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Finding Stability in Sales in 2020

For a moment, it appeared that the second half of 2020 would mark a return to normalcy. This has not been the case. The first weeks of July saw the spread of COVID-19 reach record highs in the US, and this resurgence has renewed fears. The expert outlook on the economy and the state of public health continues to change, causing heightened uncertainty.

For sales leaders, findings like this are self-evident. The sense of uncertainty is palpable among team members who struggle to strategise for unknowable third and fourth quarters.

Despite this, selling organisations must find a way forward. To enjoy the eventual recovery, sales leaders need to equip their team to survive the present. Therefore, embarking on the next two quarters of 2020 means developing the resilience demanded by the new environment. Leaders need to provide the stability and support that is lacking in the business setting. As a result, sales professionals will be able to prevail by helping customers find unseen opportunities to restore their confidence in the future.

We believe this path is possible if leaders commit to three key practises as they enter the second half of 2020. Importantly, these three practises can be enacted right now, when they are needed most.

Redefine Success

Leaders need to set new revenue targets and clearly communicate what success looks like. In many cases, this means revising the budget. Here, it is important for the CEO and the CFO to get involved. The executive team needs to pinpoint revenue goals that are realistic and sustain the business. As revenues become right-sized, it is inevitable that costs will also need to be revised downward.

While driving down costs is necessary, it is important that leaders avoid the trap of short-termism. Consider research published in the Harvard Business Review, showing that 86% of surveyed board members and C-suite executives believe that “using a longer time horizon to make business decisions would positively affect corporate performance in a number of ways, including strengthening financial returns and increasing innovation.” Despite this, an analysis from The University of Western Ontario shows that “roughly 80 percent of managers admit that they would willingly sacrifice long-term performance to smooth earnings or meet a short-term earnings target.” This disconnect should serve as a warning. A short-term approach undermines long-term success. Cut, but cut wisely and with a long-term perspective to balance the short-term needs.

Leaders must also redefine incentives to reward high performance in the second half. Doing so means pressure testing the assumptions and data underpinning your original target. For example, sales leaders will likely need to start from scratch with their data on average deal size, sales cycle duration, and win rate. For most businesses, the fallout from the pandemic occurred largely in the second quarter. Therefore, as leaders continue to navigate a pandemic that has not yet peaked, they should examine any bright spots, no matter how few, in the second quarter as indicators of vertical industries, regions, subsegments, and specific clients that might be promising in the changed landscape.

Finally, it remains important to celebrate all wins, big and small, to rebuild momentum. Sales professionals need to know that every inch of advancement makes a difference.

Adjust Your Value Proposition and Messaging

We all know ROI means return on investment. Now it also means “Rapid Operating Impact.” Ask yourself how your solution will impact your client’s business in the next 90 days. Will it increase revenue, reduce costs, or lessen risks? If you can’t answer these questions, your client can’t either.

Moreover, having answers to these questions allows sales professionals to clearly define the cost of inaction in quantitative terms. This exercise helps the customer understand what they stand to lose if they delay or avoid taking the next step. Put simply, loss aversion is a powerful motivator because most people want to avoid a loss more than they want to seek an equivalent-sized gain. When the customer pushes the purchasing decision further down the timeline, they are only delaying the benefits.

Effectively articulating the cost of inaction also requires sales professionals to align themselves to the customer’s new priorities in the back half of the year because everything in your client’s world is changing rapidly. The customer needs to see why there is a cost associated with a delay of action on their current needs. Make no assumptions about their goals and priorities. In fact, the changes seen today are so towering in scale and far-reaching that they are impacting dormant clients, lost leads, and stale opportunities that may have previously been seen as out-of-play. Revisit these conversations. In doing so, many sales professionals will discover that these stakeholders are suddenly in need of a solution.

With a careful questioning strategy, sales professionals will learn where the customer is seeing success. This insight reveals the specific ways in which the solution can be positioned as a way to build on those successes.

Reinvigorate the Team

Reinvigorating the team means building their resilience. This is no small task. Businesses across all industries are suffering. As a result, even top-performing sales professionals will experience more losses than they are accustomed to. Each of these losses, like so many stones in a sack, becomes a burden that can weigh team members down. Therefore, you must flex your EQ as a leader by remembering that pandemic challenges stretch beyond the workplace.

Ensure you are caring for the whole person, not just the salesperson. Difficulties stemming from childcare and shared workspaces have made an already difficult job more challenging. The leader’s focus on the team’s well-being is important because it boosts morale, which, in turn, sustains the collective effort of the team. In the economy of today, effort is more important than ever in winning the sale. As University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth explains in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, “As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”

Effort, however, does not mean focusing purely on quantity. Instead, leaders must remember that quality is more important than quantity. Generic, high-volume messaging and loosely tailored business cases will not work in this environment. The reason: as capital becomes tight, the decision-making power shrinks and moves upward. In other words, fewer people have purchasing authority, and those within this sphere reside higher on the corporate ladder. Therefore, teams need to refresh their skills for addressing the CFO and CEO because they are now more involved than ever.

Finding the way forward has never been more difficult because the road ahead is unclear. Despite this uncertainty, leaders must formulate a strategy that addresses teams increasingly characterised by diminished morale. By redefining success, adjusting your value proposition, and reinvigorating the team, leaders can adapt.

Each of these three practises can be adopted today. This speed is to the leader’s advantage as we embark on the second half of a year, which promises to be just as volatile as the last three months.

About the Author

As Chief Sales Officer, Steve Dodman leads Richardson’s global sales organization, providing leadership, direction, and an executive vision to ensure alignment with the company’s financial and strategic goals.

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