Matt Young: How COVID-19 Impacted Field Sales


PERSON OF THE WEEK: The last year and a half has been a challenge for many workers in the mortgage industry. Across the board, individuals and teams have been impacted in myriad ways.

Field sales has been particularly impacted, as face-to-face interaction is a critical element of successful sales. In an interview with MortgageOrb, Matt Young, senior vice president of sales at Enact (formerly Genworth Mortgage Insurance), discusses the challenges that the COVID-19 crisis created for field sales and what lessons have been learned.

Q: How did field sales change when COVID-19 first made headway into the US?

Young: At our company, the first priority in field sales was making sure all our employees and customers were safe. After establishing work-from-home setups, cutting travel and face-to-face interactions, sales goals and compensation had to be adjusted.

This was done by shifting sales compensation to a target versus a production-driven goal. Much thought was given to create a fair and equitable plan that drove the right sales behaviors, but did not incent salespeople to take risks with their and their customers’ health in an effort to achieve a sale.

We also had to consider specific cases. For instance, some sales reps covered areas where COVID-19 cases were extremely high, and all businesses were working remotely at 100% versus other regions where the office environment still existed.

In Michigan, for example, there were a significant number of cases and we wanted to ensure that reps in that state did not have less of an opportunity than someone covering Texas where the case count was lower.  As a result, we shifted to target pay based off of activities instead of production.   

Additionally, tactics to reach the customer changed to follow more of an inside sales approach by using automation tools, social media, and other virtual tools. Tactics like e-mail blasts and other marketing tools had to be adopted to meet the customers where they were, which for many, was at home. From a management perspective, everything turned virtual. From training to team communication, it was all done online. Communication levels were ramped up in an effort to reduce isolation. 

Q: How did customer interactions change?

Young: Pre-COVID, everything was face-to-face. Field sales executives spent their time on planes and in cars, always on the go. Interactions varied from in-office meetings to dinners and so on. Conferences also were fully packed. If the customers were there so were the sales folks.

Once the lockdowns were announced, Zoom and Microsoft Teams became our main avenues for communication. Sales executives had to get creative with their approach and also be very selective with which conferences to participate in virtually since not all fostered interactions in the virtual environment. The sales team had to rely heavily on technology and reaching out to customers and prospects in a different way. Automation tools helped with achieving that, reaching a lot of people at once, and keeping them updated and engaged. 

Q: Now that businesses are opening up and events and conferences are making a comeback, how has the sales environment changed?

Young: First and foremost, we are not throwing out what we learned during the pandemic, but lightly treading back into pre-pandemic behaviors. Although there’s been a significant drop in cases, COVID-19 still exists. While life in general is starting to feel a bit more normal, or how it was pre-pandemic, it is still vital to be cautious when transitioning back to face-to-face meetings with customers and prospects.

In doing so, we created transitionary guidelines such as checking temperatures before meetings, not sharing cars, dining is an option but keeping groups small, always wearing masks, only visiting one customer at a time, and having a designated wait time between customer visits. Field sales executives were and continue to be tasked with keeping up on local and customer restrictions as they continue to evolve. 

Q: What are some of the most important lessons and learnings Sales teams can take into the future?

Young: Although production is always important when it comes to sales, employees truly value working for an employer that puts their needs first and ensures they are safe versus putting people at risk to meet their quota. The pandemic forced us to look at field sales differently and made us incorporate tools that helped in the moment and will likely help in the future. 

Communications and virtual tools helped us tremendously in reaching each other, as well as our customers and prospects. We learned that many tasks can be completed just as effectively virtually as they are in person. On the other side of the coin, we learned that after 18 months of the virtual world, the value of face-to-face interactions is real.  

While the world is not likely to ever return to how it was pre-pandemic, we and others will need to adjust to the new reality and do our best with the hybrid approach that is now synonymous with field sales.

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