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Redesigning the field sales motion

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On February 22, 2020, Miles Kane flew to New York for face-to-face meetings with his largest East Coast accounts.

After a week of pitches, client check-ins, and discovery sessions, the Drift enterprise sales leader planned to leave New York and head to Miami for a marketing conference. But in a taxi to the airport, he got an email alert: the conference was canceled.

“This was a large marketing conference with thousands of people coming from all over the world,” Kane says. “It was hours before I was supposed to get on the plane.”

In that moment, he realized that COVID-19, which had yet to grip the U.S., was about to become something much more serious. He switched his ticket to San Francisco and headed home.

As Kane flew back across the country, he thought about his carefully crafted field sales strategy, which married the most effective inside sales motions with the best field techniques. He spent around 60% of his time on remote work — emails, video calls, live chats, and so on. The other 40% was all traditional field sales. He’d dole out swag. He’d take prospects out to concerts and sporting events. One of his most successful tactics was running small dinners for a handful of C-suite executives.

Both sides of Kane’s sales motion were essential. His in-person plays built rapport and trust. His virtual tactics drove deals forward.

As he reflected on his approach, he wondered if it could survive contact with a global pandemic. Shortly after he arrived home, he got his answer: it couldn’t.

San Francisco issued a shelter-in-place order. Drift shuttered its office. Conference organizers canceled their events in droves. In-person selling became impossible. By Easter, the world of traditional field sales had vanished.

Since then, field sales leaders like Kane have worked to rebuild a sales motion that took decades to design. It’s been tough, but they have adapted. They have shown resilience, adaptability, and ingenuity. Faced with unprecedented economic and social challenges, they have endured and some have even thrived in adverse circumstances.

We caught up with some of those strategic field sales leaders to uncover the new strategies, tactics, and methodologies that are working in the new normal. Now, we’re ready to share everything with you. 

In this guide, you’ll hear from sales leaders who have rebuilt field sales strategies that previously relied on in-person interaction. You’ll learn the intricacies of virtual rapport-building and how to recreate an office culture online. You’ll learn how to forecast when you can’t see more than a couple of weeks ahead. You’ll read about the changing nature of sales leadership — and the technology you need to underpin it all.

But before we get to that, it’s time for a deep dive on the post-pandemic sales landscape of 2021. 

There is no going back 

As the pandemic spread around the world, economies went into panic mode. On Main Street, businesses shut their doors. Consumer confidence tanked. In the boardroom, B2B buyers canned pending proposals and froze all future purchases. Through spring and early summer of 2020, it was chaos.

Faced with an uncertain future, go-to-market teams gathered in virtual war rooms to design ad hoc responses. Many companies pivoted their event marketing to online webinars, conferences, and roundtables. For example, Sendoso launched a new conference called The Show Must Go On, and HubSpot took its popular INBOUND event online.

Some shifted their focus away from new logo acquisition to customer retention. No one was buying, they reckoned. Survival meant retaining existing customers. They slashed pricing to make renewals more attractive and retooled their products and services for newly remote customers.

A few redeployed field sellers to inside sales roles, doubling down on smaller buyers and self-serve options. While that’s proven to work for simpler deals, it’s not an airtight strategy for larger contracts. As inside selling has become more common, buyers have grown more willing to spend large amounts without ever meeting a sales rep — but most enterprise deals still rely heavily on personal relationships.

Indeed, it’s looking more like the pandemic has changed the way buyers and sellers operate for good — and that might not be a bad thing. Long before the pandemic hit, business leaders knew something needed to change. According to McKinsey, more than 90% of companies said their business models would need to adapt to digitization. Those that don’t adapt will die off. In fact, they already are. McKinsey analysts point out that the average age of companies on the S&P 500 Index is just 22 years — down from 61 years in 1958.

“In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish,” Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, wrote in a 2015 essay. 

Part of this ongoing digital transformation is a move to more flexible work. Rigid hours and places of work are increasingly a thing of the past. As PwC discovered, more than 50% of CFOs plan to make remote work a permanent option for all roles that allow it.

As organizations shift towards flexible work, traditional field sales becomes more difficult. Without offices to visit, field sales must migrate online. Mary Shea, principal analyst at Forrester, predicts 80% or more of all sales cycles will happen virtually. And it’s not just the practical circumstances of the pandemic fueling Shea’s prediction. B2B buyers already prefer virtual communication channels, such as video and online chat, to traditional or in-person alternatives.

Today’s buyers are willing to spend big money without ever meeting a vendor’s sales reps. One-third of buyers say they’re happy to drop up to half a million dollars on either self-serve or fully virtual sales.

All of this portends permanent, widespread change to field sales as we know it. Faced with such a seismic shift in the landscape, B2B sales leaders don’t expect a return to normal. Nearly 90% of executives say they’ll stick with their virtual-first go-to-market model even when the pandemic is over.

To thrive in our new, ever-changing environment, sellers need to rethink everything from their sales motion to their sales stack. But you don’t need to start from scratch. Every field sales leader around the world is facing the same challenges. We can learn a lot by studying what others have done well.

Your Field Sales Playbook For 2021+