When a student at, say, Harvard University orders lunch at an on-campus cafe, it’s not going to be a fellow student who prepares that meal. Like many institutions, Harvard outsources such services to Sodexo, the food and facilities management giant behind some of the world’s largest events, conferences, and workplaces.
Although Sodexo operates across a number of disciplines, food services accounts for the lion’s share of its revenue — $20 billion out of $23 billion. Field sales is what fueled that success. The multinational has around 50,000 sales managers worldwide, most of whom rely on in-person interaction to land clients and retain business.
For the large enterprise customers Sodexo targets, a field sales approach used to make sense.
“Our average deal size is $20 million,” says Ryan Bott, worldwide VP of inside sales and enablement at Sodexo. “These are large deals. Buyers want you onsite, they want to see what your service looks like.”
When businesses began closing their offices and organizers started canceling events, Bott knew his field sales motion would have to change. But he wasn’t worried — quite the opposite, in fact.
“I don't mean to make light of the pandemic, but I got a little excited,” he explains. “I knew the time was at hand to get the company thinking about inside sales.”
Bott began his career doing inside sales. Early on, he built virtual sales teams for companies like Impartner Software, O.C. Tanner, and Fusion-io. He knew the power of virtual sales and was excited to unleash it on Sodexo’s old-school sales force.
Drawing on his background, he devised an eight-week course to prepare Sodexo’s field sellers for the remote-first new normal. He called it the Virtual Selling Camp. Here’s how it worked:
Reframe your attitude
In the early days of the pandemic, no one knew how long it was going to last. Some believed it would turn out to be a blip and that field sellers could get back to their tried-and-tested playbooks.
But Bott grasped the situation quickly. He saw how fast the virus was spreading and knew everything would have to change. But others were more reluctant. For long-term field sellers, it was tough to see an industry they loved disappear overnight. Many refused to accept the new normal.
Bott knew the success of Virtual Selling Camp hinged on recalibrating attitudes and mindsets. If reps believed this was a temporary diversion, they would ignore what he was saying. But if they understood that remote selling was their reality for the next few years, they’d be more engaged, excited, and receptive. So he kicked off his course with a class on the long-term implications of the pandemic. It summarized the landscape and plotted Sodexo’s path to a remote-first sales strategy.
While designing the course intro, he was careful to limit his own screen and stage time. He was wary of Virtual Selling Camp coming off as the Ryan Bott Lecture Series.
So he brought in sales leaders from other companies — Gong included — to share their perspectives and predict the future of field sales. Once people saw experts from across the sales industry echoing Bott’s message, interest and engagement spiked.
Looking back, Bott estimates that 65% of his reps have come around to the value of virtual selling. He admits there’s still a long way to go but says that he’s proud of that number. Change management is a tough challenge at the best of times. During a crisis like this, it’s a nightmare.
Convert your sales process
After more than 50 years in business, Sodexo’s sales process was running smoothly before the pandemic. Although Bott knew in-person elements had to change, he didn’t want to break what still worked.
He began by documenting Sodexo’s enterprise sales process and highlighting each interaction that took place in person — discovery sessions, pitches, negotiations, and customer success follow-ups. Then he methodically worked through each element, creating a virtual replica.
The discovery process was one of the most challenging elements. Consider one of Sodexo’s most prized contracts — the NFL. Each year they walk the grounds of the Super Bowl host stadium looking for food service opportunities and challenges. Being there in person is a crucial part of their service, sales process, and client experience.
To rebuild the discovery process online, Bott borrowed specialists from Sodexo’s small inside sales team. They explained how they would use video, screen shares, and demos to replicate their old in-person experience.
Bott also repeated his trick from his introduction and asked for outside help. For example, he brought in product specialists from Gong to train Sodexo’s field sellers on remote presentation, interaction, and closing.
Wherever possible, he backed up the training with data. Instead of simply telling reps what to do, he’d explain why it made sense to do it that way. For example, Bott showed that the most successful virtual sellers allowed buyers to talk for 78% of the time.
The change to introduce new data and technology was one reason why Bott was so excited by the opportunity. Field sellers have traditionally eschewed sales technology, preferring to focus on personal relationships. But now, the technology is non-negotiable — and it’s making them better sellers.
Address the skills deficit
Virtual sales process designed, Bott turned his attention to Sodexo’s people. While they were outstanding field sellers, few had spent much time in inside sales roles. As such, they had some yawning skill gaps.
Bott started with the basics: technology setup. He ensured everyone had a good camera and a quality mic. He walked them through things like lens cleaning and shot composition. He had a whole session on lighting. It sounds simple, but the little things deliver outsized results in our all-remote world.
After building a great technology foundation, Bott moved onto virtual sales skills, such as keeping someone’s attention when you’re a floating head on Zoom.
“If you've got 12 people in the room, six are interested and engaged, and six turn off their camera, what do you do?” he says. “So we walked through that whole scenario. We role-played that scenario. How do you bring people back into the video?”
That last skill is key. Deals are 127% more likely to close when the buyer and sales rep use their webcam throughout the sales cycle.
Then there were sessions on negotiation. Field sellers are used to selling face-to-face, Bott says. But closing deals over the phone or via video call is a slightly different skill. Instead of learning by doing, he ran classroom sessions on the theory and reinforced it through exercises and role play.
By identifying skill gaps and methodically patching them, Bott efficiently turned his field sellers into virtual sellers. While they aren’t experienced inside sales reps yet, he’s confident they’ll grow into the role given enough time and support.