Sales Effectiveness

Conventional wisdom holds that “no one buys a million-dollar solution over the phone.” So what happens when in-person meetings are no longer possible? There are immediate options that commercial firms can take to proactively drive a move to virtual selling that won’t result in customer friction. Sales organizations that emphasize the most effective virtual selling activities to bring customers valuable insights will safeguard their sales revenue and create the customer intimacy that will carry them through this crisis—and beyond.

37% of sales leaders have given their sellers efficiency tools to maximize their newly freed time.

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As sales organizations adopt social distancing, companies find their grounded sellers functioning more like inside sales teams. Here's how to keep sellers focused on performance over presence.

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Your questions

Every day, COVID-19 is raising new and complex questions for leaders and organizations to answer. Korn Ferry’s Byron Matthews shares his perspective and advice.

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How we can help you

Before this crisis struck, buyers and sellers faced a fundamental disconnect over the value the latter provided. How sales organizations act now will either greatly reduce or expand that gap. Those organizations that invest in showing customers the insights and value to help navigate this volatile period will emerge as trusted partners. Those that don’t will be seen at best as interchangeable service providers—if they’re seen at all. Using scalable strategies built off decades of research, we develop the entire sales organization in managing and deepening customer relationships by helping buyers and prospects reframe their thinking to solve complex business challenges—such as those they face today.

Our methodologies teach sellers how to effectively bring perspective, insights, and education to clients as they reshape their businesses in response to COVID-19, giving them a clear framework to rethink priorities and reprioritize calls, opportunities, and accounts. Our digital sales training options—available online and self-paced or through virtual instructor-led training—give your teams the flexibility they need to guide their customers through this crisis and beyond.

Our methodologies teach sellers how to effectively bring perspective, insights, and education to clients as they reshape their businesses in response to COVID-19.

Given the challenging business climate, how you communicate with customers matters more than ever. We show your sellers and sales managers how to replicate the engagement they bring to in-person meetings in all types of virtual environments, advising you on how to best use your sales process to sensitively execute customer conversations. By developing seller skills to offer crisp, compelling sales interactions that buyers find valuable, we move from methodology to execution, training sellers at all levels how to ask the right questions, digging deep to help overwhelmed buyers uncover hidden needs and move with a sense of urgency.

We offer a suite of self-paced courses and virtual learning delivery options that are ready to go. Our programs and advisors can coach sellers through behavioral change, helping them understand how to mindfully assess buyer needs in a volatile environment and providing much-needed perspective that deepens relationships. By taking this scalable approach, we ensure that every conversation your sellers conduct, online or over the phone, keeps prospects and buyers engaged as they navigate the new normal together.

We show your sellers how to replicate the engagement they bring to in-person meetings in all types of virtual environments.

As many companies have learned the hard way in the wake of the coronavirus, it only takes one bad experience to destroy a hard-earned reputation—a risk that no organization can afford to take.

By using the insights, best practices, and models we’ve developed over five decades, we equip your customer-facing teams with the skills they need to sensitively guide them through crisis scenarios and difficult conversations. Our programs and advisors also guide frontline reps on how to support clients emotionally, going beyond finding silver linings in challenging scenarios to offering empathy and connection that wow customers across multiple platforms, resulting in positive, defining moments. We show them how to use active listening and connection strategies to exceed customer expectations and build loyalty. This approach sets you up to deepen customer relationships throughout these challenging times and positions you to grow them when the rebound happens.

Our approach sets you up to deepen customer relationships, positioning you to grow them when the rebound happens.

New economic realities require sales organizations to candidly re-examine their existing pipeline and evolve their approaches; sales managers need to understand the most effective behaviors and coach sellers on how to emulate them. This may seem overwhelming, but our cutting-edge sales technology platform—which takes an organization’s own sales data and converts it into actionable insights—can quickly point sales leaders in the right direction and assist managers in identifying in real-time the behaviors that drive success in their current environment, allowing for rapid replication across the enterprise. Layering onto your CRM, with built-in connectors to both Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 for ease of integration, you can quickly gather the necessary insights to understand pipeline challenges and coaching priorities for sales leaders and sales managers. These insights then provide frontline sellers specific recommendations on how to reprioritize opportunities in their funnel, understanding the methodology-backed actions that will improve their likelihood of success.

Our cutting-edge sales technology platform takes an organization’s own sales data and converts it into actionable insights.

Deep insights at your fingertips – at all times

In our hands it’s more than just data. We use it to build the DNA of outstanding leaders, effective organizations, high performance cultures and game-changing reward programs. In your hands it can continue to inform smarter decisions backed by more than 4 billion data points, including:
– Over 69 million assessment results
– 8 million employee engagement survey responses
– Rewards data for 20 million employees across 25,000 organizations and 150+ countries

Our thinking

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Effective selling during the coronavirus

Two-thirds of sales positions are field-based roles. While these roles are expensive, they see impressively high win rates if these sellers are skilled at in-person visits with buyers. In part, that’s because of some intangibles:

  • They’re able to establish greater trust because they’re looking their buyers in the eye.
  • They may be able to score an additional meeting with a buying influence simply because they’re in the building.
  • They have time to build greater rapport with buyers, as they informally walk and chat with them between meetings.
  • They pick up cues about the organization’s culture.

All of these attributes are hard to replicate now that many organizations have been forced to take our sales reps out of the field because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sellers can share their sales presentations online, but they can’t replace the intangibles that add up over a series of in-person interactions during a sales call.

As a result, sellers face a number of challenges in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They were hired to sell in one way and now must learn how to sell in a different way. At the same time, their buyers face a similar conundrum: they have to learn new ways to buy.

In our current environment of social distancing, where travel and in-person meetings aren’t permitted, how can sellers deliver a positive customer experience in the coronavirus? Before we answer that question, let’s first look at whether your sellers delivered an optimal customer experience in the first place.

Were your sellers delivering strong customer experience before the coronavirus?

Even before the coronavirus, buyers evaluated sellers with a new measuring stick, as B2B buyers have been heavily influenced by their experiences as consumers. As a result, their expectations of sellers are higher than ever—and sellers haven’t been matching up.

In the 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, conducted by CSO Insights, the research arm of our organization, the overwhelming majority—77%—of B2B buyers said they didn’t see salespeople as a resource for solving their business problems. Here are some other statistics to consider:

  • 31% of sales organizations report effectively identifying and gaining access to decision-makers.
  • 39% of sellers offer insights and perspective to reframe their thinking.
  • 40% of sellers successfully use questioning skills to reveal buyers’ realized and unrealized needs.
  • 51% of sellers articulate solutions that align with buyers’ needs.
  • 68% of buyers don’t see much difference between sellers who win business and those who come in second place.

Give these numbers, it’s likely not surprising that there’s a growing emotional gap between buyers and sellers. Buyers increasingly see sellers as irrelevant: they’re contacting them less and for shorter periods, and they’re making those contacts later in the sales process. As a result, we’ve seen a decline in both customer retention and the depth of customer relationships over the last two years.

There is some good news to consider here: buyers don’t think of every seller this way. There are times when buyers want to engage earlier and are willing to interact with sellers differently: namely, when the buying situation is risky or highly complex. And, given the coronavirus, that’s the world we live in now. The door is opening for sellers to deliver an exceptional customer experience during the coronavirus.

The coronavirus crisis—as devastating as it may seem to sales numbers—presents an opportunity for sales organizations to rethink their sales methodologies as they convert, for the time being, to a virtual selling environment. That is, as long as sellers use effective selling techniques during the coronavirus to deliver an adaptive customer experience.

5 steps to more effective selling during coronavirus

We recommend that sales organizations take five steps as they convert to virtual selling to avoid creating customer friction and create a positive, adaptive customer experience during COVID-19.

  • Focus on perspective.
  • Reconfigure their sales content.
  • Grow and mine their networks.
  • Redirect travel time to sales activities.
  • Maximize available technologies.

Let’s take a closer look at each step.

Effective selling techniques during the coronavirus require a focus on perspective

Perspective selling is an evolution of solution selling. Sellers deliver perspective to buyers when they share their insights, networks, and unique expertise to educate buyers and expand their point of view.

In the virtual setting, sellers need to start sharing perspective early in relationships, from the moment they contact a lead. But it doesn’t stop there: sellers who share perspective through implementation and beyond deepen customer relationships and get earlier—and more—access to buyers.

The types of selling activities that occur during social distancing should change, but the amount of activity should not. Think of different ways that sellers can connect with buyers—over the phone, via email, through social media, and on video conferences. This is the time for sellers to be more proactive than ever—and for sales managers during the coronavirus to ensure they are. But sellers shouldn’t engage in activity just for activity’s sake.

Here are the steps sellers should take to begin using perspective, which will lead to more effective selling during coronavirus.

  • Create a valid business reason for every client interaction. Don’t waste buyers’ time on check-ins. Every conversation must offer value. What will the customer learn in your virtual meeting? What expertise will you offer as your buyer reshapes its business in response to COVID-19?
  • Don’t focus on selling something. Connect from a position of value: think about how you can help your clients, not about what you need. How will you provide insights that help your client navigate this crisis and move forward?
  • Be proactive and bold. Think outside the box as you offer solutions. Be open and genuine in your communications, and always keep the customer at the center of everything you do and say.

Reframe your content strategy to reflect effective selling techniques during coronavirus

In the virtual setting, sellers can use sales content more effectively. It’s easier than ever for sellers to move from sales collateral and presentations to demo environments. But all of the content you present needs to be reconfigured for the virtual setting to follow techniques for building an adaptive customer experience in the coronavirus. Here’s what sellers should do:

  • Personalize your content. Equip your sellers with content that’s useful in a variety of settings, whether to present in a web meeting, share on social media, or send via email.
  • Align the content to the buyer’s path. Make sure the content helps move buyers through the sales funnel and assists them in their decision-making process. Be aware that the coronavirus has extended the sales cycle, because clients may postpone decisions or may be required to follow new criteria that govern their spending. Remember that disconnected content may prolong next steps, because buyers will have to spend energy sifting through information to understand its context and meaning.
  • Check for acknowledgment. In person, high-performing sellers can sense when their buyers become disengaged; if that happens, sellers may switch from showing a slide deck to mapping out a new approach on a whiteboard. Virtual presentations make it more difficult for sellers to read their buyers, so they should pause more frequently to check in verbally with buyers to confirm their understanding and acceptance. If their content isn’t resonating, sellers can correct their course.

It’s important for sales managers, during the coronavirus, to monitor their sellers’ performance and ensure they are making the changes essential to creating positive customer experiences during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Grow and mine networks to develop new customer relationships

When working with clients in person, one meeting often leads to convenient introductions to additional buying influences and decision-makers. Not only do sellers get a firsthand look at the client’s work environment and culture, but they also have easy opportunities to bump into and build a rapport with a variety of people who can readily expand their network.

Unfortunately, effective selling during the coronavirus requires sellers to rely on virtual, rather than in-person, networks. Virtual environments make it more challenging to build networks in some ways, but they do make it easier in others.

Creative sellers can still find opportunities to create new customer relationships and deliver adaptive customer experiences, despite the coronavirus. Here are suggestions for ways that sellers can continue expanding their networks when sitting behind a screen:

  • Sellers should enhance their social media presence. Make sure sellers’ online presence reflects their company, role, and interests. Sellers should add their picture to bolster their credibility.
  • Sellers should connect with their contacts through social channels. Sellers should follow social selling best practices to make new connections and identify and engage the buying influences important to their deals: in complex purchases, there are often six or more buying influences. Their social media accounts also provide an avenue for sharing perspective with decision-makers between meetings.
  • Sellers should connect with their peers. We’re all in this together, so sellers’ peers are facing challenges similar to their own. And, during times of disruption as with the coronavirus, business buyers are looking outside their company for insights and validation. To build trust and credibility with buyers and peers, sellers should look for mutual connections who can make introductions.
  • Build internal bridges. Now is the time for sellers to add members to their team from product development, customer success, and service. It’s often too cost-prohibitive to include these players in in-person meetings, but virtual calls make it easier to bring in new and different resources to add value for customers during sales calls.

During COVID-19, sales managers should follow up to ensure that sellers are adopting these steps to grow their networks.

Convert lost travel time to effective selling activities during the coronavirus outbreak

Before the coronavirus, sellers were already spending less than one-third of their time on sales interactions. The shift to virtual selling allows sellers to capture the 10% of the time that sellers spend traveling and invest it in sales activities that strengthen results. The key is to avoid losing that time to administrative and internal tasks, such as forecasting and reporting. Here’s how to convert this “bonus” time effectively:

  • Consider the ROI of selling activities. Which activities are likely to deliver the most value to your clients? Ensure your sellers are focused on these activities.
  • Reconsider your sales process. Our studies show that formal sales processes yield better win rates and revenue attainment. Structure gives sellers the flexibility to respond to unplanned situations and the clarity on how they can succeed. During COVID-19, sales leaders should give sellers and sales managers clear frameworks and tools for account, opportunity, and call management.
  • Incentivize sellers to focus on client interaction. Many of the metrics your organization may be using to evaluate sales performance may now be unattainable or irrelevant. Adopt new metrics that encourage your sellers to engage in high-value interactions with their customers and prospects.

Sales management during coronavirus should focus on ensuring sellers don’t spend time on activities unlikely to grow sales; sales leadership during COVID-19 should consider how to adjust metrics to refocus sellers on adaptive customer experiences.

Technology can lead to more effective selling during the coronavirus pandemic

The average sales organization uses 10 sales technology tools, according to our annual Sales Operations Study. But most of these tools aren’t used to their full potential. Here is how to make sure your organization is getting the best use from its engagement platforms, customer success platforms, social selling tools, and lead scoring tools to encourage effective selling during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Extend your web conferencing software. Your salespeople may only know about the basic features of your web meeting technology. During coronavirus, sales managers should teach their team how to use the advanced features of these tools so they can create more interactive, engaging experiences for your clients. By recording key calls, you’ll get a transcript that gives sellers more complete and accurate call notes, and you’ll also allow sales managers to offer targeted coaching to sales reps.
  • Scrub your CRM data. Better data helps sellers and sales managers make better decisions, as they rethink and reprioritize account management and opportunity planning. The pandemic is an ideal time to analyze your records for duplicates and delete them. During coronavirus, sales leaders and managers should also create a standardized protocol for entering data into your CRM, such as capitalizing names, writing business titles, and using the same structure for area codes, phone numbers, and email addresses. Look for missing or incomplete data and ask that the sales team fill in any existing records that they own.
  • Offer sales managers additional support. Sales managers are ranked low on ensuring their sellers adopt sales tools and technologies: only 27% of organizations claimed this as a strength in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study. Sales management during the coronavirus is difficult, so be sure to give managers the training and support they need, so they can model appropriate behaviors for their sales team.

Adaptive customer experience strategies build customer intimacy despite COVID-19

The key to selling through the coronavirus is finding new ways to acquire, grow, and maintain business relationships. Sellers must still deliver positive “defining moments”: the moments when you exceed your customers’ or prospects’ expectations. Achieving positive defining moments virtually is possible, but organizations must revisit their sales methodologies, processes, and skills to proactively drive them—and to avoid being viewed as simply another seller in a crowded market.

Korn Ferry can guide organizations through the new normal toward building more successful customer experiences during the coronavirus. Contact us to learn how our digital sales training on sales methodologies and sales technology can help your organization build a salesforce designed for effective selling in the coronavirus, strengthen customer relationships, and prepare your organization for the recovery when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.