How to Maintain a Healthy Sales Pipeline During the Pandemic

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By Claudine Dumont

 

COVID-19 has transformed many aspects of how companies conduct business, and sales and marketing are no exception. A McKinsey Pulse Survey in 2020 found that pre-COVID, 52% of B2B decision makers rated traditional sales interactions as more important than digital interactions. As COVID took hold though, that number dropped to 34%.

 

Even as employees begin returning to the workplace, it does not appear the shift to digital is going away. Gartner’s Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur through digital channels by 2025.

 

Our experience at Aptum has reflected this shift. Pre-pandemic, our sales and marketing teams relied heavily on events, in-person meetings and conversations in informal settings, such as lunches or dinners, to get in front of prospective customers, establish trust and find out how we can help them meet their business goals. When the pandemic began, that all ended.

 

How could we continue to fill our sales pipeline when our tried-and-true tactics were no longer available? Video meetings certainly helped, but they’re no replacement for face-to-face interactions. I work closely with our Chief Revenue Officer Leigh Plumley, who oversees our global sales operations, and spoke with him to get his insights about practices we’ve adopted over the past year that have helped us continue to fill the sales pipeline and win new accounts.

 

Up your virtual meeting game: Virtual meetings have become the natural replacement for anything that used to happen in-person, including events, consultations and catch-ups. According to McKinsey, more than 90% of B2B companies switched to a virtual sales model during COVID-19. Virtual meetings will never be as effective, but there are steps you can take to make yours better.

 

Our first virtual events were relatively large, with 10 or more people attending. But we quickly found that larger audiences made it tough to give time and attention to every attendee. So we made our events smaller and more structured, which allowed us to build better relationships. Establishing trust is critical, and being able to focus more of your attention on a prospect shows how important their business is to you.

 

Don’t lose the personal touch: When you’re having an in-person conversation with a prospect, it’s normal to engage in some informal talk. For some reason, in a virtual environment, there’s a temptation to skip the informal chat and get right down to business. We encourage our sales teams to work at establishing rapport before getting down to details. It breaks the ice, which is key to establishing any customer relationship.

 

Plan and pay attention to details: Pre-pandemic, we’d hold in-person workshops to understand our potential customers’ technology to pinpoint where we could help them. We’d ask a lot of questions to help plan a solution.

 

Now we have to do it all virtually, and we don’t get as much of a potential customer’s time. So we encourage our sales teams to get as many details as they can by email before a virtual call. They ask specific questions about technologies and how they are implemented so we can get a very clear idea of the potential customer’s business problem and how we can solve it. The virtual calls will always be shorter than the workshops, so if possible, we need to get the details correct before the call.

 

Shorten your internal training sessions: Internal sales and marketing training is more difficult in a remote setting, but it can’t be ignored. Adapting the sessions to be more virtual-friendly is key. In the past, we would host two-day, off-site training sessions where we’d fly our employees in from around the world. It would be an intense two days, but people would also have time to chat, have impromptu conversations and relax.

 

Those two-day sessions don’t work virtually. Rather than be energized by their colleagues and the in-person environment, team members are likely to become disengaged during long, virtual meetings. So instead, we’ve reduced the length of our virtual training sessions to hour-long windows, and hold them over several weeks.

 

We’re happy with the results we’ve seen from our virtual sales pipeline, but it can’t replace the energy, rapport and relationships generated by in-person events and meetings. We’re looking forward to the day when we can get back to using more traditional sales and marketing techniques. But some of the lessons we’ve learned in selling through COVID-19 will stay with us, and help hone our future tactics.

 

 

Claudine Dumont is Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Aptum, a global hybrid, multi-cloud managed service provider based in Toronto. She leads the organization’s marketing team to drive growth for the company’s multi-cloud managed and professional services portfolio, including the development and guidance of go-to-market strategies, customer engagement, branding, PR, communications, analyst relations, campaign management and lead generation.

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