6 minute read 13 Jan 2021
EY - Businessman doing a video call at night

How to reoptimize sales channels for a post-pandemic world

By Brian Goonan

EY Americas Business Consulting Sales and Service Leader

An accomplished management consulting executive with 18 years’ experience in developing and assist in implementing strategic initiatives at Fortune 1000 firms.

6 minute read 13 Jan 2021
Related topics Consulting Customer Digital

After the fallout from COVID-19, expect face-to-face interactions to slowly return; digital must be treated as just as crucial as field sales.

In brief

  • A hybrid sales approach more oriented emerging channels such as digital, paired with adjusted roles, offers the way forward — not a return to “normal.”
  • Sales organizations are frequently heavy on field service professionals, which will likely be better suited just for your top customers and largest deals.
  • Meanwhile, inside sales could more cost-effectively handle some interactions, while digital/e-commerce platforms can enable self-service.

As the COVID-19 pandemic circled the globe, sales organizations were suddenly forced to confront a world in which face-to-face interactions became potentially fraught instead of instinctively preferred. The crisis exposed what has increasingly become a necessity for companies: to rely more on virtual communication and remote selling while being able to move seamlessly across traditional channels as well.

Field sales, inside sales, partner sales and e-commerce make up an omnichannel ecosystem — ideally integrated and able to scale. Yet research by XANT shows that sales coverage models at large organizations still tilt heavily toward field sales, representing 70% of reps (39% of whom fail to meet their quotas). The remaining 30% are inside/digital sales reps focused mostly on building pipeline.

Even worse, some organizations choose to ignore the concept of omnichannel sales altogether, resulting in a woefully inadequate and expensive channel structure. In a post-pandemic world, a hybrid approach — with more balance toward emerging channels and adjusted roles — will help companies streamline their sales organization, expand their footprint, grow market share and optimize cost distribution. Yet being complacent will have the opposite effect.

The pandemic has accelerated the shift in sales channels, and while face-to-face interactions will come back to some extent, understand that it’s more efficient and even more effective to be virtual. Here is a way to rethink your sales organization with an omnichannel approach, along with actions to take today to better prepare for the future.

EY - Hybrid coverage model drives balanced go to market selling

1. Evaluate customer expectations, channel usage and operating model

To reveal areas of opportunity, ask yourself questions in these three areas to improve and ultimately realize a seamless omnichannel structure. Arriving at an answer requires deep knowledge of customer preferences, an honest evaluation of your internal capabilities across the lead-to-cash life cycle, and participation and alignment across functions.

  1. Customer expectations: How does your channel strategy address or predict changing customer preferences — for instance, with more people working in their homes instead of their offices? How quickly can you shift?
  2. Channel usage: How is the organization’s sales strategy structured to balance the use of each channel and leverage channels for cost and process efficiencies? Does your organization service, upsell and cross-sell across channels?
  3. Operating model: How compatible is the operating model with the continually evolving work environment and marketplace? How are sellers going to market with a strategy that combines inside and field selling capabilities?

2. Think more deeply about segmentation

As we think about how to best allocate our resources, we need to know if the greatest revenue potential for an account comes from aligning a field salesperson, an inside seller, a partner organization or an e-commerce resource. This decision impacts how dollars, team members and the strategic focus are distributed, with the ideal allocation optimizing revenue, minimizing cost and enhancing customer satisfaction.

As part of this initial step, compile a list of account segments — for example, all small and medium-size customers or accounts in a specific industry with similar needs — and plot them on a two-by-two matrix. Try to keep it fairly simple: too many segments or undefined segments can create chaos. Be clear about which segments offer the highest value to the business, even reviewing a few examples to see past purchase history, current opportunities in the pipeline, and other key indicators of buyer propensity. 

EY - Think more deeply about segmentation
EY - Think more deeply about segmentation

Through an inside-out perspective, consider whether the segment can be served with low-touch or high-touch interactions by looking at the horizontal axis. On the vertical axis, determine the expected revenue of those sales interactions (in other words, the segment’s total customer value). The objective is not to lock an account into one channel over another; the most powerful option is to drive an intentional hybrid strategy.

3. Rethink and optimize each sales role

Each channel likely requires its own processes, metrics and reward structures. You have to be deliberate about the products and services you offer within the channel, the experience you want to deliver, and how you enable it. Here are some considerations within all four channels.

Field sales reps should be focused on breakout deals — those that are larger, high-value and lucrative, where complexity is high and therefore more worthy of the face-to-face approach. Also, some companies with strong office cultures will likely want to retain in-person interactions with reps, and field service will remain just as important in a consultative environment (examining onsite equipment and inventory, for instance). Yet today, most field sales organizations have too many customers, and as a result, some of them are underserved — in effect, getting the least out of your more costly resources.

Inside sales reps are well-positioned to drive deals at the mid-market level with moderate complexity — potentially covering four or five times as much what a field service can, as these segments don’t require as much hands-on care. Moving underserved customers from field service reps to inside sales reps represents an opportunity to strengthen relationships and grow the pipeline while reducing costs.

Digital sales/e-commerce should be positioned as the go-to resource for self-service capabilities, leveraging guided selling to serve smaller customers with less complex needs — for example, repeat sales, sales of consumables, simple goods and SaaS subscription renewals. Again, this is a chance to cut costs, but when done properly, e-commerce has the added benefit of improving the customer experience.

Also, a strong sales ops organization can help provide your core sales team with insight and analytics about particular customers, such as which sales motions and communications strategies are preferred. Your salespeople are more effective when they’re out selling, not looking at contracts and past orders.

Meanwhile, channel partners (such as distributors or value-added resellers) quickly enable you to gain better coverage where you’re lacking — for example, to expand internationally. Engaging a channel partner requires a balance of coverage measured against control and cost: through these alliances, you give up control over the messaging, pricing and access to the end customer, and you’re sacrificing some amount of margin.

4. Smooth out the consumer transitions

As you move customers into new channels, you don’t want different representatives making calls to the same customer contact: have a joint call where the field sales resource introduces the inside sales professional, for example. In an initial period of three to six months, keep the field sales rep engaged until the inside sales resource builds the trust and understands the customer agenda, and address concerns as they surface. And be alert for signs that you’ve pushed virtual and digital selling too hard and lost sight of what’s most important: building trust with customers.

In the end, do not assume that what happened in 2020 was a momentary blip and that everything will go back to “normal.” For too many companies, “normal” is not worth aspiring to. Strive for greater: greater service, greater efficiency and greater satisfaction.


Evaluation and segmentation, combined with fresh thinking on the roles you need in each channel, can help you deliver better service across your diverse customer base while creating opportunities to trim costs.

About this article

By Brian Goonan

EY Americas Business Consulting Sales and Service Leader

An accomplished management consulting executive with 18 years’ experience in developing and assist in implementing strategic initiatives at Fortune 1000 firms.

Related topics Consulting Customer Digital