Sales teams are on the front lines of any economic downturn. Now, as new COVID waves keep coming in and unemployment remains high, the economy seems to be faltering, even as the stock market sees record highs.
Heading into the end of 2020, the strangest year in memory for many, sales leaders are wondering this: To what extent should I be staying the course, and to what extent should I throw out convention and take a new approach?
Jen Munoz, a digital sales and marketing coach at IMPACT, explains the advice she’s giving to clients, and reminds us to focus on two familiar things — process and people — but in a new way.
The state of sales in COVID-19
John: How are sales leaders feeling right now?
Jen: I think that the word unprecedented is overused, but what we're going through has not been experienced in over a hundred years.
There’s no textbook or case study on how to react. Sales teams who are on the front line of this every single day have to be feeling both the pressure to perform and the pain of not knowing what's around the corner, and that can be very scary.
John: If sales leaders feel like the strategy they had no longer applies, are they right?
Jen: It varies. On one hand, we have companies who are not "COVID-proof." They are struggling and going out of business or are just hemorrhaging money. On the other side, we're seeing companies who have either completed a pivot or have found a windfall in this market.
These opposites are leaving sales teams scratching their heads and with razor thin margins of error to perform.
So for those sales leaders who are operating in a pandemic, but are finding themselves on the windfall side, there probably isn't a need to change their strategy.
However, for others, this entire year is one big pivot. So there's no bad time to create disruption in your business on new information.
John: How can companies use data to help themselves chart a new course?
Jen: Traditionally this means looking at speed to sale and conversion rate, but if sales leaders only look there, they might be missing out on new and emerging products or needs or even customer behavior that they haven't seen before.
There may be new behaviors that they need to recognize and meet. There may be new educational needs and their sales cycle might need to be longer.
For example, if we learn that buyers are now unexpectedly engaging with up-sell opportunities on a very obscure product, we need to put a plan in place to start measuring and taking advantage of that — instead of waiting until the end of the quarter or putting it on a roadmap.
John: That goes back to the idea of that this the year of pivots.
Jen: This is the “year of the pivot.” It's uncomfortable, but accepting the pace, experimenting constantly, and changing our mindset is how we will all collectively survive — in business and in life.
Focus point: perfecting your processes
John: So, what do sales leaders need to focus on going into the end of 2020?
Jen: Even though the times are different, what sales leaders need to focus on remains the same: sales processes and people.
So let's break down processes. A lot of companies unabashedly will say that they really don't have a sales strategy, they just have really great sales performers: They do their job great!
That’s the wrong mindset. So, the first step would be mapping out what your most successful sales process looks like. Once that’s done, take a hard look to see if that process actually serves you and your team.
Would there be ways that you could automate or eliminate friction, save time, or remove redundancies?
Is there a way that we can make the process more dynamic? These are normally things that we would do at the end of the year, say October or November, for the next coming year, but we don't have time to wait.
Also, remember that the sales process should not be completed in a bubble. Take down barriers and bring in ideas from other teams.
John: Can you give me an example of an outcome of this sort of introspection? You said removing friction and reducing redundancies. What does that actually look like in practice?
Jen: One of the challenges that you see in the sales process is that, in the handoff between BDR and sales rep, knowledge may or may not get transferred. Maybe there's no process in place for it. This creates friction and redundancy because we have the prospect answering the same questions twice.
We are wasting time by repeating ourselves and not increasing trust with the customer. This affects the prospect but also creates friction and resentment between the sales rep and the BRD, too.
John: This sounds like it might be very common.
Jen: It's very common and that's just one area. Examining your strategy can lead to serendipitous discoveries — if we really get out our magnifying glass, understand what our process is, and then specifically hunt for redundancies and friction.
If you are willing to admit that your process is not perfect, then you will find effective ways to significantly improve your current strategy.
John: So, how do people get started on this?
Jen: In the simplest form, it starts with someone saying there is a problem. You need to have an open-minded workforce who can “live in the solution” and approach the problem with a sense of urgency.
If you have that, then you're ready to move on to step two —for the senior leadership or VP of sales to take a hard look at what the current strategy looks like in practice by having all of your sales reps write down their process. They're going to hate it, but they have to write it down. We have to be able to come together and say, this is what we do step by step.
Writing it down is how we start seeing the application of the process. Immediately, the low hanging fruit will become evident.
Then, you can start to make it better. What should you stop, start, or keep? What can top-selling sales pros share with their bottom-selling colleagues? The top selling person might be able to look at the bottom selling person and say, “Hey, here's some things you're wasting your time on. And here are things that are just not needed at all.”
This allows the walls to come down for everyone to be better, as long as ego doesn't get in the way.
Focus point: aligning your team
John: So, what about the second thing: People?
Jen: So the first part ends with how are the people are working with the process. Next we look at the people who can implement our plan. Company survival hinges on openness and vulnerability.
There will be a percentage of people who will be resistant to doing something new. They’ll say their sales numbers are great, or that it’s been a tough month.
But what they’re really saying is “I don't think what you're asking me to do is important.”
In any time of change, we will find people who are willing to adapt and pivot with us and also people who may be holding us back. In these times we are only as strong as our weakest link. And if our weakest link is saying this is stupid, I'm not doing it, that becomes a cancer to the other members and to team cohesion — and it can hurt the whole company’s chances of survival.
But if we're looking at process and eliminating things, we must do the same for our people.
Do we have the right people in place?
Are they in the right role?
If they are being resistant, why are they being resistant?
Do they need more education?
Do they understand the magnitude of the situation?
If we continue meeting resistance, then we need to make some tough decisions. Are there people that may be holding us back from being successful?
John: It makes you wonder, who's the worse employee: Someone who's not meeting their numbers or someone who is meeting their numbers, but is resistant to change?
Jen: That's exactly right. It's important for everyone to have the test of, would you hire this person again?
A lot of times, it's very healthy to have a contrarian in the group, but we must look at the difference between a contrarian who is only trying to play the devil's advocate to make sure that what we're doing is right, and those who just seek to obstruct or grandstand.
If they're simply being resistant for the sake of being resistant, they can pull the entire organization down.
John: So again, what does step one look like for aligning your team?
Jen: Step one is almost the same step as above: do we have open minds? Do we have a unilateral harmony of what needs to be done and how we're going to do it? Do we have any people who are resistant right now? If so, let's take a look at that.
What we also might do for the people is really look at those sales numbers. And while the numbers are not necessarily indicative of performance, they can help us see who might most benefit from mentoring.
So, step one is presenting the sales team with the new plan and hearing their feedback, then going through to find the people who are confused or who are being resistant and then addressing each of them one by one.
If we're doing a major pivot in the company, is this person truly in the right sales seat? Maybe we've discovered that they really love customers and they should be an account manager. Maybe they should be nurturing customer accounts instead of bringing in new accounts. Maybe they're really good at one area of the sales process that could be really vital to us in the future, like customer retention and contract renewals.
So then instead of letting this person go, we would be moving their seat into somewhere where they could serve the company better. They'd be happier. And we've now just discovered a new talent within the team.
But if we find resistance and we don’t find a better place for that person’s talents, then we have to make some tough decisions. Business is never easy — and that’s because often you have to make tough decisions that you might otherwise choose to avoid.
If we look at the consequences of not making these decisions, you realize how much it can hold you and every other member of the company back.
Then step two is take action. The sooner you take action, the better.