A response to the 2020 Coronavirus
By Scott Peterson
Is your sales & marketing team ready for the economic restart?
While the United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases, President Trump is eager and determined to restart the economy and lift the social distancing restrictions (by May 1st). Whether that day comes in two weeks, two months, or two quarters, it is important that we each take a moment to ask ourselves one question: Is my sales & marketing team ready?
Given the dynamics of this global pandemic, a traditional approach to sales has been largely ineffective in today’s economic environment. In fact, in many industries, it has been down-right tone-deaf. However, we have started to see our clients transition from a defensive strategy (i.e. the health & safety of their employees, the fiscal responsibility of the firm, and securing & stabilizing clients) to a focus on offense (i.e. re-examining their sales & marketing strategy, digitizing their sales process, re-aligning their sales structure, and re-calibrating the key activities of their remote sales team). Business as we know it has changed. How have you changed? How has your competition changed? Most importantly, what are you doing to capitalize on the opportunity at this very moment?
This is my third time experiencing a recession as a sales professional. In 2001, I was an entry-level salesperson helping start a new segment in Boston. In 2008, I was leading and managing a large office of salespeople in San Diego. Now in 2020, I own a management consulting firm, specializing in sales, with active clients across a myriad of industries in Chicago. In each season of turmoil, focusing on the fundamentals, leveraging strengths, and controlling what you can control has been the difference maker in not just surviving, but truly thriving through the chaos and uncertainty.
Over the course of the last four weeks my team has dedicated our time to helping business owners and executive leaders navigate the rapidly-changing landscape of COVID-19. The conversations we’ve had with these leaders have inspired me to share our methodology and approach to leading a high-performing sales team in the midst of a global pandemic.
We have divided our “Sales Team Action Guide” into the following four sections:
1) Sales Strategy: Invest your time and energy on the “right” clients, prospects and people
2) Sales Process: Add value and build trust at each step of your sales process
3) Sales Structure: Specialize your sales team to maximize your sales strategy and process
4) Sales Management: Drive the right behaviors with the appropriate direction and support
Our mission as a firm is to cultivate growth in our community by maximizing the potential of individual and collective strengths. This guide is designed to help you capitalize on the competitive advantages of your organization and empower the unique talents of your employees.
We hope you find this resource valuable. Let’s all come out of the difficult time stronger.
Invest your time & energy on the “Right” Clients, Prospects & People
As is the case in any recession, certain industries and businesses are extremely well-positioned, while others are getting absolutely crushed, and others still (the vast majority) fall in the middle of the spectrum (see Top 100 Gaining & Declining Categories). For example, imagine that you own a company that sells toilet paper, hand soap & sanitizer, video conferencing technology, or kid’s craft projects. In any of these instances, you are drowning from demand and doing whatever it takes to fulfill the orders.
Now, imagine that your company sells luggage, birthday party decorations, or sunscreen. In the world of COVID-19, your sales have abruptly halted, forcing you to urgently reinvent how your products and services show-up in the marketplace (i.e. how can you fulfill the new needs and desires of your customers?).
In both of the cases, overreacting or under-reacting to the short-term situation could be detrimental to the health and longevity of your business. Moral of the story: Don’t lose track of your long-term strategy and position. In order to keep your sales team spending time with the “right” prospects and the “right” people as your company evolves, it’s critical that you do these three things:
1) Re-examine your “Ideal Client Profile”:
Over the last month, your existing clientele has provided you key information into your target market and how your products and services are showing up. Which of your clients are still buying? What do these “buyers” have in common? Do they align with your historical “Blue Chip” client profile? In addition, who has terminated their contract? And who is in a holding pattern, uncertain if they will return? Were these your historical “Graveyard” or “Dirty Money” clients?
Your “sales pipeline” is providing key insights to make decisions as well. For example, who is still moving forward in the sales process? Who is holding? Who has dropped out? All of this information is valuable and needs to be examined.
The ideal situation is that your immediate term, near-term & long-term strategies all align. That may not be your reality at the current moment. To navigate the complexity of our current market conditions, develop your immediate game plan without losing sight of your long-term strategy. Do your due diligence. Re-examine your “Ideal Client Profile” to prepare for the new normal.
2) Take an empathic approach with your “Key Stakeholder”
We all have added responsibilities (“jobs-to-be-done”) to our regular schedules over these last several weeks. For many, these responsibilities have included outfitting a remote workforce and leading and motivating a team via Zoom. For others, it’s been navigating the various options for relief available within the CARES Act and evaluating people and roles in preparation for a reduction-in-force. For many leaders, what was urgent and important prior to COVID-19 has shifted drastically.
Taking an empathic approach, put yourself in the shoes of the Key Stakeholder at your “Blue Chip” client and prospect. Create a list and power rank of all the responsibilities that are likely on that person’s “To-Do” list at this very moment. If your products and services don’t solve the problems that need to be solved at this very moment, it’s better to hold off than press forward. Find ways (even alternative ways of “selling”) to add value to your clients & prospects. Do it with empathy and care.
3) Align your messaging to your Key Stakeholder at your Blue Chip clients & prospects:
This financial crisis happened fast. The COVID-19 global pandemic shutdown business as we knew it within weeks. Early adopters made PR announcements on how they would manage the outbreak to protect their employees and customers (think Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, etc.). Next we saw a flood of free webinars as people were searching for information and turning to their most trusted brands and influencers for guidance.
On the other hand, there were (and still are) organizations with their “automated” sales campaigns still going, mass emailing their clients and prospects in a tone-deaf and brand-damaging way. Social media posts that were self-promoting instead of acknowledging the bigger issue. It was, and is, painful to watch.
Now is the time for “fewer is better”. Now is the time for customization vs. templates. Now is the time for human contact vs. automation. Now is the time to truly understand what your clients and prospects want and need and show up in a way that actually connects with them and supports them.
Add value and build trust at each step of your process
Whatever your sales process was…it’s different now. Your sales team is working remote. The Key Stakeholder at your “Blue Chip” prospect is balancing new and familiar responsibilities, all while trying to teach their 8th grader algebra. Introductory and discovery meetings are taking place on Zoom rather than in-person. Partnering with teammates requires extra coordination. Having a repeatable and streamlined process has always been important to closing business. However, now, digitizing your sales process will be the difference maker with winning or losing opportunities in the short-term (and market share in the long-run).
It’s safe to assume that the economic “restart” will be more of a drip than a flood. This translates to fewer opportunities to close new business. If you needed 100 “opportunities” to meet your original targets, how do you accomplish that same goal with 50% or 25% of your typical pipeline? You need a highly efficient and effective sales process that closes at a higher percentage.
Clearly define “what good looks like” at each stage of your sales process:
Even before we were forced into working from home, our team has seen tremendous variance in the sales process from salesperson to salesperson within the same organization. Now, with a remote salesforce, and “new” ways of doing business (video conference vs. in-person meetings), we are seeing the gap widen between the “Peak Performers” and the “Underachievers.” It is critical, now more than ever, for leadership to memorialize the steps of their unique sales process including the “Key Activities”, “Key Gives” & “Key Gets” at each step to make sure your salespeople are effectively advancing the right opportunities and disqualifying the wrong ones.
Below you will find our recommendations for the best practices of each stage of a traditional sales process: starting with the preparation required to identify your “Blue Chip” prospect all the way through delivering a “world-class customer experience”.
- Prospect: Has your “Blue Chip” Client profile changed? Or is it exactly the same? Either way, each salesperson needs to have their list of “Blue Chip” prospects (Top 10, 25, on-deck) who align with the demographics, psychographics and trigger events of your Blue Chip profile. This is a very simple step that is often missed. In addition, each salesperson should have the name and contact information for the Key Stakeholder(s) at each prospect.
- Connect: A tone-deaf approach in today’s market can have brand-damaging impact. Does your value messaging need to change? Has your cadence and medium for connection changed? As stated earlier: fewer is better; customization (vs. templates), and human contact (vs. automation) will win in today’s marketplace.
- Qualify: For years we’ve heard, “our prospects and clients won’t do video conferences”. Using Zoom’s stock price as one barometer and LinkedIn’s newsfeed as another, it’s safe to say that video technology has officially been adopted. The key now is making sure your salespeople can lead an effective virtual sales meeting. There are different elements to building rapport, giving and receiving information (both verbal and written) and incorporating additional key stakeholders in your discovery process.
- Propose: All too often, we see our clients emailing proposals rather than presenting them in-person (or over video). This allow their prospects to scroll to last page to see the pricing before trying to make sense of the solution. The best way to influence a buying decision is to control how your prospect consumes the information (and understands how that translates to the investment). Establish the expectations that ALL (every single) proposal should be presented to the Key Stakeholders over video. No if’s, and’s or but’s.
- Commit: Securing the “Yes” is more challenging than ever, as companies are only purchasing “essential” products & services. Wherever your products and services may fall in the current marketplace, it’s critical that you integrate all of your “Key Stakeholders” in your proposal and commitment stages, and that you leave your proposal presentation with a firm next step (a date in the calendar). Ideally, this next step is a “Final Proposal Review” where you expect a “Yes”, “No”, or “Not Yet” answer from your prospect. However, it could be an alternative interim step, like re-scoping a solution or adjusting a proposed timeline. Any prospect at the proposal stage without a next step in the calendar should not be counted on to close.
- Serve: Has your product or service changed? Has the mechanics of how you deliver for your clients changed? Regardless, salespeople are notorious for making promises that the delivery team has a tough time keeping. Has this gap widened for you? Now is the time to ensure that sales team knows exactly what is expected of them, including how they can set up your delivery team up for success. Short term wins are great, but only if they result with a happy customer who stays and grows with you over time, and speaks passionately about you in the marketplace.
Specialize your sales team to maximize your sales strategy & process
Despite our government’s attempt to keep much of the workforce employed with the stimulus package during this global pandemic, the Labor Department reported that almost 10 million people have filed for unemployment insurance over the past 2 weeks (link). For some companies, leadership has been forced to make painful cuts to key personnel. For others, it has been an opportunity to “right-size” their team by cutting underperforming and/or misaligned employees. In either case, organizational structures have changed significantly and those still employed likely picked up additional responsibilities.
For your sales team, this could mean new accounts to sell to (or manage), inherited “in-process” opportunities, new prospects to pursue, new territories, and/or new verticals. Even for the most disciplined and organized salespeople, all of this change can be tough to manage. Therefore, it is a critical (and opportune) time to realign your sales structure to maximize your sales strategy and process.
1) Specialize your sales team:
- By Role: Salesforce.com was the company who famously divided the sales role into four different positions: Business Development Rep (outbound prospecting), Market Response Rep (inbound leads / qualifying), Account Executive (closing qualified opportunities) & Account Manager (retaining and growing existing clients). In many organizations, the salesperson is responsible for all of these “jobs”, which creates bandwidth issues and inconsistencies in performance. The premise is to keep your “hunters” hunting and your “farmers” farming.
- By Geography: If you don’t have clear geographic territories for your salespeople, you are doing them a disservice. We’ve heard executive leaders try to recruit salespeople by saying “The world is your oyster” (i.e. you can pursue any target you want with no limitations). This approach incentivizes and drives the wrong behaviors. Historical sales data shows that it takes 7+ attempts to establish a connection with a prospect. If your salesperson has an endless prospect list, it’s unlikely that they will stay consistent with the same prospects. Instead of 7 attempts at 1 prospect, they will have 1 attempt at 7 prospects. Winning the “right” clients takes a disciplined approach and keeping your salespeople within a geographic territory will help them do just that.
- By Vertical: I heard this saying early in my career and it has stuck with me: “Know your industry. Know that you know. Be known for what you know.” By specializing in a particular vertical you learn more about less, become an expert about your field, meet more of the key people and influencers, and ultimately become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. It’s better to be a specialist rather than a generalist.
2) Clearly define roles:
Now that you’ve specialized your sales team, it is important to define where key responsibilities start and stop. Since you have already defined “what good looks like” at each stage of your sales process, it becomes easier to determine who is the “lead”, who is the “support”, and where the handoff takes place. Doing this effectively keeps your sales team playing to their strengths (while maintaining a healthy and balanced funnel). It also moves your prospects through the sales process faster, allowing you to win more of the right clients.
3) Re-define performance goals & expectations:
We learn a lot about our clients by asking each member on their sales team a simple question: “How do you know if you had a good day?” For organizations without clear goals and expectations this question leads to a long-winded, confusing answer. Salespeople often have the same response: “If I closed a new deal”. In most cases, closing a new deal isn’t a daily, weekly or even a monthly occurrence. Which would mean many bad days. Leadership often has a similar answer – results.
This emphasis on outcomes (i.e. wins and revenue), rather than the key sales activities, incentivizes and drives salespeople to produce wins — even if they are the wrong types of wins (“Graveyard” and “Dirty Money”). This is a detrimental approach in a normal business climate. Therefore, given the global pandemic, it is highly unlikely that this approach will generate results that is helpful in the short-term and healthy for the longevity of your business. The key to defining performance goals & expectations is focusing on the sales activities (ex. # of connections, # of meetings, # of key stakeholders within one prospect, etc.) that drive the right behaviors.
Drive the right behaviors with the appropriate direction & support
Even if you had a strong Q1, it’s likely that your 2020 forecast is now irrelevant. Chaos and uncertainty have been the two words we’ve heard the most among business owners these days. We don’t know how the Coronavirus will continue to spread. We don’t know how long we will be quarantined. We don’t know what the “new normal” will look like. All of this uncertainty, at this moment, makes any type of forecast an educated guess.
The best advice we’ve heard (and given) is to shrink everything down.
- Focus on what you can control: First and foremost, it’s important that you create an “Issues List” with your sales team, get everything down on paper and determine what is “in your control” and what is “outside of your control”. Focus on what you can control. Prioritize your plan of action. Execute.
- Shrink down your scorecard: Instead of a Quarterly (90 day) goal, set up a Monthly (30 day) goal. Your existing customers aren’t buying. Your “in-process” prospects have frozen or disappeared. Establishing an initial connection is harder than ever. Your sales team is discouraged and uncertain of what to do next. Above all else, you need to focus on incremental, bite-sized, momentum building sales activities to rebuild your sales funnel.
- Implement Daily Huddles: I grew up in an organization that had two daily huddles (8am and 3pm). We announced our goals in the morning and provided an update in the afternoon.This might sound like overkill but boy did we get stuff done. Given the rapidly changing business climate, your sales team needs more direction and support than ever before. We recommend maintaining your Weekly Sales Meetings and implementing a daily huddle to make sure your team is aligned on the key activities and highly productive.
- Build a game plan for each active client & in-process prospect: Every company has been affected by the Coronavirus in some way, shape or form. The reality is each company has been affected differently. This makes it especially important to work one-on-one with each salesperson and account manager to build a game plan for how to approach and communicate with each client and prospect. The goal is to have a firm next step in-place with each client and prospect that adds values to them in some way.
Now is the time to act!
You may be feeling fatigued from putting out fire after fire over these last few weeks. You may be feeling overwhelmed after reading our “sales guide”. You, like many others, may be hoping that sending your salespeople to a “virtual sales” training session will be the answer. The reality is, there is a tremendous amount of preparation required to have your sales team fully prepared for the economic restart.
Now is the time to move from defense to offense. It’s critical to re-examine your sales & marketing strategy and focus your efforts on the “Key Stakeholder” and your “Blue Chip” clients and prospects. It’s critical to digitize your sales process and “define what good looks like” at each incremental stage. It’s critical to re-align and specialize your sales team to maximize your strategy and process. It’s critical to recalibrate the key activities of your remote sales team to consistently drive the “right” behaviors.
While sales may not be top of mind at this moment, each and every day that your sales team is misaligned or underperforming, the future of your business is impacted. As the saying goes, in the midst of crisis lies great opportunity. Either you can capitalize on this opportunity or your competition will.