Empathy and Agility: learnings from sales approaches during the pandemic to take into the future

Sales business deal

Over the past few months, salespeople have rapidly adapted to new ways of working. Whether that is the technologies they use, the strategies followed or the services on offer, the shift away from face-to-face sales has made new methods necessary for salespeople looking to drive results in the current economic climate. As in-person sales falls out of favour, digital-first approaches are becoming more relevant and widely used. Many sales managers and teams may feel they have successfully navigated this shift towards digital in the last few months. Looking forward, businesses will rightly be asking which strategies and technologies they’ve adopted during the pandemic will stand the test of time?

With only 63 per cent of salespeople feeling optimistic about the next 6-12 months according to Pipedrive’s latest webinar poll, it’s clear this is an area that needs careful consideration. Appropriate choices in strategy and technology will make a real difference in the upcoming months where economic uncertainty will be a major obstacle for sales. In this climate, agility will be key as organisations need to rapidly adapt to changing pressures. Fortunately, this same poll has shown that 72 per cent of salespeople have already evolved their offering or approach to meet emerging customer needs and their business’s situation during the COVID-19 crisis.

So, what has changed?

The greatest change for salespeople over the last few months is that for most, they’ve had to work entirely remotely. Though digital sales or telephone sales were already extensively used by large segments of salespeople across the industry before the pandemic, they’ve quickly become the only medium for reaching customers under lockdown measures. This challenge forced many sales teams to rethink and revitalise their strategy.

This may sound like the rapid adoption of digital sales methods meant traditional sales practices were left behind. The reality is that these tried and trusted methods have become more necessary than ever before. Salespeople quickly became aware that a greater level of empathy was required for every interaction, as customers and potential customers were facing increased stress from the pandemic. Accordingly, salespeople could not afford to be insensitive by making unwanted calls or pushing too hard to close a sale. Instead, it was an approach that has long been at the core of sales that proved most successful; providing a personal touch to customer interactions by learning their requirements and offering the best solution possible to collaboratively tackle their problems. By simply taking the time to listen and respond to customer’s needs salespeople are showcasing empathy to their situation and demonstrating they are a trusted partner to help them during this crisis and beyond.

With this in mind, salespeople were discovering that it was a time to think about the art and function of selling, and how this technique can be adapted to various products or services. By adhering to this empathetic core principle, salespeople were able to continue driving success during several challenging months. Looking to the future, this is unlikely to change. Though the finish line may now be in sight for the pandemic, this does not mean that empathy is any less important. Beyond the crisis, customers will remember the salespeople who continuously demonstrated a desire to understand their needs and utilise their services moving forward.

How can businesses support this change of approach for its salespeople?

While a shift to a more empathetic sales approach was made necessary by the pandemic,  this was only possible thanks to the technologies that supported this communication and teamwork. The main necessity during this time was ensuring collaboration could still occur while teams became increasingly disparate. Alignment was both important from a business standpoint to ensure that activities were still occurring and progressing, and was equally a part of the empathy that salespeople were prioritising. After all, repeated calls to the same customer or failing to follow up due to poor organisation is hardly understanding of their present situation. In this respect, work management tools became invaluable.

These tools acted as a single source of truth from which all members of an organisation could understand what was happening and what needed to happen. For the sales function of an organisation specifically, it was Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools that proved the most essential in tracking activities and clearly signposting next steps. In the future, where remote working appears likely to persist, the use of collaboration tools will remain of paramount importance.

Businesses around the world are beginning to plan ahead to anticipate the recovery and be ready for the new reality – whatever shape it takes. While it is difficult to anticipate the large-scale shifts in incomes, attitudes, and behaviours that will occur in the coming months, it does not mean that businesses are unable to prepare. The past few months are an indicator of the shape of sales to come, demonstrating those that invest in technology to ensure workplace agility and take a customer-first approach in order to stand the best chance of succeeding.

Raul Perdigao Silva

Global Head Inside Sales at Pipedrive. Experienced Manager with 10+ years of different Sales fields, SaaS, Subscriptions, Product & CRM. Background in Marketing and Events management, from enterprise to music festivals.

Rise of the machines.

Ahsan Zafeer • 26th November 2022

Ahsan Zafeer covers topics related to tech and digital marketing and tweets @AhsanZafeer. Here he explains people’s fears as to why machines are taking over their jobs.