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How the Covid-19 pandemic has changed sales roles

15 Jul 2020

Brightwater

Brightwater takes a look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the very nature of a sales role across Northern Ireland

Like anything affecting the economy, the sales jobs market has been changed dramatically by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, unlike other times where the economy has caused sea-changes in the sales sector by affecting certain industries, the pandemic has caused the very fabric of a sales role to change and its impact will be felt long after national and local lockdowns have ended.  

The very nature of a sales role, particularly that of a field sales representative, revolves around the physical engagement between them and their customer. It’s all about client-facing, building relationships, generating loyalty and creating a bond of trust between sales rep and the client. With physical interaction severely curtailed, that level of interaction has been swept aside in favour of digital engagement which has been difficult for the extrovert part of any sales-person. While healthcare and IT sales are continuing to do well, other sectors such as FMCG, particularly within the drinks industry, have suffered.

Learning new behaviours
The pandemic has forced sales teams to re-evaluate their whole strategies. In many cases, they’ve not only had to pivot their lines but also their own behaviours, learned through years of practice and success. Whole sales teams have been decimated as they now remain office based (or working from home). Client visits, especially across areas that would have previously lent themselves to activation campaigns, are curtailed to strictly appointments only. Gone are the casual drop-in visits where industry trends along with valuable sales leads would have been discussed. Now sales teams are confined to desks where they still have to deliver on their KPIs across sales, share and profit growth across their territory without actually being able to visit their territory.

 Companies now have to understand how to get the best out of their sales teams in what is the “new normal”.  Field sales teams have now become “inside sales” teams. This unforeseen casualty to field sales has also had a surprising effect on the bottom line. Having an inside sales team rather than people out on the road has provided a significant cost saving for businesses and when it comes to forecasts and budgeting for 2021, employers may decide to keep the “new sales model” as is.

Changes in Remuneration Structures
Employers too have already started to restructure their remuneration processes for their sales teams. Traditionally inside sales personnel have earned less than their field counterparts so this will have to be re-evaluated for both mid- year reviews and going forward into 2021. However, for those key sales-people who have adapted quickly to the new environment, efforts still have to be recognised. In some cases, thresholds for commission have already been lowered and it remains to be seen if these will be returned to previous levels once the initial impact of the pandemic has lessened.  

So what does this mean for field sales representatives? It will ultimately mean changed roles as inside sales teams will grow in size and field sales reps will be forced to take more of a strategic account management role. It is only those sales-people who can adapt quickly in a changing market who will be integral in their company’s future. Business development skills and a keen eye for new markets will become more important. So too will the ability to identify and activate potential areas for growth as opposed to merely expanding within their existing customer base. Those relying on their business relationships to increase sales will now have to understand that new capabilities such as interpreting and analysing customer data as well as understanding the key touch points from a customer’s point of view are all now vital in the sales role of the future.

For more information on sales jobs across Northern Ireland, please contact Conor O'Hagan on c.ohagan@brightwaterNI.com or call + 44 28 90 325 325