Transitioning Your B2B Sales Force To Working From Home

Coronavirus B2B Sales Transition

As traveling B2B sales reps around the world remain grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic, some manufacturers are facing a tough road forward: How do you continue meeting the needs of your buyers without in-person sales meetings?

Depending on what technologies you already have in place, there are many ways to transition Sales and Customer Service to remote work. The key is to keep providing value to your channel partners, and to include your Sales staff in the new model.

Here’s a game plan for B2B sales during the coronavirus pandemic:

Determine how you’re going to sell during the pandemic

If you relied on in-person reps in particular geographies (or to sell particular brands), you’ll need to develop a plan to continue selling. Depending on the product line and market, you may be able to transition customers to a digital commerce solution (if you have one), e.g.:

  • SKU-based order entry portal
  • B2B eCommerce solution

It’s worth noting that even if you don’t have a digital commerce solution for the affected brands or geographies, you may be able to use an existing solution which was launched for a different geography or brand. If your digital commerce solution is integrated to your ERP system (as Corevist solutions are), this may be as simple as modifying the appropriate data in the ERP system so that 1) the product line appears in the web store, and 2) the associated customers are allowed to buy it.

If you don’t have a web channel, you can still make the transition using legacy ordering systems, provided you have a way for Customer Service reps to rekey and post orders remotely. If you have that capability, you can transition your customers and/or Sales reps to placing orders via legacy channels like:

  • Phone
  • Fax
  • Email
  • EDI

Equip your reps for the new selling model

If your customers are used to working with their reps, you should seek to maintain these relationships during the pandemic. Your customers need support, both personally and professionally, and your reps play a critical role here, both in caring for people and in maintaining your business relationships with the companies which buy from you.

Obviously, the quarantine totally rewrites the sales interaction. With in-person meetings off the table (or greatly reduced), you need to design a new selling model for your reps—and then equip them to succeed. There are two options which we recommend to replace the in-person meeting:

  • Traditional phone calls (May require company phone forwarding to reps’ cell phones)
  • Zoom video conferencing (Note: This is what we use internally at Corevist, and we highly recommend it!)

Of course, your reps will need more than communication capabilities. They also need home access to your CRM, as well as full customer order history and some way to log orders to the ERP. There are many ways to give your reps this access—for example:

  • CRM access from home + Zoom or phone access to customers + phone/email access to Customer Service (for order placement)
  • CRM access from home + Zoom or phone access to customers + ERP access at home via VPN
  • CRM access from home + Zoom or phone access to customers + Field Sales portal solution (for full customer account history and online order entry)

Determine how you’re going to conduct post-order care

Sales relationships and order entry aren’t the only things you’ll need to address. Most likely, your post-order care process is also experiencing disruption due to the pandemic. At a high level, you have two options for conducting post-order care during the pandemic:

  • Customer Service reps working from home who are equipped with ERP access and can answer your customer service phone/fax/email inquiries.
  • A web-based post-order care portal which customers can use to get answers about order status and history, invoice status, and more.

If Customer Service reps are working from home, your IT team may have a difficult time equipping your CSRs to handle customer inquiries. You may be able to make the transition faster If you have a web portal in place for post-order care. In that case, you can onboard customers to the portal without having to set up CSRs with ERP access and company phone access at home.

Communicate your plan clearly with customers

If customers are used to an in-person meeting with their rep, you need to handle this transition with empathy and clarity. Ideally, you should have each rep communicate the new plan with their customers. That way, the news comes from a familiar person, not from a corporate announcement.

Your plan should address all questions which your customers will have about the new model—things like:

  • Can we still call our rep? If so, will the old number still work?
  • Should we expect any delays in existing orders? How about future orders?
  • Who do we call if we need help figuring out the online ordering system?
  • How do we see our order history, invoice status, etc.? Is it available in the online ordering system?
  • How do we pay off invoices? Has that process changed, or is it the same?

Give your reps (and customers) total transparency about supply chain disruptions

With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting B2B supply chains, it’s essential to communicate these disruptions to customers. Regardless of how you structure your new selling model, everyone involved in the sale needs total transparency.

The simplest way to get this information is straight from your ERP system. If your ERP provides ATP (available to promise) calculations, then it offers visibility into disrupted product availability. The key is to get this ATP information from the ERP into the hands of people who need it (customers, Sales reps, and CSRs).

At a high level, there are several ways to do that:

  • Give Sales reps and/or CSRs remote access to your ERP system via VPN. Inform customers that they should contact Sales or Customer Service to get updates on product availability.
  • Give Sales reps and/or CSRs access to real-time ERP data through an integrated portal like Corevist Field Sales. Inform customers that they should contact Sales or Customer Service to get updates on product availability.
  • Give customers their own access to your ERP-integrated web channel. Inform them that they can get real-time product availability there.

The Takeaway: Stay agile, reassess regularly, and change as necessary

As the pandemic unfolds, the situation facing your Sales staff (and customers) will continue to evolve. The key is to keep a pulse on customers’ needs and monitor whether the new business processes are working for them. There are several ways to do this:

  • Email surveys to all customers asking them to rate their customer experience under the new selling model.
  • Arrange for your Sales reps to check in, via phone or Zoom, to see how customers are doing and ask what their biggest pain points are right now.
  • Include a link to a customer survey within your B2B web portal or eCommerce store.
  • Create a company Twitter profile specifically for customer service inquiries and monitor it continuously.

As you gather information from all these sources, you can create (and refine) a picture of your customers’ needs during the pandemic. This will empower you to stay agile as you prioritize customer value.

Moving forward: FREE case study

Want to see an agile approach to digital customer experience in real life? Download this case study on Blount International. You’ll learn how this leading manufacturer of agricultural and forestry equipment launched Corevist Order Tracking for post-order care, then expanded the solution to Corevist Commerce, our full B2B eCommerce suite.

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FREE Case study: Blount International

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About Author

George Anderson

George serves as Digital Marketing Manager. A blogger and journalist with a passion for B2B ecommerce, he has written for the Magento blog, Digitalcommerce360, Supply & Demand Chain Executive, ERPgenie, and others.