Unintended and Unexpected Consequences From COVID-19 on the U.S. Job Market: Chapter 3 “Selling Without Socializing”

This series, “Unintended and Unexpected Consequences from COVID-19 on the U.S. Job Market,” is written by the founder and CEO of TRU Staffing Partners, a global leader in cybersecurity, e-discovery, and privacy placement and career management. Drawing from twenty plus years of experience representing talent and opportunities in global markets and having survived and thrived during and after past economic crises in 2001 and again in 2008–2009, Coseglia aims to help business owners, hiring managers, and both passive and active jobseekers to anticipate moments of change that are likely to occur as a result of the current impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have on job markets across the world. This series will examine how U.S. employment practices, policies, patterns, and people’s behavior may change in the coming months. Each chapter of this series will delve into a specific observation or trend. This week’s focus: “Selling Without Socializing.”

Chapter 3: “Selling Without Socializing”

While most major cities are opening across the U.S., some are relaxing social distancing far more than others. Major metropolitan areas are proving to be the most conservative when it comes to allowing humans to get close to each other—cities known for hosting volumes of business exchanges that drive collaboration. As a result, many of the ways in which sales professionals establish and maintain business relationships are now altered, perhaps indefinitely.

Gone are the days of loitering in lobbies, hoping to catch a partner or executive and grab coffee. Bumping into buyers in bars or bringing clients to the local sports team’s corporate box is not happening right now and likely will not this year. Add to that the complete elimination of industry conferences in Q2 and Q3 of 2020, venues that are frequent inflection points for buying, selling, and building relationships, and the places and approaches to selling are altered completely across all industry verticals. Creating meaningful layers of trust through socialization is no longer a viable means with which sales talent can reliably drive revenue.

Without the ability to entice clients with wining-and-dining or capitalize on coincidental impromptu introductions socially, sales professionals are forced to sell on merit and think creatively about creating meaningful connectivity with business prospects as well as maintaining existing portfolios of relationships. Employers are watching closely as their sales reps pivot (or don’t pivot) in the way they communicate with clients to maintain and increase revenue.

This pandemic has become two things for individual contributors who sell: a test of client relationship strength and a reevaluation of their personal value proposition to their employers. COVID has created a selling environment that plays to the strengths of some and cripples the previous patterns of success for others. The skills and ultimate value of individual contributors are being filtered through a lens unlike any used before: How do they sell when they can’t socialize?

History, service, and substance are what define a buyer/salesperson relationship. A “triple threat” checks all three boxes and has proven previous success, superior responsiveness and customer service, and subject matter expertise that is invaluable to the buyer of services when factoring with whom to outsource business. In this case, business is often given to a company because of the person who is selling. Where this is the case, sales professionals will lean on trusted relationships to drive revenue and demonstrate to their employers that the strength of those relationships overcomes even the hardest of economic times.

Where the strength of the relationships is unknown or in question, sales representatives (and their managers) must quickly reexamine previous methodologies of success and devise new ones for the current climate. Some employers will find they have employees who are unable or unwilling to recalibrate in these conditions and appear to be waiting out the storm so they can resume old ways of selling. Some employers will be ok with this (perhaps largely based on historical success). Some employers, however, will see tenacity, creativity, and adaptability in previously unrecognized business development employees, making them stand out in positive and surprising ways. One thing is certain: All employers will be reevaluating their sales talent infrastructure while in the COVID-19 crisis, and downward pressures will test the strength of client/salesperson relationships over the next several months.

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