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Is remote selling the “new normal” for manufacturers?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the way people interact and do business. And it’s likely that a number of the changes made to adapt to a social-distancing environment will become permanent. Even before this crisis, there was a trend toward digital interactions, and the pandemic has only accelerated it. As this transformation continues, manufacturers should review their selling processes and consider adjustments that will help them adapt to the “new normal.”

A shifting landscape

In recent years, the world of business-to-consumer (B2C) sales has fully embraced e-commerce and digital sales. In the business-to-business (B2B) environment, the move toward digital has been more measured, but the pandemic temporarily nearly eliminated in-person interactions and forced businesses to adapt quickly.

An interesting byproduct of this crisis is that it created an involuntary experiment in remote work. And many businesses that were previously reluctant to allow teleworking and remote selling have learned that it can be highly effective. For many, their fears about abuses and lost productivity haven’t materialized.

McKinsey & Company conducted a survey of B2B businesses in 11 countries and a variety of sectors and industries. The findings indicate that COVID-19 has accelerated several existing trends, including omnichannel selling, inside sales, tech-enabled selling and e-commerce. The survey also indicated that, at one point during the pandemic, around 90% of sales moved to a videoconferencing/phone/web sales model, and that around half of the respondents (60% in the U.S.) feel that this model is equally or more effective than pre-COVID-19 sales models.

A few tips

So how can manufacturers make the most of what we’ve learned since the pandemic began? Here are some tips for effectively implementing remote selling:

Keep your eye on the target. Even in ordinary times, your selling efforts should be targeted. For example, it’s far easier to sell to existing customers — who already are familiar with your products and have an established relationship with you. In the current environment, it’s even more critical to concentrate on existing customers. Be sure to research which industries and businesses have been negatively affected by the pandemic and to focus your efforts on those that are weathering the storm better.

Create outstanding experiences. Customers increasingly prefer the convenience and comfort of self-service and digital interactions. So, it’s important for manufacturers to ensure that customers’ experiences with these interactions are positive.

Leverage technology. For remote selling to be effective, it’s important to research and implement video chat and virtual meeting solutions that work for you. But it’s also critical to understand the technology’s limitations. Even with the best technology, it’s difficult for salespeople to pick up on body language and other visual cues that are more readily apparent in a face-to-face meeting. That’s why many experts recommend that your remote selling efforts focus, at least initially, on building relationships rather than closing sales.

In addition to video, consider other types of technology that can enhance or support the sales process. For example, presentation tools that enable you to create customized, interactive, visually appealing online presentations can help you meet some of the challenges surrounding remote sales.

Also, because different customers have different preferences, it’s a good idea to offer a variety of communication platforms, such as email, messaging apps, videoconferencing and live chat.

Transforming your sales function

The lasting impact of COVID-19 isn’t yet clear, but there’s little doubt that remote sales will play an increasingly significant role in the future. To stay competitive, manufacturers will need to incorporate and enhance remote selling techniques and technology in their sales arsenals.

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