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Enduring Impact of COVID-19 on Field Sales

By Dave Egloff | April 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

Last October, I wrote a blog called “Are Field Sales Feeling a Squeeze?” where I mentioned that field sales leaders may lose accounts to key account programs and inside sales functions. The appeal of highly-effective key account management and highly-efficient inside sales efforts have captured many CSOs’ attention and investment dollars.

Gartner’s research shows that when comparing the current return on investment with the anticipated strategic importance in five years, CSOs see future relative gains in key account programs and inside sales but a decline in field sales. This may feel alarming to some but a lot can happen in five years. Right? Well, the future may be now. And, out of the uncertainty and chaos of COVID-19 is a spark that may expedite the change to field sellers.

Sparks coming from a lighter.

Survey Says…

As this pandemic has been evolving, Gartner has been listening to and surveying sales leaders weekly. In late March, 5% of polled sales leaders agreed that they were now considering permanently shifting traditional field sales to virtual sales roles.  By mid-April, that number increased sharply to 27%. That’s right… 27% of polled sales leaders agreed to permanently shifting field sellers to virtual sellers. As a disclaimer, the sample sizes of these polls were relatively small. Each poll had between 25 to 37 organizations participating in the survey. So, while this is a fascinating shift and increase, it’s not yet a hallmark of a global shift.

Future of Field Sales post-COVID-19

It is anyone’s guess about how and when things will return to something that resembles the “old normal.”  Most CSOs – from Gartner survey data – anticipate customer demand to return before the end of the calendar year.  However, the lingering economic aftermath and enduring impacts on sales organizations will take even longer to figure out.

Some believe that buying dynamics are shifting as millennials start leading more buying decisions and Gen-Z enters the workforce.  Others believe that technology will be the catalyst for change in sales execution.  Obviously, both will be impactful and this doesn’t fully account for the impact that COVID-19 has on:

  • Buyer preference
  • Ability to travel
  • Future sales budgets

My recommendation is to follow what I’m hearing from some of our most savvy CSO clients. 

  • Use these unprecedented times as a means to pilot virtual selling. 
  • Design playbooks for virtual sales execution.
  • Train managers on remote coaching.  
  • Track virtual sales effectiveness and productivity.
  • Collect lessons learned and continually improve.

These times are challenging in many ways.  However, they also present us with an opportunity to try something that might have been too scary to try previously.  Embrace the uncertainty and explore new ways to win. Stay safe.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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