What are the Expectations of Sales People to Travel?

People walking together in airport terminal. Business travelers at airport.

Post-pandemic, a common refrain coming from internal sales teams surrounds the idea that, after two years of working from home, the need for and benefits of constant travel just aren’t what they used to be; with effects on performance and results seeming, to some, minimal at best.

You’re seeing remarkable business-model innovation in terms of figuring out how to service customers, such as B2B sales, where 80–90% is now being done remotely. We’ve seen a dramatic acceleration, as well as a recognition that this is not a one-time event, as companies realize many of these new behaviors are actually better and will stick. We’re going to see many of these virtual ways of doing things persist, even as the as the recovery happens.

Organizational Needs for Sales People Are Shifting

According to Morning Consult data, the percentage of frequent business travelers who say they’ll never return to the road has clicked up from 39% in October 2021 to 42% in February 2022.

This represents a seismic shift in the way organizations have looked at sales people and how they find success. COVID may have been the catalyst, but the change isn’t entirely from left field. With advancing technology, sharing a space (or screen!) with anyone, anywhere is entirely feasible. And with that connectivity comes the question – what value do in-person sales calls have in our current landscape?

New processes and teams need to be developed to review and act on insights the data and technology can deliver. Teams also need greater autonomy to identify new opportunities and quickly make decisions. Good data and guidelines can help establish guardrails and provide useful tools to empower teams; an important lesson often forgotten during transformations, dooming even the most promising initiatives.

Organizations are asking themselves: What is the value of being seen? Can a Zoom call replace a facility tour that leads to a more comprehensive understanding of one’s business needs? And what about the magic of happenstance – where sitting next to the right person on the plane or meeting the right contact at happy hour leads to a new project?

That’s how sales has worked for decades and it is tough to argue that the whole concept has been lost to video calls and group chats. No doubt, many sales people working in the market today are still earning commissions one handshake (or elbow bump) at a time.

There are a large number of customer branch locations that prefer salespeople to drop-in Friday morning with a box of donuts in hand to talk about product ordering. In addition to showing up in person to seal a deal with a handshake, salespeople also have the opportunity to stock the shelves and backrooms themselves with their products when they visit, but some of those doors have been closed this year.”

Business as Usual at Home

On the flip side, in many cases sales managers and their teams have proven over the last two years that business-as-usual is absolutely possible from the comfort of their desk chair. Workers find themselves more productive at work and in life when the hassles of packing, commuting and soul-crushing airport security lines aren’t getting in the way. That magical work/life balance many have dreamed of has started to seem in reach, even for seasoned sales professionals that have been told life on the road is the only way to succeed. 

In situations where at-home sales tactics have proved successful, it’s understandable that sales professionals are taking on a new perspective. The traditional requirements of the job are suddenly proving to be a bit outdated and with that comes the opportunity to shift expectations and, in the right situation, create a new definition of what it means to be in sales.

Can a Hybrid Sales Travel Model Work?

Of course, there are outliers on both sides – those that have failed trying to recreate the sales environment on a screen and those that believe selling from home is the only way to proceed. In reality, a hybrid solution that works for both sides seems the best path forward – a familiar rallying cry since 2020.

A fresher trend is being dubbed ‘return to base’ travel. Think of it as the old business-travel model but in reverse. In the conventional paradigm, employees based at company headquarters flew off to do business in other cities. With ‘return to base’ travel, remote workers will be called into the mothership from time to time…”

Having a hybrid salesforce — one that can do inside sales on e-commerce and a separate sales staff that can meet with customers face-to-face, provides the best of both worlds going forward. As we’ve discovered numerous times during the past two years, it appears that those who are willing to be flexible and proactive at addressing the needs of their employees while still adhering to best practices that prove successful for everyone, will ultimately win in the long run.

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