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What are marketing, sales and customer service teams facing in 2021?

February 3, 2021

Ed Barrett, Vice President of Sales, EMEA

It is great to see 2020 in the rearview mirror, especially with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine offering a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. However, while we were all so glad to see the back of last year, it doesn’t look as though 2021 is going to be a lot more fun for businesses, in the first few months at least.

Even as restrictions on our daily lives will lift, the need to engage customers through digital channels will continue to grow. This new normal will necessitate Marketing, Sales and Customer Service teams to work more closely together to meet the higher customer expectations for a seamless experience across all touchpoints.

So, what other new developments can we expect to see over the next 12 months? We took a look into our crystal ball, and this is what we saw:

1.”Kindness”. The new way to win customers' trust. Authenticity makes it real

Consumers are looking for brands that understand them and connect with their emotions. It has become crucial for people to feel a connection with a brand, beyond just its products or solutions. ‘Be kind’ was one of the mottos that emerged in the UK during the pandemic and this applies every bit as much to brands as it does to individuals on social media.

But even though brands are expected to have a social conscience, that doesn’t mean you should jump onto any old bandwagon that comes along. Positive action can backfire if your good deeds and kind words are not seen to be authentic and complementary with the way your brand is viewed.

Brands need to ensure they are backing up their words with action, or they face customer backlash. 2020 saw the term ‘green-washing’ come to prominence, with customers calling out companies which claim to be environmentally friendly in their marketing but fail to live up to their own messaging. Similarly, if you are a brand that defends women’s rights and the equality between the sexes, yet the Board of Executives is all male and there is a gap between your male and female employees’ salaries, you’re likely to face an embarrassing backlash. Be kind but, above all, be authentic.

2. Remote selling is here to stay

Long after the masks have come off and social distancing is finally relaxed, we are still going to be dealing with the effects of the pandemic on the way we do business.

Many of us will not want to give up the benefits we’ve experienced while working from home. According to research from Eskenzi, 91% of the UK's office workers would like to work from home at least part of the time once the pandemic is over. The British Council for Offices found that only 30% of office workers were considering returning to the office 5 days a week. This is going to push many companies into hybrid working models. Not only will the sales team be affected, but their customers and prospects will also.

Remote selling will remain an essential part of day-to-day business, even when industry events and office life return. Our research has found that 22% of UK businesses are planning to sell into new markets in 2021, and all these relationships will need to be established remotely and sustained remotely.

It’s clear that in 2021, sales leaders will have to invest more in remote selling tactics. While 48% of businesses reportedly still haven’t adopted remote selling yet, they will soon discover that this method is not just a temporary stopgap. It’s the gateway to a whole new way of selling. Leveraging technologies that help remote sales people to work smarter and more effectively will differentiate the successful businesses in this new paradigm.

3. Companies face new challenges moving into new markets

One in five French businesses has listed selling into a new market as a business goal for 2021. This figure rises to 22% for UK businesses facing life after Brexit, and 30% for German companies. This move has been borne out of necessity as companies have seen their new business pipelines squeezed by the pandemic.

For many organisations, making a move to sell into a new market is something of a double hurdle today. They are making the usual changes necessary for this kind of pivot, be that a new product or a new sales message, but they are also dealing with the remote-selling environment and ever-fluctuating restrictions. With travel and face-to-face meetings more limited, sales teams will be relying more on remote selling tools than ever before.

The pandemic has been handled differently around the world. Australia is already largely COVID free, the UK is still in strict lockdown, and Sweden became internationally known for never really locking down at all. Businesses need to be mindful of these differences as they sell abroad, on top of all the existing cultural sensitivities.

4. Conversational marketing will become more human

The concept is relatively new but, unsurprisingly, it picked up momentum during the lockdown lifestyle we endured last year. In fact, with the pandemic redefining interactions between humans, conversational marketing is already set to reinvent itself. While the use of chatbots or instant messages is still increasing (45% of companies have now integrated bots into their marketing strategy, according to our research), new features will need to try to humanise these conversations.

To this end, 2021 will be the year that Voice becomes the norm for brand-customer interactions. Technology (through AI within chatbots) can play a supporting role but it will never be able to replace a meaningful conversation with another human being who can win a customer over with empathy and understanding.

5. Sales, marketing and customer service teams will work together more closely

The pandemic has forced us to work in new ways, with different teams being affected in different ways. Marketing teams have seen workloads increase dramatically and have had to take a humble step back and redefine how to connect to the customer.

Sales teams have been more affected, especially those who previously focused on face-to-face meetings and trade events. The shift to remote selling has put more emphasis on good quality data. One of the significant changes has been the rising importance of content. Salespeople sharing an article or report they think prospects will find exciting, showcases a new way of thinking. It also pushes their workflow closer to that of their counterparts in marketing. Similarly, with client budgets being squeezed, maintaining relationships with existing clients has made salespeople adopt best practice thinking from the customer service world.

With so many brands putting digital experiences first, poor customer experience becomes a real barrier to sales and in return, to hard-fought sales targets. Harnessing the collective power of these 3 functions is priority for the year ahead with CRM platforms being instrumental in solving for the customer. In fact, business growth depends on it.


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