To maximize sales in today’s business environment, companies must determine when it’s best to interact digitally with customers – and when to emphasize in-person meetings, writes Susanne Adam, principal solution manager at SAP for wholesale distribution.


Susanne Adam

The wholesale distribution industry predominantly comprises mid-sized companies that offer innovative products and services. However, many of these companies have slowly adopted digital marketing and sales strategies leaving them behind in generating business in today’s digital world. Before the pandemic, in-person visits were the cornerstone of effective sales for wholesalers, but the landscape has rapidly transformed.

Protocols define which interactions are digital, which in-person, and who is responsible.

Today, businesses need to master combinations of virtual and face-to-face interactions with customers — the so-called Hybrid Sales Model.

There will be no way back to the old days; the future of sales is hybrid as stated by  McKinsey. Buyers are now used to digital sales and communication channels, backed by a new digital-savvy generation of employees. Wholesale distributors and other B2B companies must cater to customers who favor digital purchasing and opt for video calls over physical meetings while satisfying those who still prefer in-person interactions.

Embracing hybrid sales presents several challenges. Digital communication methods, including video meetings, necessitate distinct skills compared to traditional face-to-face meetings. Video meetings tend to be more focused and often involve presentations, whereas in-person meetings allow more interactions and discussions. Facial expressions, body language, and emotional signals require conversation partners to adjust their behavior accordingly. Replicating this level of understanding in online meetings proves challenging, if not impossible.


To cultivate digital sales skills, businesses have established specialized training and coaching programs. These initiatives focus on improving skills like active listening, effective written and verbal communication, use of messaging and meeting tools, and leveraging social media platforms. Other, simpler challenges, such as a stable internet connection, can significantly impact sales success when not managed accordingly. Connectivity issues disrupting sales meetings create a negative impact if they occur too frequently.

Recent years have led businesses to realize that finding the right balance between virtual and in-person interactions is no simple task. Questions to consider include how much digital communication is appropriate for a certain customer and whether or not the customer’s expectations are clear regarding the communication channels being used.

To address these considerations, some companies have created strict procedures for the entire customer journey to address these considerations. These protocols define which interactions are digital, which in-person, and who is responsible.


For instance, one protocol might determine that contract negotiations must happen face-to-face. Fixed procedures are advantageous as they allow better planning and setup of clear organizational responsibilities and communication lines. However, this approach might fail when those procedures are not differentiated enough, neglecting the need to address different customer groups with other methods. Sales reps should be allowed to react flexibly to address the needs of specific customers.

Similar to other sales activities, customer analytics and segmentation are key success factors for a successful hybrid sales approach. Relevant characteristics for clustering customers in this manner are the customers’ willingness to engage digitally and their preferred channels.

Depending on strategic goals, characteristics like customer revenue or size can further refine these groups, to which guidelines are assigned. Examples for such guidelines are “in-person contacts with large customers only,” “lead generation mainly digitally driven,” or “small customers use digital channels only.”  These guidelines streamline client interactions across the whole organization, benefiting the sales team and the marketing and support teams.


Once a company has mastered the challenges, it can take advantage of a hybrid sales strategy. In combination with internal sales reps managing digital meetings, reduced travel time for external sales teams frees up space for additional sales activities by external sales teams. Incentivizing less profitable customers to move to digital channels reduces sales costs.

Moreover, innovation-minded customers perceive vendors as innovative when  they meet the customers’ expectations regarding modern user experience.

Businesses must proactively define their hybrid sales strategy to navigate both digital and in-person channels effectively. Armed with a clear understanding of customer needs, potential challenges, and strategic objectives, companies can manage hybrid sales successfully and utilize them as a lever for growth.

Susanne Adam is a principal solution manager at SAP for wholesale distribution. She has worked with client companies on customer engagement strategy and various projects in the wholesale and retail industry. Follow her on X @susanneadam3.


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