Sales professionals are one set of people that cannot work out of offices, but then, they cannot work from home either. They have to be out in the market with their customers. Post lockdown and the Covid-19 crisis, the job most impacted is that of salespersons. How are they coping with the new normal? HRKatha finds out.
As we know, sales plays a key role in building loyalty and trust between customers and businesses. However, with absolutely no physical interaction and no face-to-face meetings, it is difficult to gain the trust and loyalty that make a customer choose to recommend a brand to a friend or family member, or post a great product / service review online.
“pivoting to the digital way of life — from being out there in the open market — has been a dramatic change for salespersons”
Believe it or not, the world of sales has changed now. Speaking to customers over the phone and gaining their confidence is not an easy job.
According to Shouneel Charles, executive vice president, Times Network, pivoting to the digital way of life — from being out there in the open market —has been a dramatic change for any salesperson.
“Covid had led TV and digital sales teams to pivot and change almost instantly, having to alter years of market behaviour and practice. From speaking in person, to doing video calls, most of them were probably not even digitally savvy enough to use conference calling or video calls for some time,” he adds.
“To reduce the visit time at offline outlets, the team informs the merchants before visiting. These visits are now scheduled in the early mornings and/or afternoons when the roads and stores are less crowded.”
Similarly, the salesforce of the digital payments platform, Phonepe, has suffered the brunt of the lockdown and been forced to rely on various technological tools to undertake tasks.
Commenting on the changed working processes, Vikas Punia, national sales director, Phonepe, says, “In the aftermath of the lockdown, the sales team works in the allocated markets under remote supervision with the help of technology tools. To reduce the visit time at offline outlets, the team informs the merchants before visiting. The timing of market visits has also changed to reduce the risk of exposure. The visits are being organised in the early mornings and/or afternoons when the roads and stores are less crowded.”
Punia also shares that the offline merchants are increasingly preferring home delivery and chat services. Their preference for digital payments and fintech solutions has also increased post the lockdown.
“At PhonePe, we have a large offline sales team of over 8,500. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of all our employees, including the on-ground sales team, has been the highest priority. The erstwhile get-togethers are no longer allowed in line with the need for social distancing,” adds Punia.
The insurance sector is one of the biggest examples of a sector where the sales force plays a key role in supply and demand. The products a salesperson sells, are neither seen nor touched, but exist only in the form of promises or assurances. And selling a promise requires confidence, which can be best exuded in person.
Thanks to the pandemic, however, physical interaction will not be possible anytime soon and insurance companies are still finding new ways to deal with work, which will help them continue selling.
Meanwhile, the sales processes of companies, such as IDBI Federal Life Insurance, have changed drastically post lockdown.
“As an insurance company, we have digital processes put in place. But the core of our business — which revolves around physical engagement with our customers and distributors — has completely changed,” says Ganesa Ratnam, chief distribution officer, IDBI Federal Life Insurance.
One of the biggest changes for IDBI Federal was to enable alternative work arrangements for its salesforce, such that they were more resilient and better able to deal with increasing claims and shorter response times.
“We came out of the physical process of engagement to digital processes of sourcing, which enabled the sales team to gain confidence and get back to turf, winning the small battles so that they can eventually win the war.”
Mentioning this as the biggest disruption, Ratnam says, “The foremost thing for the salesforce to do was to ensure a lot of initiatives on life cover, health cover of the employees. We came out of the physical process of engagement to digital processes of sourcing, which enabled the sales team to gain confidence and get back to turf, winning the small battles so that they can eventually win the war.”
At IDBI Federal, the salesforce is conversing through new mediums and focusing largely on learning and development, digital processes, underwriting guidelines and selling new competent products.
Similarly, Amit Malik, CHRO, Aviva Life Insurance, believes, “The life of a sales professional has changed significantly since the outbreak of Covid-19, from leveraging a physical social network to now building a mix of virtual, digital and physical networks. They have had to learn a new way of performing need analysis and sales leading to a contactless sales process, which is fast becoming a reality.”
The Aviva team has shifted their engagement to online and other new means of communication, such as WhatsApp. The Aviva Mobile Sales tool has seen 97 per cent adoption. As an informative interface to interact with customers, it recommends them the best or most suitable plans. This has not only increased the speed of transactions, but has also offered a hassle-free buying experience, without any physical documentation, to the customers.
“The life of a sales professional has changed significantly, from leveraging a physical social network to now building a mix of virtual, digital and physical networks.”
In all these changes, however, Malik also mentions that the core principles of business continue to remain the same, that is, delivering great customer outcomes and selling right.
Charles points out another aspect that has impacted the lives of the sales professionals. “Their work-life balance is hampered and the fun quotient and excitement of sales has vanished,” he says.
It is too early to predict whether or not this transfer — of the entire sales journey to digital —will lead to a simplified experience for customers or not.