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02 April 2020 7 min read

Sell your way through, and beyond the crisis

Ric Dudley

Ric Dudley
Director | Products and services | London

The economic effects of Covid-19 are being felt hard and they are likely to get worse before they get better. Organisations are looking inward, investments are being paused and people are scared. This in turn puts severe pressure on any company’s top line and - by extension - its sales force. The economic reality, along with the practical reality of lockdown measures, mean that carefully planned sales strategies, operating models, ways of working and revenue plans have become obsolete in a matter of weeks. Customers are no longer available, channels are decimated through social distancing and sellers are facing uncertain futures. Sales leaders need to respond strongly to navigate through. And they need to be thinking and acting on three separate horizons: 

1. Now: Keeping the sales engine running to safeguard revenue and relationships 

  • Pivot to virtual selling — Travel bans and social distancing means you have no option but to make a success of turning your frequent fliers into effective inside sellers. This means getting your customer engagement approach, messaging, training and infrastructure stood up efficiently and quickly.  

  • Protect the base — No doubt there will be pockets of opportunity, but hunting new business has gone from challenging to borderline impossible. Organisations need to understand where revenue streams are greatest, potential the highest and relationships the deepest then coalesce the whole company around them. Retaining your most important customers has to be the priority. 

  • Keep engaging with your customers — They need to know that you are there and that you care. Agree on a consistent set of Covid-relevant key messages for your sellers to keep up the regular communication. Look to build a sense of community, connecting your customers with your wider networks – we are in this together. 

  • Prioritise the pipeline — It is likely that all opportunities in your current funnel could be at risk and now is the time to rapidly re-qualify. Focus on late stage deals and work out what it is going to take to help your customers move those opportunities through the last mile. If you don’t have one already, now is the time to establish a senior, cross-functional Deal Desk, able to rapidly triage opportunities, assigning the resources it takes to get them over the line. 

  • Engage the sales force — Your sellers are in a world of uncertainty and pain. Field sales have to become virtual sellers, inside sellers have to work remotely, targets that were stretching before now look unachievable. Look after them so they can look after your customers. 

2. The foreseeable future: Re-align strategy, resources and propositions to the new normal 

  • Pause, re-assess and re-plan — Scope the new normal and as a priority analyse and re-segment your customer base. Which markets and customers are most affected by Covid-19, which are not? How has buying behaviour changed? How will this impact the likely spend for your products and services? Which are the risky renewals? Be ruthless in your new customer segmentation, and move focus, resources and quotas to those markets. 

  • Re-configure routes to market — Based on your Covid-19 segmentation re-balance field, partner, phone, digital and self-serve channel mix appropriately according to where the value now lies. Territories can be re-optimized free of geographical considerations and when sizing your newly available channels, you should prescriptively re-allocate field seller time saved due to travel reductions. 

  • Accelerate Digital — Every single sales leader should be thinking about how they digitally enable their Go-to-Market motions and offer self-service selling geared towards their smallest accounts and prospects. Extend this to simple products and simple sales motions for larger customers (you will need intelligent lead routing so enquiries from high value prospects don’t bypass human interaction). Either way the experience needs to be seamless; Don’t permit drops, don’t lose precious sales to the competition who have a better end-to-end digital capability. 

  • Re-frame your offer — Does what you are selling still speak to your customers’ needs in these times? While your underlying portfolio of products and services is likely to remain relevant to customers, how you position them will need to change. New value propositions and win-themes should be developed to make them relevant in a Covid-19 world. Marketing and Sales enablement teams will need to provide sellers with the support they need, funded through T&E re-purposed from top of funnel events and travel. 

  • Automate — Economic realities mean you will likely need to be running a leaner operation throughout the crisis. Intelligently automating high volume, simple activities (e.g. in Sales Support) will free resource up for where it is needed most – front line selling. 

  • Focus on seller productivity — Moving to remote, virtual working risks a drop-off in productivity. Where the type of activity might change, the amount should not and arguably with travel time freed up, activity should increase. Sellers need to be more proactive than ever and the quality, and value, in every interaction must go up. Sales leaders should consider introducing measurement and metrics around quality and activity with team performance dashboards shared (and potentially gamified) to keep remote sellers informed. 

3. Beyond Covid-19: Planning a different future, for you and your customers 

When the Covid-19 crisis finally ends it is likely that the world you operate in will be changed forever. Markets will be transformed as will your routes to them. Your customers will be focused on the priority here and the urgent now, but someone has to think about what their business needs to look like when we emerge on the other side. How can they be ready, efficient and fighting fit for the new normal? During this time you should be refining your ambitions for your customers, not quarantining them. And when demand does ramp back up, the digital channels and intelligently automated processes you put in place will be critical to making the most of that opportunity. 

There is a saying that goes something along the lines of “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Now is the time to shine. Choreographing these three horizons concurrently will take vision, determination, empathy, resilience and a lot of analytics. This is the task and the ask of sales leaders in these times. The good news is that buyers are more likely to reach out when the world is uncertain and risky and complex, that is the world we are living in now.  The companies that adjust more rapidly are those that will come out of this current crisis not only least affected, but best placed to succeed. You need to ensure that those companies are your customers, and that you are central to that outcome. Not just to survive, but to thrive. It’s what they value, it’s what they will remember. How you act now is how you will be defined in the weeks, months, years to come. It will be the making of your reputation and your future success will depend on it. 

Reach out to Ric Dudley if you would like to explore any of these suggestions further or would like to discuss how to make them work in your organisation.