The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated business globally. This unforeseen calamity has wreaked havoc upon most salespeople’s pipelines and opportunities. In a recent poll of over 400 sales professionals (Richardson-SPI public webinar, April 20, 2020: “Solution Selling Transformed: How Sales Teams Win in Uncertain Times”), 97 percent reported that at least some of their customers and prospects have delayed or canceled purchase decisions due to the pandemic – over 80 percent reported that more than a quarter of their opportunities have been negatively impacted. Four percent of salespeople, competing in heavily affected industries such as travel and hospitality, indicated that all of their sales opportunities have been cancelled or delayed.
Despite these setbacks, salespeople need not despair. Sales momentum can be recovered, as we approach the second half of the year. With the right adaptations, some agility and a focused effort, sales leaders can still make this a successful year for their organization.
First, it is important to realize that despite the current instability, most of the world’s economies are beginning to recover, albeit unevenly across regions and industries. According to ongoing research by McKinsey, the vast majority of business leaders anticipate a steady recovery through the end of the year. Though it may not feel like it now, these are not the worst of times. Buyers remain highly risk-averse and cautious about their purchase decisions, but their hesitancy to buy is beginning to thaw. Sales leaders can still attain respectable levels of sales productivity by taking the right actions now.
Do the math. Make sure your sales managers and their teams take off the rose-colored glasses and assess their situation honestly. What are your current close rate, average deal size, and sales cycle time? Based on this information, how many opportunities do you need to close in the second half of the year, and do you have enough opportunities in your pipeline to recover any gap within the required timeframe?
If you don’t have enough opportunities, there are several things you can do:
- Get more opportunities in your pipeline. The business issues confronting buyers are likely much different than they were at the beginning of the year. Sellers must recognize this and adapt their messaging to reflect the current reality. If increasing marketing spend to create these messages is not a possibility, then enable your salespeople to be better micro-marketers and create their own opportunities, focused on helping customers to overcome their current challenges. Sellers need to be able to stimulate buyer interest, without waiting for leads to be generated for them.
- Expand the size and scope of the current opportunities in the pipeline. Aggressive cross-selling and upselling activity, especially in current customer accounts, can help to expand current sales pipelines. Assess the potential of each account and identify low-hanging fruit using White Space Analysis. This looks at current business drivers and initiatives in an account and helps to identify opportunities to create more value. You can then establish action plans and provide coaching to win this new business.
- Close a higher percentage of opportunities. To do this, first get an accurate assessment of your opportunities and their readiness to close, and then create an action plan to win each of them. This can be accomplished quickly using the Successful Sales Formula, which analyzes opportunities in six dimensions – Pain, Power, Vision, Value, Collaboration, and Compelling Reason to Act. When the right combination of these factors exists, you have a very high probability of winning that business.
Mid- to Long-Term
It is difficult to think long-term when you are falling behind. However, if you don’t take some measures to treat the root causes of sales challenges, you will always be playing catch up. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Develop a suitable demand generation strategy to get enough opportunities to make your number, not only through the end of the year, but in anticipation of a return to normalcy beyond.
- Verify that your sales processes are aligned with how your buyers buy and then manage with discipline and consistency in sales process execution. This will help improve forecast accuracy, enable sales managers to analyze pipelines and identify selling skill deficiencies, and also develop tailored coaching plans for each salesperson.
- Create sales enablement playbooks to replicate success more effectively, and embed these tools into your CRM workflow, so that they will be used more consistently.
- Get your talent right. Get rid of unproductive dead weight. Then, determine the skills and behaviors that make your best people successful. Leverage this knowledge to hire and develop high performing people across your entire team.
Managing Your CEO and Peers
Managing your CEO/President and your peers on the executive team while you are in recovery is a very important but often overlooked challenge. Sales leaders are in a tough spot and might be tempted to rationalize why they are where they are. Resist such temptations, and instead be completely transparent about this unprecedented situation, and have a clear plan to address what’s happening. If you’ve got bad news, but also know what you’re going to do about it in both the short and mid- to long-term, then you can clearly articulate your plan and stand behind it. Many sales leaders have formed cross-functional teams to find practical answers to the challenges of the pandemic. Missing sales goals is not always just a sales problem.
You can make this a great year. Now, go make it so!