What does human-centred sales look like in 2021?

February 11, 2021
By David

In November 2020, we at Six & Flow hosted the inaugural Humans Come First summit. As part of the event, we had a sales panel run by our Managing Director, Rich Wood. He and the panelists took a look back on what sales lessons they learned in 2020, and what they were hoping to see less and more of in 2021 and beyond. 

One of our panelists, Aidan O’Leary, said that two common mistakes that salespeople and sales leaders make are: being afraid of hearing “no,” and not taking the time to hire the right people that fit with their team. He also describes himself as an introvert, and says that this quality has made him a better listener on sales calls. 

Adapting the sale process with the coronavirus pandemic 

The working world made a sudden, dramatic shift as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. Work environments and working styles had to quickly adapt, despite having never dealt with something like this since the world has become so technologically advanced and reliant. However, the fact that a great deal of us are online for the work as it made the change less of a “shock to the system” for a lot. 

When it comes to relationship-building as a salesperson, there are several factors that lend to wanting the process to be quick. It’s not that quotas no longer exist and the fundamentals have been thrown out the window, but our panelists have found themselves encouraging their sales teams to take a more human approach to selling, and fostering a deeper relationship with prospects and customers. 

Another one of our panelists, Doug Landis, said that before pitching anything, salespeople should be able to help their prospects identify why they’d want to make certain changes and whether or not it makes sense to act immediately. 

How do you come to understand these two things? While engaged in a conversation, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In all honesty, making mistakes is exactly what makes us human, and thus humanises us as people trying to do business with other people. 

When you’re speaking with a prospect or customer, make the effort to understand who you’re talking to, and what motivates them to make a decision. Emotion dictates countless purchasing decisions, so being empathetic and listening well are strong skills to have on the sales floor. 

Watch the panel

Drawing the line between marketing and sales

Rich asked our panelists: “When it comes to marketing and sales, where does one stop and the other begin?”

Almost immediately, O’Leary piped in and said that he doesn’t think there is a line and that they intersect. Fundamentally, both marketing and sales have a funnel structure to them, and adding the element of social proof appeals to prospects and customers in the funnel trying to understand what their “loss factor” is. Or, what they’re missing out on if they don’t purchase your product or service and how it’s benefitting similar organisations in their pace.

According to panelist Charlotte Smith, sales teams need to take on the responsibility of giving feedback to marketing in a timely fashion. Internal feedback needs to be delivered consistently so that marketing teams know and understand what the sales team is doing with the leads they provided them. 

Acknowledging company brand in the sales process 

When it comes to their organisation’s brand and bringing that into sales conversations, especially when procurement is part of the equation, our panelists agree that this could be more about reputation vs. brand itself. 

Landis remarked that salespeople need to understand what the perception of their organisation’s brand and reputation is in the larger marketplace, and to own that fully. If there are things that have happened to taint your organisation’s reputation, be ready to call it out proactively and be human in your recognition of this fault. This display of honesty is an excellent way to rebuild a skeptic’s trust.

Smith added that when it’s a situation where the conversation ends (e.g. post-win for a deal), having a good brand presence and reputation is a great way to get strong referrals, especially if those original buyers move into other roles. 

How to keep yourself and your sales team motivated 

Smith said that having “too much process” doesn’t sit well with her as a sales leader. It’s good to have a framework, but it’s also important to not be too rigid in your approach. She encourages her team to focus on trying new things; test, break, and learn in order to not stay stagnant. 

She also keeps her team motivated by making sure that they take the time to look at the small wins and day-to-day elements of their efforts as a group.  

O’Leary says especially during the pandemic, he’s found value in being a vulnerable leader. Opening the floor for honest conversations as members of the same team can change the view of you being just another manager, and instead as someone who is looking to set an example and create a safe space. 

Looking ahead: Sales in 2021 

With all of the changes we’ve had to collectively make in the business world, our panelists are looking forward to people leaving behind the phrase, “This is the way we’ve always done things.” They all agree that in order for salespeople to continue to be successful with all of the change that’s come about, there needs to be a readiness around learning, an embrace of disruption, and acknowledgement that change is the only constant. 

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