by Christine Horton
While organisations have dealt with many challenges caused by COVID-19, one that may have a lasting impact on their business is the shift to virtual sales.
This has been particularly noticeable in IT, which is very much a ‘relationships business’. It thrives on face-to-face activity, meetings, conferences and events. These are now all off the table and instead, sales teams must turn to digital platforms for creating sales opportunities.
However, research shows that some companies are adjusting to this virtual sales model better than others. A December 2020 survey from HubSpot, reported the shift to remote selling is the primary reason for 40 percent of London-based sales professionals failing to hit any sales targets last year. Almost half (48 percent) say their business hasn’t made any changes to support remote selling, while 64 percent are finding it more difficult to build relationships with prospects due to having less face-to-face contact – by far the most reported reason.
Viva virtual Last Vegas
Elsewhere, it is almost conference season once again – an integral part of the IT industry’s calendar. For IT pros they are an opportunity to hear the latest vendor news, test new products, network with potential customers and socialise with peers.
But due to the ongoing restrictions, these too are now virtual events that attendees can access online. This has its pros and cons. Organisers are challenged to keep attendees engaged and informed, without any of the benefits of a physical conference such as networking, face-to-face meetings and the associated social activities. There’s a lot of value that comes from the informal communication that happens in the exhibition hall or over drinks in the hotel bar.
At the same time however, there are many attendees who don’t want to be trapped on long-haul flights and in hotels and conference centres, spending time away from their families and home lives. To them, attending a virtual event is a welcome option. This might also be welcomed by the younger generation of IT pros that don’t relate to corporate entertainment or old school networking dinners. Similarly, the shift to virtual may help to redress the traditionally male-dominated sales culture in the channel, which is perhaps most evident at events.
Indeed, in the early days of the pandemic last year, channel analyst firm Canalys noted firms can now revaluate how much of its travel is essential, and how much is an overhang from outdated notions of business. “Travel will still be a necessity for many industries, but coronavirus presents an opportunity to take advantage of travel restrictions and shift cultural frameworks for the future,” it said. “Companies cancelling or postponing events will likely realise that virtual interaction is more sustainable cheaper and effective way to communicate.”
Long lasting impact
The shift to virtual selling may have a long-lasting impact on the IT industry. The inability to access offices and facilities for physical technology deployments has already accelerated the shift to selling cloud and managed services.
Indeed, demand for outsourced and managed IT services is greater than ever. One report forecasts that the average proportion of IT services consumed via subscription will accelerate from 29 percent today to 41 percent in 2022. Additionally, the share of organisations that consume most (more than 50 percent) of their IT solutions ‘as a service’ will increase by approximately 74 percent in that time.
Despite the challenges posed by the shift to virtual sales, the IT channel remains optimistic regarding their expectations for growth in 2021. New research by distributor Nuvias shows that 63 percent of partners expect business growth of more than five percent in 2021, and 43 percent expect more than 10 percent growth.
However, partners will rely on vendors and distributors to help support them in this new world – particularly with the switch to digital, and the long-term impact on their business.
Points to consider from Mixology:
- Do not dismiss virtual events now lockdown is easing, they are not going away. Events of the future will be a hybrid of virtual and physical.
- Make sure you have a marketing strategy that works for both a digital and physical audience.
- Digital events are no longer an add on, they can be an important central part of your campaigns helping to amplify your messages to even larger audiences
- Plan your digital events more strategically, think of interactive ways to keep audiences engaged, such as breakout sessions or online workshops.
- Allow for a longer lead time for event planning to cover unforeseen circumstances.