Where does your industry fall on the digital selling maturity scale?

And what does that mean for your talent?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the buying journey had radically shifted—and it had evolved faster than sellers were able to adapt. Buyers no longer needed information from sellers since they could get it from a plethora of other sources; as a result, buyers were less engaged with sellers throughout the buying process, often involving them only after making the purchase decision. At the same time, many industries were struggling to adapt to changing buyer preferences for digital selling; some succeeded, while others fell further behind, largely because their buyers weren’t consuming online content.


In 2020, the pandemic has shifted the buyer’s journey even more radically. Digital adoption is happening on a global scale and much more quickly than anticipated. Industries that thought they could postpone digital transformation for three to five years have felt pressure to adopt new tools and practices; as a result, in just a few months’ time, many industries have seen more digital transformation than in the last 5 to 10 years.


But there’s a lack of clarity about what it looks like to have mature digital selling practices. Even if you’ve been meeting with customers online for a while through Zoom, being an effective digital seller requires a significantly different set of technologies, processes and skills than most are accustomed to—and that means sales talent needs to evolve as well. Yet many industries remain far behind the digital curve and have yet to upgrade their talent for the digital age of selling.


In a recent webinar, "The Future of Sales Talent: Understand the Full Picture," we discussed how organizations must take steps to address talent gaps that have arisen with all of 2020’s disruption and digital transformation. One factor that determines the appropriate next step for your organization is where your organization and industry land on the digital maturity curve, and what it means for your sales force.


Read on to learn more about the maturity scale for digital selling best practices and what that means for how you should recruit and develop sales talent.


What is digital selling maturity?

At Korn Ferry, we look at an organization’s digital selling maturity from three lenses:

  1. Tech-enabled customer interactions: Sales organizations must build customer relationships through a variety of digital channels. Generally, the larger and more complex the organization, the greater the variety of sales channels needed to source prospects and engage existing customers. For example, some sales organizations have found establishing a presence on social networks sufficient to develop relationships. For transactional sales where customers have straightforward solution needs, chatbots or voice recognition apps may be an effective answer.
  2. Tech-enabled sales processes. Today, sellers have access to technology and intelligence that make it easy for sellers to understand their target market and prospects. Mature digital selling organizations deploy enablement technology throughout the sales process that delivers the right content to sellers at the right time, improving their ability to offer perspective to buyers and to collaborate on solutions.
  3. Agile learning. Technology enables sales organizations to deliver learning at the point of work in a format tailored to individual preferences and at the precise time that sellers need it. To excel in a digital sales environment, sales organizations must ensure their sellers have skills including CRM, social selling, empathy, self-motivation and learning agility.


Using these three measures of digital selling maturity, we’ve grouped industries into four categories—innovators, early majority, late majority and laggards.

Innovators are the organizations that are the quickest to take risks and adopt new selling technologies. Consumer retail has been at the forefront of the digital transformation, as e-commerce has taken over the B2C sales industry.
Retailers had already begun offering online ordering and delivery before the pandemic, but they’ve increased the range of their services over the course of 2020. For example, some grocery stores now offer customers the opportunity to sign up for a time slot to reduce traffic through stores; others allow customers to wait in a virtual queue.

Early majority
The early majority consists of organizations that recognize the benefits of digital selling but haven’t led the charge to adopt new tools, processes, or technology. Financial services is a prime example of an early majority industry.
When the pandemic struck, customers searched for contactless ways to conduct transactions. And, given their experience with traditional retail, customers had high expectations for frictionless, fast service. So, banks have looked for ways to shed complex processes, personalize customer service and speed response time through online self-service options, such as chatbots and apps.


More banks and credit card companies now offer digital wallets equipped with facial recognition technology. And banks have also upskilled and reskilled their workforce, teaching managers how to lead remote teams and support teams how to handle the rising demand for different types of services, such as refinancing.

Late majority
The late majority consists of organizations that prefer to learn from other industries embracing digital selling best practices before joining the trend. For instance, the healthcare industry has struggled to pivot in the midst of the pandemic, but some providers have learned from other B2C industries and have started adopting digital tools.
Before 2020, some healthcare organizations provided portals where patients could communicate with their doctor, complete paperwork, view lab results and schedule appointments, but they stopped short of facilitating more personal interactions. When the pandemic hit and shutdowns became more prevalent, many patients canceled all but essential healthcare appointments and procedures.


So, to entice patients reluctant to schedule an office visit, providers have implemented digital alternatives, such as remote monitoring and telehealth, that had languished in the planning stages for years. Organizations that continue to invest in digital and virtual channels will have a significant advantage, as the fear of contracting the virus continues to discourage in-person care.

Generally averse to change, laggards are the last organizations to adopt digital selling innovations. Medical technology is one industry trailing others in digital sales transformation.
Manufacturer reps often visit hospitals and practices to demonstrate their solutions, but restricted access during the pandemic has made it nearly impossible for them to use their traditional selling methods. And, while the pandemic has required device manufacturers to ramp up production of personal protective equipment, ventilators and diagnostic tests, the decline in elective surgeries has dampened demand for many products.


To cope with these challenges, medtech companies need a new sales playbook. They must pivot to digital customer interactions, such as online product demonstrations disseminated across social media and in teleconferences. To maintain their position as thought leaders in the field, they must offer professional education and webinars with prominent physicians and publish new enablement content, such as case studies that show how their products improve patient outcomes.


Finally, they need to upskill their sales and service teams, taking account of the new touchpoints across an online customer journey that no longer can rely on hands-on, in-person sales and training.


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How to upgrade your sales talent—and your digital maturity

While the fundamentals of selling haven’t changed, the pandemic has accelerated changes already afoot in sales organizations and the industries they serve. As buyers in an industry become more digitally mature, sellers must study what has changed in the buyer’s journey and adopt digital selling best practices that match their buyer’s new needs. And sales organizations need agile, adaptable sales talent capable of implementing these new digital selling practices.


The key step that sales organizations should take to develop sales talent ready for the digital future is to assess their performers. Assessments are highly correlated to sales success: 86 percent of world-class sales organizations know why their top performers win. Yet only 24 percent of organizations in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study reported consistently assessing their top performers to understand why they were successful.


Assessment data is critical to understanding what “good” looks like, and it’s even more important as the definition of “good” continues to evolve. Without assessment data, organizations won’t know whether they have the right sales talent for the future—and that’s a problem organizations already had well before the pandemic. In our 2018 Sales Talent Study, more than two thirds of organizations doubted whether they had the right sales talent to meet their business goals—a figure that has continued to rise during the pandemic. When you consider that over the last few years, our research has continually shown that high-performing sellers carry a disproportionate amount of the weight when it comes to winning deals—the top 20 percent of sellers account for more than 50 percent of an organization’s revenue—it’s especially important for organizations to invest in assessments.


Here are just some of the ways that assessments can help your organization prepare for the digital future:


Inform a hiring strategy. Organizations need to look at metrics aside from past performance and experience to determine what new sellers to recruit. Data-driven assessments can unearth what makes your high performers tick: the traits, drivers, and behaviors that make them excellent at what they do. When you define what “good” looks like and incorporate these insights into your job descriptions, job profiles, and recruitment strategy, you’ll start identifying candidates that are best able to adapt to the new selling environment and engage with your buyers.



Create personalized learning journeys. Using a detailed assessment reveals the hidden human dimensions of talent, such as each seller’s unique “DNA.” You’ll understand which persona they fall into, which defines how they prefer to learn and what coaching techniques will work best with them, among other things. For example, some sellers may prefer to learn with others, while others may want to learn independently. Some will be self-directed; others will want clear direction on how to achieve their goals. Using data to develop a personalized learning strategy ensures that your sellers will receive information in the way that’s most meaningful to them.
Tailor learning to key skills and competencies. Sellers need different skills to excel in the digital world than in an in-person environment. Plus, they need skills that enable them to deliver valuable insights and perspective: the inspiration, not just information, that buyers want. Assessments identify skill gaps that can be remedied with learning plans tailored to the skills of the future: namely, learning agility rather than just soft skills, such as influencing others, navigating difficult situations and building relationships.
Reinforce learning with targeted coaching and reinforcement. To solidify learning, organizations should implement a formal coaching strategy that follows a perspective-based approach to develop each seller’s full potential. Coaching should cover all aspects of the buyer’s journey: leads and opportunities, skills and behaviors, funnel assessment, accounts and relationship building, and territory development. Technology can further embed learning: for example, a CRM plug-in like Korn Ferry Sell can remind you of the sales methodology to follow at each step of the sales process.

How to elevate your organization’s digital maturity

The pandemic offers every organization an opportunity to find a competitive advantage, if you’re willing to upgrade your digital sales best practices. That requires you to focus on what’s at the heart of digital transformation: understanding and upskilling your organization’s sales talent. If you’re one of the first movers in your industry with sales talent capable of teaching your customer something new or showing your customer a new way to learn something, you’ll skip ahead of the competition.


To learn more about how to prepare your sales talent for the digital transition, check out our webinar, "The Future of Sales Talent: Understand the Full Picture." And when you’re ready to discover how to take advantage of this opportunity, contact us. We’ll review how the pandemic has affected your buyer’s journey and what best practices you should implement to improve your digital selling and upgrade your sales talent.

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