As the negative business effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are very much amongst us, many sales leaders are faced with a tough choice: drive as many sales as possible today or prepare for the future. Most sales leaders are trying to do both, of course, but the intense pressures they’re feeling as economies around the world pull back which in turn has an effect on the Maltese economy, many times creates an urgency to focus on the short term.
That sense of urgency has led some companies, board of directors, business owners and even CFOs to try to recapture lost revenues by increasing targets for their sales teams. Since many of these targets are unrealistic, they can only have one result – to further demoralise sales teams that are already reeling from the negative effects on their sales that the pandemic brought about. Do yourself a favour and do not do that. Your sales team need support and not condemnation.
As I keep repeating, the focus on short-term performance in meeting targets and forecasts, achieving growth and closing deals is understandable. But it should not be the primary focus. All the research out there points at having sales leaders use this time to invest in their sales teams. This can be done by thoughtfully building up their psychological health and capabilities whilst ensuring that their teams are ready to leap ahead of competitors as the economy recovers.
To support their teams and get ready for the recovery, sales leaders would do best to seriously consider the following:
- Reset and adjust expectations around scenarios
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on 2020 revenue targets. Sales leaders need to acknowledge that meeting the original targets may be almost impossible and then set more realistic expectations (which will, of course, vary by sector).Given the uncertainty around any eventual economic recovery, companies should consider basing their new targets on a set of different scenarios. This approach will allow rapid and realistic adjustments to revenue expectations as scenarios shift in response to leading indicators and milestones such as the reopening of key markets. Once companies define the range of scenarios and the revenues achievable in each, they should then break them down into realistic sales targets for business units and individuals. If possible, business-unit sales plans should be adjusted from the bottom up to identify territories and accounts with the most revenue potential. Similarly, individual performance plans and development goals should be updated to motivate sales reps to a reasonable level of performance while holding them accountable for their performance.
- Rethink bonuses and incentives
Many sales reps receive a significant portion of their remuneration from commissions. A prolonged downturn will inevitably hit their income. Companies can help by doing two things: first, provide immediate financial security, and second, realign incentives for the longer term. For example, companies can shift their reward systems toward behaviors that will support the recovery process – take the financial services industry, clients may not be readily signing up for new financial products during this period of uncertainty. Financial services companies can shift a greater portion of their incentive systems to reward new client leads (rather than new customers). This ensures that the front of the sales funnel is fully loaded with qualified leads that are ready to be converted and helps keep sales reps optimistic for the next phase.
- Invest in sales-force capabilities for the recovery
The vast majority of B2B companies have shifted their go-to-market model during COVID-19 toward digital and remote selling. Two-thirds of B2B decision makers surveyed believe that their new model is as effective, if not more so, than previous models. Looking ahead, B2B companies expect digital interactions to be two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions. With this profound shift to digital, companies need to be thoughtful about what skills their reps need to succeed in this digital remote reality. Investing time and money in building up their skills tells sales reps unequivocally that they are important and valued, while also priming them to succeed in the digitally driven recovery. One critical area of focus is around using data and insights to make better selling decisions. Some companies are investing in training their reps on how to use AI tools, for example, that provide next-product-to-buy recommendations so they can better cross-sell or upsell.
- Revamp tools and processes to support your salespeople
Research has long been indicating that B2B buyers value three things above all from their sellers: speed, transparency and expertise. Sales leaders should therefore take the time to realign their sales operations (tools, systems, and processes) to equip their sales force to deliver on these needs.For companies that have switched to virtual selling, codifying successful sales plays can help sales reps across the organisation learn quickly and put into practice what works. Companies should realign sales processes so that the sales force can replicate them at scale. For example, virtual sales require the same discipline and standardization as face-to-face sales. Sales leaders should set expectations on what the standard operating model should be in this new environment, literally spelling out what Monday to Friday should look like for reps—for example, how much time they should spend generating new leads and how much connecting with existing customers. Sales leaders can also help reps master the details of the virtual sales process through active coaching about, for example, how best to use social platforms such as LinkedIn to generate leads, or how to use sales materials to follow up a virtual meeting in order to increase conversion rates.
- Provide leadership with vision and clarity
It may be a cliché to say that leadership is crucial in a crisis, but too often sales leaders fall short. The best sales leaders focus not only on communicating a clear vision of where the organisation needs to go but also on demonstrating a commitment to their people. Communication is particularly important now when uncertainty levels are rather high. Sales leaders should take pains to communicate at a strategic as well as personal level. Leaders can get ahead of their sales force’s concerns by being transparent about the company’s overall outlook and by sharing and celebrating wins. It is important to be authentic and keep communications from becoming stale. Additionally, sales leaders should take the opportunity to connect with their sales teams on a personal level. Leaders need to support their sales teams by having one-to-one interactions via email, phone or Zoom/Teams at least. In many cases, these calls can include coaching to help salespeople improve their performance. And don’t forget to try to have fun. Informal meetings or inviting outside speakers to talk about topics unrelated to business are important to maintaining morale.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis has slashed demand. Sales leaders need to actively balance both short- and long-term performance. But in managing around the current crisis, they need to have a clear understanding of the diminishing returns of some short-term activities and instead invest in their people so they’re ready for the recovery. At the end of the day, the whole company with its top leadership needs to be supportive of its Sales people. These are difficult times for everyone.
At EMCS we speciliase in offering tailor made training solutions. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, if you want to explore how we can help you support your teams by upskilling them in such trying times.