Guiding Your Sales Teams Through the Coronavirus Episode Whilst Preparing for The Future
19 March 2020
Posted by: Andrew Hough
Whilst we are conscious that the Coronavirus outbreak is a public health issue with serious consequences for many in high risk groups, we cannot ignore the fact that the immediate and medium-term impact on business will be significant.
Following the prime minister’s announcement that people should avoid public gatherings and work from home, everybody is having to reconsider how and where they do business.
This puts salespeople, from leaders to front line sales teams, under pressure as they suddenly need to navigate new ways of connecting and working with prospects and clients. Some sectors (such as the leisure industry) will see a pause in normal trading altogether.
The economic impact and social disruption we are experiencing across the world is an unprecedented experience, although it is worth considering that the same was said of the financial crisis of 2008/9. That event along with things like this Coronavirus (COVID-19) underline that we are living in a global, ever more connected world and the impacts of globalisation and urbanisation have never been more stark.
What do we think will happen?
There are some critical lessons to learn from recent financial events, along with some important differences.
The difference economically is that the current situation is an acute economic shock, rather than a systemic financial crisis. Given the information currently available, the Association of Professional Sales predicts that unlike recent downturn's there will likely be a severe dip followed by a sharp recovery.
Some industries will need to adjust to new customers' behaviours that may become permanent. If companies take the opportunity to flex and adapt they will no doubt see advantages in lowered travel costs, time efficiencies and quicker ways of meeting environmental goals.
So after the critical time has passed we think we will see markets getting used to doing business using more technology in place of some traditional routes to market.
Where workers are on flexible contracts are shown to be vulnerable there may be demand for more safeguards, but even without that there will no doubt be many comparisons made regarding employers and how well they have looked after their people.
We know that there may be a pause in the growth of the economy, but it is unlikely that there will be a pause in sales targets and quotas.
How Do Companies Continue to Deliver In a Downturn?
Time and again it has been proven that it is organisations who adapt, get proactive and genuinely who connect with their market who come out best. Sometimes better than they started.
In terms of sales functions, they have built a culture based on professionalism, commercial acumen, a growth mindset and ethical behaviour. They are therefore able to react and adapt creatively to customer needs and they can challenge thinking and become true business assets to customers because they have built credibility and trust.
If their experience of their employer is that they are quickly supported, up-skilled and given the encouragement and expectation that they are problem solvers, they will respond in kind.
The APS global survey for sellers in 2020 shows some interesting insight that can help organisations in their decision making as we consider their top 4 concerns and priorities.
The ‘Ability to hit targets’ is the #2 priority for sales people because it impacts their # 1 concern which is the ‘ability to maintain work life balance’.
The #3 priority was ‘Earning Potential during 2020/21’. This includes the way their organisation has gone to market alongside how realistic their OTE and future commissions are.
Then as if to re-emphasise, the #4 priority for sellers in 2020 is ‘Professional and Personal Development’.
Now consider that training & development and a coaching culture is often the first to suffer in a downturn. Removing those opportunities could actually undermine your seller's engagement and experience in your organisation, actually becoming the catalyst for them to seek alternative sales roles when the economy flows once more.
If it is inevitable that earnings are going to be effected (which may be out of your control) but at the same time your sellers see proactive investment in them as individuals, their future career and as a reward and for their skill and effort in a crisis, when the economy starts to move it is more likely they will motivated to repay that will focus, effective activity and customer engagement.
Stalling such development initiatives could consequently underline any disenchantment between you and your sales people. It may be the most significant advancement they make during 2020.
Our studies show that time and again sales people return the loyalty and investment shown to them.
Think About The Targets You Are Setting
Companies will still have growth expectations to deliver to shareholders, which means it will be difficult to reduce targets, particularly with the potential of a quick rebound and hence a possibility to achieve near goal.
This is exacerbated when companies use the practice of "over-goaling", so the summation of their seller's individual goals is more than that of the company.
This practice currently results in what we saw in 2019 which was only 60% of sellers not hitting their particular quotas and the resulting impact on sales teams (especially when we consider their priorities from the survey) will be counter productive. This will not create the kind of behaviours that drive business out of a downturn.
We believe this this practice may rise in 2020, due to the Coronavirus affect and we urge business to avoid this were possible.
Can we train our way out?
Some reactions to a situation like this include to rolling out a programme of blanket online training. This may give some short term ‘tips’ but like much of sales training it won’t create the behaviours you need or increase your teams ability to adapt to the new landscape and changing behaviour of buyers.
Even in ‘business as usual’ we believe the training of this sort only has limited impact (see the article 4 reasons sales training fails).
Whilst the situation is severe we must have a clear head, stay positive and make sure we do all we can to stay balanced.
The fundamentals of the global economy are still relatively sound and there is cash supply within all economic system.
At the same time there will be a reluctance to spend cash as people look to balance a possible delay in revenues versus expenses and the uncertainty of how long this may continue.
That's where sellers who can be professional, proactive and customer-centric are critical. If they are motivated and able to adapt, connect and demonstrate how the needs of your customer align with those of theme as the supplier during this time.
They can create long term credibility and good will with your customer base.
If they are ethical and socially responsible they will protect your brand and help your business perform better now and as we recover.
Focusing on professional skills and behaviour means they will have a far better chance to help customers understand why buying "now" as opposed to deferring, helps them achieve their best interests will contribute to the speed of the recovery of the economy.
Call To Action
In the previous downturn around the 2000's many chose to remove sales people from the sales ecosystem, but in hindsight damaged customer relationships.
If you take this strategy on mass in this short term event, you would likely need to be hiring again very quickly. This is a costly process that would undermine your ability to engage with customers as they drive to make up for lost time in their businesses.
Retain the productive sellers you have.
You could double down on developing your sellers, using this time to provide them with learning pathways that develop their commercial acumen, quality of sales skill and customer centric behaviour. They in turn will feel valued as the key team that drives your business out the other side.
Find new ways to upskill and enhance seller capability.
We know all changes bring challenge, so you need also motivate them to go above and beyond.
We are seeing those who are given the opportunity to strive for professional status (and the recognition this brings), gain professional qualifications and access to leading edge sales skills and solution information -that that they can draw from as they need it - is bringing the long term improvement in sales ability and results that traditional methods are failing to do.
Give your sellers positive experience and that will flow through to a great customer experience.
If you would like to find out more about how to best guide and motivate your sellers through this time please contact our CEO - Andrew Hough at the Association of Professional Sales.