virtually.
- The marketplace has become more digital and social media is now where most buyers (especially millennials) are doing research.
- Buyers tend to be far more educated on what is available in the marketplace now. However, the best sales pros will still provide value in the form of the latest technology industry trends to buyers.
- Sales pros must provide compelling value propositions to gain the attention of the buying team.
- Sales pros must become masters at using videoconferencing technologies, such as Zoom and Skype. This requires understanding how to optimize the video experience, including lighting and sound, but also etiquette.
- Companies need to make drastic changes to their websites and marketing collateral to recognize the change in the digital marketplace. Printed material is not as important as how the company presents itself on its websites and social media.
- Sales managers need to do a much better job at onboarding and coaching in this new environment. All new hires and underperforming sales pros must receive immediate attention because I anticipate many will struggle with the changes.
- Socially conscious purchasing has become more important in the post-pandemic area. Sellers need to understand that they need to communicate what their company is doing to make the world a better place.
What About the Recession?
A recession adds challenges to the sales environment. Companies typically cut back on non-essential purchases and hold off on filling open staff requisitions. But companies still need to fix broken systems, such as a supply chain issue, and obey compliance issues and federal and state regulations, such as for OSHA, EPA, SEC, and OFEC. Therefore, if you are selling a solution in this area, you must emphasize the costs of not addressing the problem or non-compliance.
Providing a compelling value proposition is more important than ever. Be sure to work with the buying team to prepare a presentation that proves the value of your product or solution to their executive management.
An effect of recession on sales cycles is that larger expenditures may require additional justification. Sales pros need to work with the buying team, and perhaps their finance staff, in computing a positive return on investment (ROI) that is substantially beyond a beak-even.
Also, it may be helpful if you can provide financing solutions to the buyer.
Sales Basics Still Apply
Sales pros still need to excel at:
- business development (generating leads)
- better qualification of the leads, questioning to assess the buyers’ needs and linking them to your product or solution
- providing informative presentations within tighter time constraints
- following up with all buying influences
- addressing all objections (without trying to invalidate them)
- building trust with the buying team
All of that has not changed. But sales pros need to be more competent at these skills than they were even as recent as 5 years ago. And companies have become less patient with lower performers.
On the Positive Side
We have entered a new marketplace and those sales pros who adapt to the changes will prosper. Buyers are far more educated and discerning in the digital marketplace. This should result in shorter sales cycles. Sellers should be able to find more qualified prospects, as only the more serious buyers will provide them with any time to discuss their needs and review proposals. There will be fewer “tire kickers.” Sellers also can use the latest technology to emphasize how they can provide value to the buyer.
We saw drastic changes to enterprise sales in 2020 -2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic. These will continue to remain in affect in 2023. Sales pros need to understand the implications of the changes to be successful.
About the Author
Steve Weinberg has spent his life selling and helping others sell better, sell faster, and sell more. He is an expert at building, guiding, and sustaining high caliber sales teams, and creating exemplary standards in account management. He has over three decades of leadership experience in sales, including Vice Presidencies at Dun & Bradstreet Software, AC Nielsen, Solcorp (then part of EDS, now HP), and Deloitte and Touche. Steve earned a B.A. in Economics / Business Administration from North Park University, and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago. He is also a CPA and has experience in accounting, consulting, and as a graduate-level Economics instructor. He is married and has two adult children. He is the author of Above Quota Performance (Armin Lear Press, 9/20/2022). Learn more at https://www.steveweinbergsales.com/.
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