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Sales and the Work From Home Problem

The other day while pundits on CNBC were discussing the pending banking issues that will be activated by the pandemic fueled office vacancy crisis, one of them said something like, “Sales has always been a remote work segment so no real change there.”  

My mouthful of coffee nearly sprayed all over my keyboard with that comment.

While salespeople are typically “in the field” more than “in the office”, to portray sales as a permanent WFH profession is enormously wrong-headed.  “In the Field” means with clients in real life (aka IRL) rather than at home meeting clients on Zoom.  

If sellers are not with clients, then they should be in the office or have a great excuse to not be in the office.  But we’ll save this part of WFH and sales for another day.  Let’s just focus on what  “in the field” means.  Spoiler alert:  “In the field” is not doing Zoom meetings from your kitchen.

In my last role  I was managing a national media sales team as we transitioned out COVID best practices and back into real human interaction.  I was working with a small, senior level team that understood the pluses and minuses of the new WFH zeitgeist.  They were always scheming to get customers to lunches, dinners, coffees, concerts, games, anything where they could forge a deeper personal relationship.  Most of these customers worked for large brands or ad agencies and  were forbidden as a matter of policy to bring salespeople into the office for old school presentations or one on one meetings.  If you wanted to have a face to face meeting it had to be on Zoom or you needed to provide some kind of off-site activity for the customer. 

Thankfully some of these corporate policies that forbid outside visitors are being relaxed but unless we are managing our teams to see people face to face, we have no way of knowing if sales is striving to get more personal.  Chances are excellent that unless you are measuring your sellers IRL activity, they are defaulting to virtual. 

Virtual is more convenient for all.  But after that killer Zoom presentation, we often remember the key client partner who had their camera off or worse, was on  camera but clearly not engaged.  We would often reflect on the attendance at the meeting and how getting this group together IRL would have been impossible.  Certainly it is easier to get a senior level decision maker on a Zoom than in a meeting but does that mean we abandon the effort to be face to face?   As managers we have to push our sellers to not use virtual meetings as a crutch.  In the new world order, sellers have to do both virtual and IRL meetings to optimize opportunities.

Meeting customers face to face is always better.  IRL meetings are more spontaneous.  Conversations can venture into the personal.  Friendships with customers are forged.  These friendships pave the way to deeper relationships which inevitably de-commoditize the transaction.

The problem is that somewhere along the line, the value of a virtual meeting was treated with equivalency to a face to face meeting.  Are your sales managers making the distinction?  Do your managers push sellers to always be striving for face to face?  Does your CRM make the distinction?

If you look at the Top 20% of your customers who deliver 80% of your revenue, do you know if the sales relationship is completely virtual?  Is sales management measuring this at all? Or do they treat a virtual meeting on the same plane as a face to face?

Virtual meetings are easier and more efficient.  But efficiency should not be a proxy for effectiveness.  Ask each seller to review with you face to face activity with all of their accounts.  You will be surprised how long it has been since some of your most important customers have had an IRL interaction with your team.

When the customers are working more from outside of the office, the sales team cannot give up on IRL interaction.  If given a choice, salespeople will keep it virtual.  It's easier, it's more efficient.  But a customer is much more likely to treat your business like a commodity if your representation is an avatar versus a living human being.  

Part of the solution to this problem lies with management.   Are you giving sales teams the budgets to entertain and travel to see clients?  Have you created hosted hospitality opportunities like suites at concerts or games?  If the customer is working from home, it may take more creativity to get them out of the office.  Something as simple as a spa day for the customer and her team can do wonders for customer bonding.

Just because your sales team is no longer coming to the office should not mean they are working from home.  Getting out and being seen is the path to winning.  Hiding behind a camera is so 2020.

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