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The End of the Traveling Salesman? Covid’s Permanent Transformation of the Sales Industry

Over the last year, the shift to remote work has fueled huge standout stories within the business community. Technologies like Zoom, Shopify, and Slack have dominated headlines and grabbed the attention of reporters and investors alike. However, for business leaders, some of the largest technological shifts have occurred in sales teams, where the needs of remote working have paved the way for rapid digital transformation. With the majority of salespeople working remotely in the U.S., tools that can help streamline and automate the sales process have had a watershed year. 2020 isn’t the beginning – it’s an inflection point, where B2B buying and selling changed dramatically. 

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According to a recent Forrester report, “the events of 2020 have cemented the digitization of the B2B buying and selling process.” In short, many sales professionals around the world may be permanently grounded, and automation and technology platforms have changed the very nature of business sales. This will have huge lasting effects and showcases the growth potential for CRM and sales technologies.

To better understand the impact of remote working on B2B sales, we conducted a survey of over 750+ sales professionals during Q1 of 2021.

The first stat to come out of our survey likely won’t surprise you: less than 6% of those surveyed were taking in-person meetings at the time of the survey, and over 60% of respondents indicated that they wouldn’t resume in-person meetings until the fourth quarter of this year, or 2022 and beyond. This is a huge shift for sales, a role that has traditionally relied heavily on in-person connection.

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The overwhelming prevalence of remote work has led to some challenges for sales teams. 42% of survey respondents indicated that customer churn from organizations impacted by COVID-19 was the biggest challenge facing their revenue team and 41% percent of respondents saw economic uncertainty having an impact on their sales budget for 2021. To combat some of these challenges, many revenue teams turned to digital transformation. In our survey, over 50% of respondents reported that they’ve increased the use of sales automation technology to help with remote work – in essence, automation tools have helped salespeople shoulder the load during this challenging time. 

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Bring It In: Moving from an Outside to Inside Sales Team

With remote work increasing sales teams’ reliance on digital solutions, SaaS platforms such as Salesforce have gone from being useful technologies to vital lifelines for sales teams. Further, sales engagement, sales enablement, revenue intelligence, and all other categories of sales-specific software have enabled sales teams to increase their productivity while remote – 81% of survey respondents reported that they have either delivered or outperformed on their goals as a result. Digital transformation is empowering sales teams to continue performing! 

The most surprising statistic revealed by our survey is that sales engagement platforms are seen as more important to revenue teams than remote collaboration tools such as Slack.

Here are the top three sales technologies used by respondents to work more effectively while remote: CRM systems (87%), web conferencing tools (84%) and sales engagement platforms (75%).

These three areas outperform all other categories, including other types of sales tools like revenue intelligence, as well as more general tools such as remote collaboration tools and social media. The top two most-valued tools are not surprising, as almost every remote sales rep is relying on Salesforce and Zoom (or a competitive product).

However, it is interesting to note that the sales engagement platforms category outperformed the more widely-known remote collaboration tools category (75% to 71%).

It stands to reason that as workers began to work remotely, the need for digital tools to supplement – and even replace – traditional in-person selling would accelerate. In the future, even as some workers begin to return to their offices, these digital tools will likely remain crucial pieces of the selling process. Further, the increased adoption of sales technologies during the pandemic will likely continue even as reps head back to the office and back out on the road. Because at the end of the day, no sales team would opt for more complexity or friction in the sales process.

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