The World is Changing and How You Do Your Sales Presentations Should Too
During the past two years, many of the world’s established practices changed for good. As a result of COVID-19, remote work turned from a rare privilege into a widely accepted option for many office jobs. Online shopping became a household routine rather than just a convenient pastime. However, these new digital trends pushed digital sales to the forefront—at the expense of traditional sales. Many conventional practices had to give way to their modern counterparts. This includes everything from qualifying leads to interacting with customers to creating sales presentations.
In particular, B2B companies underwent a heavy transformation in response to the health and safety risks posed by COVID-19—including ways to stay connected to the world.
Sales Have Changed—Perhaps For Good
In an early 2020 survey, McKinsey & Company noted that companies made notable adjustments to remain competitive. These changes largely centered around how consumers research products and use digital services and ways for businesses to increase their spending.
The “New Normal” of Sales—What Does it Mean?
Even before the pandemic, there was a rising tide of changing behaviors among B2B buyers. One major reason for this shift is that millennials (born 1981-1996) now comprise around 60% of current B2B tech buyers. This generation comprises the first wave of true digital natives, having grown up alongside the Internet.
As buyers, millennials are less concerned with developing personal relationships with sales professionals. The older generations of buyers are more welcoming of sales representatives and often take their word as gospel truth. In contrast, millennials grew up with information at their fingertips and have expressed their preference to conduct their own research. This includes trying out free samples, viewing online sales presentations, watching product demonstrations and scanning user reviews. Today’s buyers also like looking for additional information from manufacturer and vendor websites. By the time the buyer decides to contact the salesperson for a possible purchase, around 57% of the buying process has already been completed.
What does this all mean? The pandemic inadvertently accelerated a growing trend among buyers. Millennials are now the largest generation of buyers for most companies and they’re bringing their digital familiarity to the workplace. This results in more online research and less interaction with actual sales teams. B2B sellers should know that this preference was already established as the New Normal of Sales even before COVID-19—and it isn’t going anywhere.
The Shift to Digital
Despite the lockdowns, companies remained in need of partners to supply their services, raw materials and equipment needs. With lockdowns preventing sales teams from making traditional field visits, everybody turned to the digital sphere to keep business moving. As a result, sellers with existing online stores and digital payment processing systems had an early advantage.
However, having a website is just the minimum requirement. The company website shouldn’t only be user-friendly and responsive but also present up-to-date information about its products, services and values. More importantly, customers should have no problem continuing their transactions online, whether that be through the company website, app or even its social channels. Visitors to these channels who experience slow or nonexistent replies won’t bother going back for a second visit.
In addition, companies also shifted to online means of communication with their partners. Health-related travel bans grounded all traveling sales agents. Instead of face-to-face meetups, video conferencing became the de facto standard when sellers and buyers met. In fact, more than 75% of present-day buyers prefer online meetings and digital self-service purchase options over face-to-face interactions. For example, many buyers will now have sellers send their sales presentations via email or online transfer. This allows them to review the document at their leisure. This also removes the pressure of having to commit immediately after an in-person sales pitch.
Business Spending Habits Have Changed
Many companies struggled during the first few months of lockdowns and had to slash their budgets accordingly. However, other companies managed to stay afloat and some even saw their businesses thrive. Often providing essential products and services, the increased demand for their products pushed them to spend more to increase production. Think of companies that sell food and retail products or service companies offering warehousing and deliveries.
The takeover of millennial buyers also changed the sales landscape considerably. With buyers more comfortable researching information themselves, they have no qualms with purchasing directly from manufacturers, either. Since 2017, direct-to-manufacturer orders and online purchases increased while distributor deals began to decline. Millennial buyers are also known to be more willing to make purchases from international suppliers rather than only relying on local vendors.
The Future of Sales Industry: How the Pandemic Gave Way to Emerging Trends
As a result of the New Normal of Sales, many sales management teams are now throwing out the old playbook in favor of a new, digital one. B2B sellers are now reading the writing on the wall when it comes to emerging trends. They’re more focused on recognizing these trends as early as possible to be able to ride them to profitability. These trends include the following:
The Rise of Agile Sales
Agile sales management is an offshoot of Information Technology’s agile project management system. It turns out that agile’s popular strategies, such as sprints and iterations, can also apply to sales management. The result is also similar to what IT teams experienced when they went agile. They discovered unparalleled flexibility in meeting objectives at key points of the journey.
In short, agile sales methodology does away with conventional sales approaches. This includes bombarding the customer with endless questions about their intended purchase. It also breaks down the sales journey into more manageable sprints that help keep buyers moving forward through their journey. The most important aspect of agile sales management is the ability to remain flexible. This allows sales to pivot every time market or customer situations change. Every time an obstacle arises, sales teams can implement a new strategy to keep their hats in the ring.
Being agile also allows sales managers to identify problems with a sales rep’s current methods. This includes analyzing a sales rep’s manner of communication and how they leverage materials like brochures and sales presentations. By looking at the performance metrics, managers can devise sprint solutions to generate incremental improvements. For agile sales to happen, sales teams will need data support from tools like customer relationship management (CRM) software
B2B Sales Shifts to Hybrid
Even with their preference for online interactions and self-service solutions, buyers will eventually require the assistance of a salesperson. In fact, McKinsey reported that around 40% of buyers will only consider a new supplier if they can interact with the sales rep in person. This means that, despite the changing business landscape, the human element remains an integral part of completing the sale.
Companies that recognize the continued demand for in-person involvement are welcoming a hybrid sales system. This allows buyers to remain online when performing research and initial purchase actions. However, a hybrid sales system provides means for human interaction when it’s required. Instead of relegating the entire sales process to a purely online system, hybrid sales reserves the right to dispatch the sales representative as soon as the buyer signals a need for in-person assistance.
More importantly, hybrid sales provide the flexibility to change according to a customer’s requirements. Some buyers might see the eventual end of the pandemic as a sign to increase interactions with the sales team. Conversely, some buyers might find it more comfortable to transact in the virtual store and continue to keep sales representatives’ involvement to a minimum. This can include asking reps to provide quotes and share sales presentations online rather than requesting an in-person pitch.
Sales Automation Became The Thing to Strive For
A 2018 Forbes survey discovered that an average sales representative spends only 1/3 of their work time selling. For the remaining 2/3 of office hours, salespersons perform non-revenue generating activities—such as administrative tasks, addressing customer issues, research and meetings. Imagine if sellers can reconfigure their time to have more opportunities to do what they do best: sell. This could help raise the current average of salespeople who manage to hit their quotas, which Forbes reported as around 53%.
One solution that continues to grow in popularity is sales automation. By utilizing technology solutions to automate many administrative and other non-revenue generating tasks, sellers can have more time to actually sell. Doing so generates a chain reaction where sales representatives attend to more clients. More clients equal more closed deals. For the company, this means additional revenue even as the cost of sales goes down. Plus, sales automation also means a more efficient CRM.
According to McKinsey, modern software can automate as much as 33% of all sales tasks. This includes sales forecasting, lead generation, contract management order processing and invoicing and reporting. The payoff? Sales automation, when performed right, can improve sales efficiencies between 10-15% and increase a representative’s sales by 10%. Even better, sales team members will appreciate being freed from the chains of excessive non-sales tasks—driving morale and employee satisfaction.
The Drivers of Sales Growth Today
Modern sales growth is highly dependent on four factors: insights, agility, talent and technology. Today’s most successful companies are those that recognize the importance of these four sales drivers. In modern times, sales teams that continually recognize, adjust and adapt to market changes usually end up as industry leaders.
Data is the modern company’s fuel for success. The right and timely information helps organizations make the correct deductions. This results in the creation of better strategies and educated on-the-spot decisions. However, handling data is a far more tricky endeavor compared to gathering it. Almost any seller can collect data on their sales team’s performance and their customer habit. Those that can leverage information into making accurate predictions and implement timely decisions are the ones that end up besting their fields.
At present, McKinsey estimates that only 20% of companies have a fully-functioning data analytics center that builds scale. These industry leaders create centers of excellence (CoE) within their organizations to successfully harness information across their entire operations. Those companies that invested in CoEs often get rewarded handsomely. McKinsey added that 72% of the fastest-growing B2B companies attribute analytics to their successful sales planning.
Companies with the luxury of receiving timely and accurate information are better equipped to adapt to changes in the marketplace. However, the more successful ones are those that adapt by putting out solutions that prioritize helping their customers first. They establish dedicated teams that look at their company’s product lines and devise solutions that can benefit certain sets of customers.
How do these companies anticipate changes in their customer needs? Instead of the usual annual account reviews, B2B leaders implement continuous monthly account reviews to gain more relevant insights. This frequent realignment gives companies enough wiggle room to adjust or reallocate resources as needed in real-time.
The top B2B companies don’t just settle with rewarding their top performers with promotions and perks. They also allocate time and resources to ensure that the next generation of sales performers receive the training and support they need now. This includes providing managers with the tools to become top coaches as well. Combined with analytics and an agile sales system that allows improved communication among team members, managers can help younger sales representatives transition better into the digital sales mindset.
When training personnel, the top B2B performers also abandoned the idea of a one-size-fits-all training module. Instead, progressive companies now hand out highly-personalized sales journeys and skills training. This also includes conducting sales training in real-world settings to gain meaningful experience in the field. Those companies that provide custom training programs as opposed to generic modules are more than likely to outperform rivals when it comes to closing deals.
Sales is Now Omnichannel
Interestingly, agility also means being where the customers are. Part of implementing an agile system includes having an omnichannel presence. With more and more buyers becoming comfortable with online transactions, companies are reporting an increase in sales through digital channels. Customers appreciate a seamless transition from digital to in-person interactions and vice-versa.
With free-flowing information thanks to the internet, buyers now hold the power of choice. B2B buyers often undergo the buyer’s journey on their own during the early stages. The buyer will only initiate contact with the sales representative once they are satisfied with their research on the product and the provider.
This is why companies must provide customers with as many channels as possible during their journey. Omnichannel support allows buyers to reach out via email, phone, direct messaging or even social media to resolve any question they may have. In addition, having customer data available to company representatives across channels can also increase their engagement. Imagine the convenience of transferring your inquiry from phone to email to chat without having to re-enter your information three times over. These positive experiences are helping buyers make the move to digital. The B2B buyers who used five channels in 2016 now regularly use ten or more channels.
Sales Presentations: Your Edge Over the Competition
One aspect of sales that survived the digital transformation was the concept of sales presentations. Even as the market environment radically shifted from in-person to online, buyers and sellers alike still find the idea of pitching and listening to sales presentations an integral part of the sales journey.
Of course, the changing landscape also led to changes in sales presentations themselves. With information freely available over the internet, what should a modern sales pitch contain that buyers haven’t already read? Additionally, how do buyers prefer to review sales presentations? Is the conventional ‘let’s set up a pitch-at-your-office’ meeting still preferred or do buyers want materials sent digitally to review at their convenience?
For a decade before COVID-19, remote work was already a reality. Telecommuting is a word that first sprung in 1973 when a NASA engineer named Jack Nilles described the trade-off between transportation and telecommunications. In 1979, IBM allowed five employees to work from home as an experiment and albeit slowly, paved the way for working from home. It was in 1999 when formal work policies surrounding telecommuting became standard practice. This coincided with the mushrooming of many startup companies, which downgraded the traditional need for office space in favor of economy and speed.
Before 2019, about 43% of American employees practiced remote work on occasion. Then, of course, COVID-19 hit us all like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, infrastructure, technology and even management willingness turned a rare alternative work system into the de facto setup for the majority of office employees worldwide.
Remote Selling Took The Forefront
Similarly, remote selling didn’t originate during the pandemic, either. Online shopping was already a growing trend before 2020, although the trend skyrocketed when consumers realized online sales to be the only means of purchase during lockdowns.
After B2C’s wholesale move to remote selling, B2B companies followed suit. Before COVID-19, McKinsey reported that 52% of buyers preferred traditional in-person transactions with their regular suppliers. Getting to the heart of each customer’s needs previously depended on how often a sales representative could visit a client at their headquarters. In meetings often conducted over lunch, both parties discussed the status of their existing agreements and made plans for new orders.
Once the pandemic was in full force, 66% of buyers shifted this preference to digital sales transactions. Notably, the demand for information from a supplier’s mobile site or application rose dramatically. Similar demand from company websites didn’t register much of a change, as buyers were already using this resource long before the pandemic started. Either way, the appeal of in-person interactions dissipated as buyers realized that online provided a safer, more informative way to purchase.
As a result, this digital shift also increased the pressure on suppliers to improve the digital experience. Buyers remain insistent on receiving great customer support on the digital front. Companies that manage to exceed buyer expectations on the online front are twice as likely to receive sales orders.
Expertise, Speed and Transparency
What do buyers expect from their digital-based suppliers? At the very least, buyers want expertise, speed and transparency. Expertise remains a given condition, as meticulous buyers won’t be swayed by sales presentations peppered with industry buzzwords alone. The seller must act as an authority by providing custom solutions to specific requirements.
Meanwhile, speed refers to the responsiveness of sellers to their inquiries. It also means getting orders processed and shipped as quickly as possible. Transparency is being fully honest and straightforward about products’ details, prices, features and even environmental impacts.
These buyer expectations apply to the product as well as the supplier’s channels. This is the reason why modern buyers prefer digital channels like live chat and video conferences. These channels allow them to get the speed, transparency and expertise they demand during the critical research period.
Are Sales Presentations Still Relevant in 2022?
With virtually everything uploaded over the cloud and sales and customer service representatives available 24/7 for inquiries, do buyers still need sales presentations? The short answer is yes. A highly engaging, informative presentation can accelerate the buyer’s journey.
Sales presentations remain a critical tool in telling clients and prospects your company’s story. The best sales decks narrate a story that is complete with supporting data. When done correctly, an effective sales presentation highlights the strength of your product and ultimately engages your audience—leading them to purchase. At the least, it can lead to a client exploring the relationship further.
Conversely, an uninformative, boring and lengthy presentation can push clients into the arms of the competition. Sales teams should balance the need to include complete information while keeping a presentation compact and engaging.
Sales Representatives Meeting Customers Where They Are
The digital sales arena usually means going to where the customers are. Waiting for them at your storefront to arrive with orders in tow is unrealistic and gives your rivals the chance to get to them first.
An omnichannel presence is the first step in making customers feel welcome. Gen Y and Gen Z buyers comprise the fully digital native generation, so they can be found online more easily than anywhere else. Offering them a way to contact you about your products and services is a sign that your company is willing to meet customers more than halfway. Instead of forcing buyers to meet you at your designated but limited phone and email channels, an omnichannel presence lets you approach customers on their terms. This allows you to gather important communication points that can be lost during extended interactions.
Omnichannel systems are also a great way to proactively ask for feedback. Across channels, buyers are moving towards highly customized experiences to benefit their companies. You can only provide these enhancements once you get to know more about how the client views your services, values and company.
Your Market Has Gone Digital–So Should You
Is a digital marketplace a threat to the existence of the sales representative? Does moving to online transactions leave too little room for the personal touch of a salesperson? Honestly, sales reps will never become obsolete. No matter how far the buyer’s journey shifts to the digital realm, a sales representative will always remain crucial to the servicing of individual customer accounts.
However, buyers have already expressed a strong preference to stay on the digital front. With the current population of corporate buyers being digital natives, insisting on a physical-only storefront severely limits a company. Rather than thinking this movement will eventually lead to the death of salesmen everywhere, it really only means that the current generation of salespeople will need to learn how to navigate digital channels. The hours salespeople once spent physically meeting clients can now be reallocated to learning digital technologies. They can also learn new sales enablement methods designed for the digital front.
In short, since the market evolved to conform to changing times, sales teams should also read the room and evolve alongside it. They can either choose to keep up with the new generation of buyers or fall by the wayside.
Customers Love an Engaging Story, Not Boring Slides
Developing great sales presentations is often a fun way to unleash your team’s creativity and develop attention to detail. The key principle in keeping a sales deck engaging is to craft it to tell a story. Listing product features and benefits in bullet form is a hack designed for brochures.
Instead of droning over information that clients can discover for themselves, develop a story that features the client as the main character. This requires having an initial understanding of your target audience. Why do they need your product? What are the client’s problems that your offerings can solve? Focusing the presentation on these concerns can usually garner the full attention of your client. Knowing that you can relate to their problems—and even better, can offer a viable solution—may be exactly what they’ve been waiting for.
Additionally, developing a story makes it easy for the client to retain information. In a 2021 article, the Harvard Business School reported that combining a strong narrative with data and visualizations is one of the most effective ways to burn your story into the minds of your audience. Creative storytelling can engage several parts of the brain. This includes Wernicke’s area, which handles the brain’s understanding of language. It also engages the amygdala and mirror neurons, which process emotional reactions and empathy. The more you can positively stimulate your client’s brain functions, the more likely you are to land the sale.
Faster, Smoother Onboarding is In
Today’s buyers are more independent and self-aware than ever. Whether they already bought your product or have yet to decide, they’ll want to know for themselves if it’s the right purchase for their organization. And when the time comes when the customer finally pulls the trigger, sales teams should prepare themselves for the challenge of customer onboarding.
While all parties desire a smooth onboarding process, not everybody is in a position to make it happen. A supplier often makes the cardinal mistake of implementing an onboarding process that’s tied to their own convenience rather than that of the customer. Meanwhile, many buyers expect a pain-free onboarding process without realizing that onboarding may require more effort than they are prepared to give. In fact, Thomson Reuters estimates that around 89% of customers experience frustration during the onboarding process of a new product or service.
Ensuring a smoother onboarding process helps customers validate their purchase decision, makes them appreciate the product more and ultimately leads to repurchase or renewal later on. Additionally, it can make your customers praise how well you’ve handled their accounts, which can lead to glowing reviews and new customers.
How to Improve the Onboarding Process
To ensure that customers remain on the same page from start to finish, it’s important to make the onboarding objectives clear from day one. Setting the right expectations can help ease your clients into their expected roles. Ensuring accountability in the onboarding process also establishes a leadership position and assumes responsibility.
Offering self-service onboarding services can also give clients the ability to learn at their own pace. Providing access to a library of instructional videos, detailed tutorials and even a community board can be helpful for self-learning. However, make sure to check in on each client, especially those that prefer self-service. They might have important feedback and insights that can help you develop improvements to the onboarding process.
Let Customers Know You Know Their Pains
Salespeople who can convince a buyer that their solution will alleviate their issues often make the most sales. When asked about the reason for their success, they often pride themselves on being emphatic. Empathy is the ability of one group to relate to the feelings of another. This is important because empathizing with others humanizes you and makes others reconsider their actions. At the heart of every company are human beings. Act like it and you will reap the rewards.
Earn The Client’s Trust
Convincing a buyer of your solution assumes that you are well aware of their current pains. When clients expose their pain points to you, they do so with great vulnerability. This is precisely why sales teams must assure clients that they can be trusted through and through. It also pays to get as much detail as possible from the client about the pain points in their experience.
Finally, offer a customizable solution that shows how well you can relate to the problem. A common issue among clients is that the product’s price tag exceeds their budgets. Even if the product checks all of their boxes, they can’t pull the trigger. In this case, the sales manager can offer a lower-cost ‘lite’ variant that addresses the problem with fewer features at a more affordable price. Or, they can offer a free but extensive trial of the product to prove to the client that the cost is well worth it. Either way, clients can appreciate the efforts made by the seller to solve their problems.
The Time For Retraining Your Sales Team is Now
Remember, the increased interest in digital sales isn’t a warning that sales teams are about to become extinct. Instead, it’s a call to revitalize the industry through retraining. The reduction of in-person activities (due to the pandemic) and administrative tasks (due to automation) means that sales reps can now have more time to perfect their sales method. Now is the best time to retrain your sales staff with the ways of the digital marketplace. This includes using modern digital tools such as videoconferencing, mobile apps and cloud tools for interactive sales presentations.
With traditional sales giving way to online sales, the need for a salesperson to handle accounts remains. This is why a complete transition to digital may not be a good idea when retraining. Rather, most companies are now approaching a hybrid approach to sales. Sellers retain the responsibilities of generating leads, qualifying prospects, presenting to clients, closing deals and managing accounts. However, the hybrid setup requires sales teams to learn the nuances of digital selling. This includes learning how to handle themselves during video conferences, using eCommerce tools effectively and understanding how omnichannel works.
Dividing The Landscape
Changes in how sales teams divide the landscape are also happening. Many companies are reportedly changing their sales territory structure to better reflect today’s market. Instead of dividing territories into geographical areas, some organizations are restructuring sales representatives to form pods to strategically service specific accounts or areas. Pods will also be given leeway in coming up with highly customized solutions that address the unique concerns of their clients. The regrouping also ensures that managers will get enough time to actively coach and mentor their team members individually.
Companies are already scrambling to bolster their hybrid and digital sales teams. McKinsey reported that 60% of companies boosted their hybrid sales teams, while another 62% shored up their digital sales personnel.
Are You Leveraging Cloud-Based Tools Yet?
With digital sales comes the need for companies to stay connected at all times. Cloud infrastructure allows sales teams access to customer data and product information to service clients no matter the channel. At the same time, clients get the access they need to company resources so they can learn more on their own.
In particular, mobile app technology is providing both buyers and sellers the ability to keep the online sales journey moving. They’re often device and operating system-agnostic. This means that anybody in possession of a conventional smartphone can access data and make transactions. It doesn’t matter if a company is a small startup or a large enterprise, cloud software can scale its operation to accommodate any market size.
Part of your transition to online selling should include serious consideration of migrating to the cloud. Making your ERP data accessible to key company personnel via cloud-based mobile apps helps sustain the business through world events while leaning into the future of digital sales. Just make sure that when considering partners—in everything from sales management to training to sales presentations and beyond—that you always check with a reliable software developer to guide the way.
Times are Changing and So Should Your Sales Presentations
It’s no secret the digital revolution has already begun. Organizations are knee-deep in their transition to the online arena, where the biggest buying generations feel right at home. Apart from upgrading your sales techniques, tools and strategies, companies will need to adopt a modern mindset to meet customers on their terms. Understanding how they approach the buyer’s journey and learning more about the solutions they want is a good starting point to conquering the digital marketplace.
Part of your technological upgrades should include modern tools for sales presentations. Ingage is cloud-based software that works exceptionally in the new normal. The software helps create dynamic, interactive presentations that combine text, images, video and audio to craft a story your clients can engage with. Its cloud features allow teams to collaborate on presentations from anywhere in the world. Last but not least, Ingage allows you to share your presentations with clients and measure their responses to your content. This way, you can know which sections of your presentation generated the desired impact and which need more work.
Let Ingage sustain your sales team’s digital transformation through compelling interactive sales presentations. Contact us and we’ll be happy to arrange a free demonstration.