Gartner® Pandemic Recovery: Key Sales Roles and Technology Impacts for B2B Sales

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Sales roles have changed and keep changing since the pandemic and therefore also will impact the key technologies that support sales. In this report, Gartnerexplains how sales enablement,  CRM technology and others need to pivot their direction and reevaluate existing methodology to be able to thrive. 

Key findings from the report

The Gartner report finds that: 


  • “The impacts of COVID-19 have permanently changed the structure of the B2B sales cycle. Application leaders are struggling to identify key technologies to reset, based on the path of recovery for their organization.”
  • “As the world begins to reopen for business, albeit fragmented and uncertain in timing, sellers are faced with tighter buyer budgets and elongated or stymied sales cycles that result in uncertain revenue forecasts.”
  • “The new normal will evolve differently based on outside forces (changing market conditions etc.) resulting in varying selling models that require different strategies and technologies.”

Gartner’s recommendations

Based on the above, Gartner recommends that any leaders in CRM and sales should:

“Identify critical skills needed for virtual sellers to be effective in complex sales cycles, by reviewing prospects’ buying needs based on their recovery path”

“Acquire and optimize the use of sales enablement technology and machine learning (ML)/artificial intelligence (AI) to drive the organization through three recovery paths — reinvest, return and reduce.”

“Boost virtual selling skills and tools by investing in key technologies to rescale the seller role.” 

 

Recognize three phases - respond, recover and renew

Sales leaders must recognize the phases of post pandemic planning needed. The first three being: respond, recover and renew,  as well as the key forces that help assess phase durations (see Figure 1). 


Key technologies (such as sales enablement technology) will help support sellers in each of these phases.

The above post pandemic framework also shows other inputs including economic forecasts, health scenarios, industry trends and consumer trends.

“Each path (rescale, reinvent, return, reduce and retire) will require a pivot or shift to the seller role, skills and technology needed.“ 


As an example, Gartner explains how this could work:

  • Rescale. Sellers will be focused on accelerating sales to grow the business, quickly putting newly identified best practices into play. This could involve using technologies that better help them read buyers’ reactions during virtual meetings or leverage the company’s most accomplished experts (gurus) for virtual sales meetings”.
  • Reinvent. Companies need to have agile sellers willing to be trained on new markets, customer challenges, solutions and positioning.
  • Return. Sellers have to update their skills to acclimate to new normals — adapting to new digital processes and systems designed for a virtual sales process.
  • Reduce and retire. Sellers within these companies are often looking to apply their skills at other companies, charting their own way on return, reinvent and rescale paths.”


“Across all of the paths, application leaders must have core sales technology to support this recovery and reset with virtual selling (see Figure 2). Additional technology specific to the path will also be valuable in boosting sales outcomes.”

The core technology that sales leaders are encouraged to adopt includes sales enablement platforms. Especially those which support digital sales content, sales training and coaching as well as collaboration and online meeting tools. 

Gartner mentions that these tools will be surrounded by other technology such as:

 

  • Digital sales rooms that include persistent and collaborative micro-sites for content sharing, video conferencing and engagement analysis.
  • “Analytics for conversation, sentiment and emotion analysis (facial and body language analysis) (see “Competitive Landscape: Emotion AI Technologies, Worldwide”).”
  • “Collaboration tools such as video and collaboration platforms with the ability to record and analyze seller and prospect interactions that also facilitate internal deal collaboration.” 

Yet, this is not extensive. Gartner mentions that “there are other capabilities that will become important that have not yet surfaced, such as the ability to include indirect channel sellers to collaborate on co-sell opportunities. Some of the above capabilities are newly formed and nascent in functionality, such as emotion analysis and persistent micro-sites with collaboration for both buyer and seller. As virtual selling solidifies, these capabilities will evolve.”

“Each section below describes a path on the post pandemic framework and explains how sales needs to pivot or shift the seller role to include the skill sets and technology they will need in order to be successful. Innovative technology should be investigated and invested in depending on the path. See Tables 1 to 4 for a full set of skills and technology. “

 

Rescale

The sales landscape has changed immensely. “As businesses reopen and the demand pipeline increases, the seller role needs to adapt to dynamically increase sales activity in new ways, to scale the business and generate revenue. Application and sales leaders initially feared remote selling due to a lack of oversight, but have come to see its benefits. Remote selling resulted in reduced travel time leading to sales productivity gains, with — 77% of sales leaders reporting an increase in seller activity levels (e.g., sales calls/day).”

“In order to recover faster, the seller role must pivot to scale business by engaging with technology that supports virtual selling. Virtual selling enables the company’s best experts and specialists to be leveraged for complex and high-value deals, regardless of location. In order to coordinate resources for critical accounts (which brings intense focus and the best resources available to deals), companies following the rescale path should form a tiger team approach.”

“A growing and quickly adapting sales team ensures successful virtual meetings by planning before each sales call, specifically:

  • “Communicate a narrowly scoped agenda designed to achieve a few, clearly defined objectives.
  • Define the roles and objectives of others supporting the call to maximize limited time with the customer.
  • Prepare bite-sized content optimized for 30-45 or 45-60-minute virtual meetings to ensure comprehension and respect time commitments.
  • Plan pauses or questions during the meeting to compel customer participation and to check for comprehension and attention.”
  • Adapt technologies to deliver interactive demonstrations and collaborative tools (e.g., ROI calculators). 

Sellers need to adopt advanced new technologies to engage buyers, and not lose their interest along the sales cycle. Gartner notes that:


“These sellers need to learn to engage buyers with polling, breakout room functionality and virtual sales tools. Relationship building, without the benefit of impromptu and informal conversations, is a new skill many sellers will need to develop to gain a buyer’s respect and trust. Sales training programs need to include virtual selling skills to ensure all sellers are able to develop the proven techniques for engaging buyers remotely.”

"Without information gathered from informal sidebar conversations, sellers need to be very familiar with the buyer’s information landscape, such as:

  • “What recently published material has the buyer viewed and understood from the seller’s company or about their company?
  • Is the buyer aware of what the competition has published and what has been published about alternative solutions?"

“These strategies are needed to help them close meetings with concrete outcomes and next steps. Application leaders should support sales enablement leaders with technology to help build these seller skills with remote workshops, e-learning, scenario-based training and guided coaching.”

“Technology plays an important part in helping the sales function adapt in each pandemic path. At the beginning of the pandemic, Gartner saw a significant increase in inquiries around sales training. Initially, it was how to train sellers (and employees) on technology used in remote work. Then the focus shifted to how to use remote work technology more effectively. Inquiry showed an increase in interest in telesales, conversational analytics and sales acceleration as well (see “Virtual Selling Emerges as a Priority for CRM Sales Technology Programs”).”

“Many field sellers have limited proficiency with remote selling, having utilized the skill as a “backup plan” from time to time. Without the familiarity of face-to-face meetings, they struggle to run remote meetings that effectively engage multiple buyers and, as a result, often miss buying signals.”


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Gartner, Pandemic Recovery: Key Sales Roles and Technology Impacts for B2B Sales, Melissa Hilbert, Shayne Jackson, 15 March 2022

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