COVID Changed Sales. Here’s What Stays as Offices Reopen

Millions of Americans are facing the prospect of a return to the office in the near future, and an end to the widespread remote work policies that defined working life for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That doesn’t mean working life will simply bounce back to its pre-pandemic normal. Companies have changed how they operate since leaving the office in 2020, and many individuals’ attitudes toward remote work — and the nature of work itself — have shifted significantly.  

That means it’s time to start thinking about which aspects of pandemic working life will endure, and which ones will be consigned to the history books. Here’s where things stand as corporate America heads back to the office, according to some key members of ZoomInfo’s sales team.

Evaluating the Value of Tools in Your Tech Stack

Sales leaders say the focus on maximizing efficiency is likely to persist. Many companies expanded their tech stacks out of necessity during the early phases of the pandemic, with tools that once had limited utility becoming indispensable to a suddenly virtual workforce. 

Steven Bryerton, a senior VP of sales at ZoomInfo, says tech tools that have demonstrated value for sales teams trying to meet demanding targets will survive the shift back to in-office and hybrid work. 

Bryerton notes that call recording, one of the key features of Chorus, was the only way to replicate some of the in-person coaching that sales teams relied on when they were working in the same place.

That tech will continue to be a part of the mix, but managers and individual team members also have to remember that new tools can create new responsibilities.

“An individual has to say, ‘I’m going to spend time listening to my colleagues so I can get better.’ Or your leadership team has to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do some call review. Everybody take notes,’” Bryerton says.

Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are also leveraging more tools to maximize efficiency and compete more effectively. Data from the Connected Commerce Council indicates that 40 percent of SMBs are “digitally advanced,” using 10 or more software tools to run their businesses, a trend that is likely to persist in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape.

“The world where sellers and marketers had just a few tools to survive is gone,” Bryerton says.

Getting Your Team on the Same Page

Sales teams typically thrive in busy, collaborative environments. Remote work sapped that dynamic atmosphere and took away the overheard, incidental lessons that are hard to duplicate without shoulder-to-shoulder sales work. 

To compensate, some sales teams adapted their daily workflows to increase communication. ZoomInfo introduced short morning briefings of about 15 minutes to review the previous day’s progress and frame the near future.  

That morning huddle, Bryerton says, gets the sales team on the same page from the outset and ensures that it’s not simply left to each team member to check out the leaderboard.

“That’s something that’s not going to go away. That’s a part of who we are now,” Bryerton says.

Focusing on Productivity and Trust

Millions of knowledge workers doing their jobs from home have experienced erosion of the line between their professional and personal lives. Their workdays have become longer and setting firm boundaries is often more difficult. 

While software tools may have allowed people to get more done from makeshift home offices, it won’t be enough to simply put in more hours when employees return to the office. Karen Hor, an account executive at ZoomInfo, says knowledge workers — and sales professionals in particular — are going to have to work smarter if they hope to keep up. 

But as workers move away from working primarily from home, companies should outline their productivity expectations in a way that doesn’t abuse trust or create an environment of suspicion.

“A huge factor, aside from getting better quality data, is visibility into team productivity,” Hor says. “Tracking productivity is always something that sales leaders want. But some people may feel like, ‘Why are you micromanaging me? You hired me to do my job, so trust me.’ That’s why you have to have KPIs in place. There’s always a human element to everything.”

Cultivating Cultures of Inclusion

While many knowledge workers may be preparing to return to the office in 2022, the pandemic fundamentally changed how millions of people perceive work and its role in their lives. 

Some employees simply won’t return, which means companies will have to reevaluate how hybrid working arrangements — a blend of in-office and remote work — will become a lasting part of corporate culture. Katelyn Davis, an account manager at ZoomInfo, says ensuring that remote employees still feel included will be key to individual performance and employee retention.

“Companies need to figure out the cultural shift with remote work and putting more of a spotlight on how to keep up with culture and morale in a work-from-home situation,” Davis says. “How do we make remote employees feel that they are part of this big collaboration that we’re trying to put together?”

For many companies, balancing hybrid working arrangements will be a necessity. Recent data from Gensler indicates that more than half of workers prefer hybrid work models, and roughly one-third of employees say they would seek new opportunities elsewhere if their companies fail to offer flexible working arrangements.

Bridging Disconnects Between Execs and Employees

While many people are keen to return to the office, many are resistant to the idea of a return to “normal.” This tension is one of the many factors behind the wave of job change known as the “Great Resignation,” and it’s likely to continue to be a divisive factor in the workplace. 

Perhaps tellingly, an eagerness to return to the office may correlate to a person’s place in the company org chart. Data from the Future Forum Pulse survey suggests that executives are significantly more likely than their subordinates to want to return to the office: 44 percent of executives currently working remotely on a full-time basis want a full return to in-office work, compared to just 17 percent of non-executive knowledge workers. 

Similarly, 75 percent of executives want to work in the office for three to five days per week, compared to just 34 percent of their employees.

Those factors mean the current employment landscape is very much a candidate-driven market. Companies that seek out and incorporate input from their employees are much more likely to experience a smooth transition back into the office and longer-term success.

Leaders and team members who pay attention to that balance of group and personal dynamics will thrive as the new world of sales continues to evolve in the post-pandemic era.

“Sales is an individual sport,” Bryerton says. “But you’re also on a team.”