COVID has greatly affected the buying and selling process. A recent Korn Ferry survey of global sales organizations revealed that virtual selling is here to stay, with fewer than 2% expecting the changes to be temporary. Changes include the addition of more, and likely new, stakeholders entering the buying and selling process.

The pandemic has also impacted the length of time it takes to close a deal. It makes sense to focus on protecting the core when 70% of organizations report it’s taking longer or significantly longer to close deals with new clients. Sellers who have adapted and aligned with how buyers want to buy have 5% higher revenue attainment and 9% higher win rates compared to those who do not.

During COVID, 82% of respondents have used concessions such as price discounting as an approach to salvage a deal that might not have closed. Increased client expectations add to challenges that include more meetings needed to progress opportunities. Because there are a lot of new challenges to overcome, sellers will need to develop keener virtual selling skills, overseen and coached by their managers.

Acknowledge changes in the buying/selling process. 

Initial meetings, product presentations, and closing—formerly handled by many or most companies as in-person meetings (roughly 75% report these as formerly being in-person across the board)—are now primarily handled in virtual meetings. While some face-to-face interaction is still taking place, organizations need to be confident in their salespeople conducting virtual meetings for all phases of the sales cycle—from needs assessment to closing.

90% of respondents also report some or significant change to their sales organizations during COVID. These numbers are mirrored in their interactions with potential buyers, with 93% reporting at least some change, and 43% reporting significant change to their clients’ buying processes. Less than 2% of respondents believe that the changes that they have seen to selling, and their businesses, during COVID will be temporary.

One impactful change to the process is the introduction of new stakeholders. Who makes the decisions and owns the budget is shifting. Recognition of these stakeholders is key.

Adapt to longer buying cycles.

All of the factors detailed have led to vastly increased sales cycle length, particularly for new customers. 54% of sales organizations are reporting longer sales cycles with existing customers, and 70% are reporting longer cycles with new customers—with a full 33% reporting significantly longer cycles for these new prospects (vs. 10% for existing customers). These types of delays are one reason why many organizations are astute to focus on closing with the customers they already have.

Align to your client’s buying processes to drive success.

A lack of clarity regarding the sales process creates challenges in the current selling environment. However, there are organizations that have found ways to succeed. We consistently see improved performance among those organizations that are effectively able to align their process to their customer’s path.

According to our survey, 44% of organizations stated that their organization had effectively adapted their sales process to align with how buyers want to buy during COVID. Compared to their counterparts, these organizations have seen 9% higher win rates over the last quarter, and a 5% increase in revenue attainment.

Meet increased expectations to close deals.

Many organizations acknowledge that revenue attainment, win rates, and average deal sizes are all down. Data from the most recent quarter shows revenue attainment down 10% (even after companies adjusted expectations), win rates down roughly 10% as well, and average deal sizes down 13% compared to the most recent fiscal year.

To meet customer demands during COVID, 82% of organizations report using concessions more often than before. All are agreed that this is unsustainable.

In the new selling environment, sellers need to be prepared for extended sales cycles, with more meetings to progress each stage in the process. 56% of respondents stated that it takes more meetings than in the past to progress opportunities. And 35% report that clients have higher expectations on virtual calls than they previously had for in-person meetings. Given that the changes are likely to remain, understanding and meeting expectations is imperative.

Enable sellers to be effective in virtual meetings.

Survey respondents reflected positively on the general presentation and communication approach of their sellers. They indicate belief in their sellers’ professionalism (53%) on virtual calls and believe they are effectively leading with empathy both in their initial engagement approach (65%), as well as during further virtual presentations (60%).

When it comes to specific practices within virtual calls, managers and leaders don’t have the same confidence in their sales force. Only 30% believe their salespeople are effective at structuring meetings for a virtual environment, 28% feel their salespeople demonstrate effective facilitation skills, and only 29% believe that salespeople are effective at using the virtual tools and collateral provided. Keeping in line with these results, overall, only 30% believed that their salespeople are effective at selling in a virtual environment. Sellers must be armed with appropriate value messages and the appropriate skills to sell successfully.

It’s worth noting is that the sellers report a more positive view of their behaviors and skills. They rate themselves higher across the virtual selling practices, for example, 44% believe that they are effective at selling in a virtual environment vs the 29% indicated by the other respondents. Closing this gap is important because, across the board, success in these practices is correlated with higher performance metrics, so sales organizations would profit from honing their virtual approach.

Strengthen your team’s virtual selling skills with our Accelerating Revenue Growth integrated solution, giving your organizations the tools and methodology to update your sales playbook and boost performance. Learn more here.

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