Every new year there are myriad articles published by analysts, pundits, and pseudo-experts looking back on the prior year and expounding on the future. I have captured key points from a number of articles on what happened in 2020 and what to expect in 2021 and beyond.
My focus in this article is on the B2B technology buying - selling and customer support process and the salespeople, systems engineers (SE’s) professional services (PS), and customer success (CS) professionals who deliver the experience.
The 2020 results are in - it was a disrupted and difficult year.
The Korn Ferry 2020-21, Sales Performance Study Report, published today, surveyed sales leaders in over 1500 companies. The report indicates that after years of solid growth, we were heading for a B2B selling plateau in 2020, prior to COVID. In 2019 quota attainment was down (-9%) for the first time since 2016, and revenue attainment fell (-3%) after five straight years of continuous growth. Leading indicators such as win rates fell for the first time in five years (-2%), customer retention remained volatile, and seller retention rates continued dropping (87%), the lowest in years.
Meanwhile some things remained the same, 70% of revenue came from existing customers, and the top 20% of salespeople continued to bring in over 60% of total company sales.
Four Trends that impact selling and the customer experience in 2021
Work from home is here to stay.
- In an interesting ZDNet article , the authors advise against betting on a return to the office for salespeople, SE’s, PS or CS. The economic benefits of remote work accrue to both employees and employers.
- Companies save on the cost of expensive office space in cities, can recruit higher quality and lower cost employees in more places, and have learned to maintain home-based employee productivity.
- Employees win with zero time wasted commuting, more family time, more time to enjoy sports and hobbies and flexibility in the hours they contribute, with most engaging in work-related activities for longer hours at home than in the office, prior to COVID.
- Salespeople will still visit customers in-person when the need arises for critical high-value opportunities post-COVID, but this will be an exception rather than the rule.
- Work-from-anywhere will evolve from work-from-home post-COVID, when employees are once again able to travel, mingle, and enjoy the experience of a coffee and a snack in a warm and welcoming cafe, or restaurant… remember them?
- Instead of butts in cubicle seats, offices get smaller and become innovation, collaboration and motivational meeting places.
- The emphasis is on meeting rooms and floor space will reduce and reconfigure to accommodate.
- For many salespeople, SE’s, and CX pro’s, 2019 offices were inconvenient and impersonal places to work and the open-plan, or low-partition environments were actually hostile to intimate conversations and video conferencing with prospects and customers.
Collaboration and presence technologies
- ZDNet reports that in 2020 companies made rapid investments in technology to equip employees with laptops and collaboration software to work from home. But many of these investments were minimal, the rationale being, working from home would be temporary, employees would return to the office when the pandemic was over.
- Anyone using Zoom, Hangouts or Teams technologies on a daily basis realizes that the tools we use for collaboration are still frustratingly limited.
- There are new remote meeting techniques that when mastered, (while falling short of face-to-face collaboration), allow the practitioner to add a visual dimension to the conversation using a whiteboard and visual customer storyboarding frameworks.
- When the practitioner stands-up instead of remaining seated in the video-conference, they enable the full use of their physiology to communicate emotion, effectively putting themselves and their whiteboard “in-the-room” with buyers.
- Until virtual, augmented reality, or telepresence technologies become sufficiently mature and widely adopted, these techniques offer differentiation in the customer experience and opportunities to communicate more effectively, build trust and help sellers and technical teams to qualify more effectively and advance the customer’s objective.
- In 2021 expect further investment from progressive companies to equip employees to work from home permanently, including ergonomic seating, flexible furniture that can function as an office desk during the day and a bedroom side-table at night, lighting, HD video and professional quality microphone.
Digital transformation and the customer experience (CX)
- In this 20-minute ZDNet interview, Howard Lax, Principal Confirmit Global CX Consultant discusses the impact of digital transformation on the customer experience with ZDNet’s editor in chief Larry Dignan, it's worth a listen.
- Investment in soft-skills training, the equipment outlined above, and technique training for better customer presence are essential, as employers begin to recognize and value that their employees are the CX delivery system.
- Employers must recognize that employees shape the customer experience - both positively and negatively - and how they as employers can positively impact employee interaction with customers across the customer lifecycle.
2021 will be the year when companies begin to accept that work practice changes brought on by COVID will become permanent.
- COVID has taught us the importance of human-connection, it’s what binds us to life.
- COVID enforced isolation has driven-up the rates of loneliness, depression, alcoholism, and drug-abuse and consequential job-loss.
- The human emotional dimension of the customer experience is vastly under-appreciated… but it is hugely important and worth exploring.
- The psychology of human engagement has been well understood and is used extensively in advertising. However, given the choice between investing in product enhancements over investing in educating the workforce in the psychology of emotional interaction with customers, product enhancements win every time.
But will 2021 be the year when companies prioritize investment in people and their skills and work from home environment? Time will tell.
In the meantime… Enableocity Remote Meeting Mastery and Customer Storyboarding techniques can help everyone customer-facing on your team to communicate more effectively and differentiate in how they engage, to elevate your customer’s experience across the buying cycle.
If you are interested in learning more, please contact us.