The world of sales is rapidly changing, and along with the impact caused by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic will have on how we sell, it is imperative we start planning and adapt now if we are to remain competitive.
The pandemic is leading to numerous short-term actions with the potential unintended consequences of these not being considered. When you are on fire, your focus is on the next 10 seconds, not the next ten years.
There are three sales tasks that remain critical in every company:
- The importance to strengthen our sales pipelines. The sales pipeline is the beating heart of every company. Many companies’ sales pipelines will be weak as a result of the necessary government lockdowns and social distancing to control the spread of Covid-19.
- Maintaining control of our cash flow and accurate sales forecasting. Money must keep flowing into and through our companies, and how accurate our sales forecast is will continue to be the barometer for the health of all companies.
- Protecting, investing in, and developing our staff. Companies are increasingly having to make difficult decisions in a fast-moving and evolving environment. Our staff are the life-blood within every company and will be critical to us recover from this crisis. Loyalty to our team will be remembered and repaid many times over.
Within sales, it is the deal review between the manager and salesperson, which is our regular health check. It is also the managers and salespeople who collaborate well, focusing on helping buyers through their buying journeys who will deliver the most competitive and compelling business case for buyers to act now. Our company growth relies upon, as before, those who are most successful strengthening their sales pipelines and forecasting accurately.
Successful companies of the future, before Covid-19, were already considering how they will create the work environments that keep sales and supporting sales talent satisfied to maintain their long-term retention and engagement.
It is important to pursue these plans because it will ensure your sales pipeline will recover quickly, having been impacted by the current situation, to strengthen and grow your company. These steps will help towards keeping consistent sales performers and developing the sales talent you will depend upon to fuel your success into the future when the markets and the economy pick up.
Technology is already transforming every market in our economy. Covid-19 means the economic outlook has become more unpredictable than ever before. To prosper into the future, we must remain objective, keeping one eye on preparing for the future and the other fighting to deal with the fire around us.
Prepare now to be ready for a new world of sales to emerge
We have been witnessing socioeconomic shifts, especially the social relationships between sellers, buyers, influencers, generations, and institutions. More recently, we see unprecedented changes in how we work and interact due to health and social distancing consideration.
Before the recent pandemic health challenge, the trust we had given to institutions we had previously trusted has eroded and been challenged. Majority of us have more confidence in reviews from other sources about these institutions, their services and product, than what the institutions themselves say. As a buyer or consumer, it is not uncommon for reviews that influence our decision to buy, to come from people we will never meet who are consuming our products and services or know of someone who is.
Social norms that influence how people conduct themselves and perceive the world around them has also been steadily changing. The current health and safety alerts will continue to shape, and no doubt will accelerate how we see the world around us and our world views.
Our behaviour in society, including how we act, the decisions we take, and actions that determine our future is also changing. So too is our world of business, how we make purchase decisions. And with it, our approach to selling, retaining and developing our salespeople. It is their skill along with their managers skill to coach, collaborate and guide, that we depend upon to strengthen our sales pipelines to remain competitive.
During the current pandemic, we have to focus on survival in the knowledge we’ll take care of tomorrow when it comes. However, it is the companies that are considering their tomorrow, today who will come out the other side of these unprecedented times to be the most competitive and future market leaders.
The world of sales has been changing for some time, and that change will accelerate as our world view shifts once again.
This sales blog is the first in a series addressing probably one of the most critical factors driving the behaviour of salespeople, managers and leaders.
How do you appraise, develop and reward your salespeople to remain competitive, into an uncertain future?
Our appraisal, development and reward systems must adapt
Even before the current pandemic health crisis, forward-looking companies were reconsidering how they appraise, develop and reward their sales and supporting sales staff.
The pressures to change sales performance measures have, until recently, not been high on companies’ strategic priority. When recruiting salespeople, most companies emphasise accountability and financial rewards for individual performers.
Our risk, once the pandemic has abated, is ignoring the opportunity to evolve our current practices and reinvent ourselves.
Many companies understandably will need time to recover. It is, however, those that manage their time to plan for the new world of sales that will emerge the strongest.
Selling has progressively become more complex and collaborative, and we will see an accelerated use of technology to facilitate a new, more competitive way of selling. It is critical we focus on developing sales talent as part of our appraisal, development and reward process.
Supporting salespeople develop and adapt to the new world of sales will become more relevant and strategic to maintain business success.
Today, when a salesperson joins a company, the majority enter a world that had changed little since the 1980s when Jack Welch championed forced ranking at General Electric to reward top performers, accommodate those in the middle, and get rid of those at the bottom.
When Welch became CEO of GE in 1981, human talent was more plentiful than it is today. I am not inferring there were more salespeople in the market back then than today. I am referring to the number of salespeople who are and will remain accomplished working in our new world of sales who consistently achieve their quota number.
A further challenge we need to manage is disruptive behaviour. If a salesperson has been consistently achieving quota, and their behaviour is harming the longer-term success of the business and those that support them, how should we manage them?
For a company to maintain a collaborative culture that releases the potential of all within that company, salespeople’s behaviour must be aligned to supporting the company achieve its longer-term value growth ambitions.
Are you turning a blind eye towards disruptive sales behaviour?
Too often, companies put up with salespeople’s behaviour that is disruptive, and overly focused on achieving their financial rewards, at the expense of creating and contributing to a more collaborative working environment with their colleagues.
Without effective collaboration, respect and trust, a company will not achieve its longer-term value-growth objectives.
Instead, its focus will shift to being short-term, achieving its quarterly number. As I mentioned earlier, the Covid-19 pandemic will be forcing companies to take numerous short-term actions to survive. It is essential we also put aside time to adapt and plan for the future of sales. Those companies that ignore the imperative to prepare will continue to struggle and be left behind.
Once a company struggles, the space required to balance short and longer-term sales goals is lost. That space is essential because it provides leaders with the time to be more strategic. It also allows salespeople to focus on and better manage a value-based sale, strengthening and growing their sales pipelines.
More than ever before, salespeople must be able to demonstrate what they are offering delivers value to the buyer.
We cannot ignore the fact that monetary reward influences salespeople’s, managers and leader’s behaviour. If we are to adapt to the changing world of sales, we must review our appraisal, development and reward systems and processes.
Unfortunately, most companies’ appraisal, development and reward processes are outdated. They have rooted in thinking and concepts from thirty-years ago.
Technology (and Covid-19) is forcing us to adapt or fail
Technology, socioeconomic and health considerations are requiring salespeople to adapt fast to a new work regime. In the sales guide, 7 Sales Performance Management risks and how to avoid them I discuss how companies need to prepare themselves for a future working with modern automation, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Technology is also changing how we perceive the world around us, feel and act. Today, our work and private lives are being impacted by an “always on” technology-driven environment that is continuously changing. This constant, fast-moving change is a different world to that which many of us are familiar and possibly comfortable working.
The more forward-looking sales managers and leaders recognise they need to support their salespeople and teams to adapt how they sell if they are to remain competitive. Consequently, there will, for a time, be fewer salespeople in the market who can claim and demonstrate to have adapted to this new “always on” world of sales.
In this new world, trust in many of our institutions has been shaken and is shifting. The power of influencers and their reviews, facilitated by technology, is where most people now refer. These reviews have the power to influence large numbers of potential buyers whether to trust an institution, the brand and their promises.
We have also witnessed, as technology transforms our markets, power shifting from the seller to the buyer.
Technology has made information that previously was in the control of sellers, readily available to buyers. The sellers’ challenge is that the average buyer is not contacting sellers until they are 57% the way through their buying process. I discuss this further in the sales blog – Are your sales plays helping you close deals?.
The role of influencers is also changing
The role of influencers is also shifting as a result of technology. Institutions have for decades used well-known influencers, such as celebrities, who draw attention, credibility and customers towards the brand and products being endorsed.
Today, the role of the influencer is humbler, less well known and more significant in number. We, the consuming public or businesses, have become the influencers and have the power to shape the future of markets and companies. The power of reviews is therefore influencing and changing how companies market and sell to remain competitive.
Consider how the heartfelt plea posted on social media by the UK NHS nurse, Dawn Bilbrough influence public opinion and government action during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. Bilbrough pleaded with the public to stop overbuying stock, including fruit and vegetables.
The plea had a near-immediate impact on all who saw it, including how major supermarket brands, and the public responded to protect the National Health Service (NHS). Bilbrough’s please has been referred to by senior UK Government officials and the media requesting social responsibility, primarily to protect those on the frontline protecting the nation from the pandemic.
Technology has enabled that instant broadcast. Technology is enabling you and I to also become powerful influencers. We can leave reviews whose collective power has the potential to make or break a salesperson, a sales team, or a company’s success.
The power of reviews is creating transparency that can quickly highlight inappropriate actions and behaviour. Trust earned over years can be undermined in a matter of hours, even minutes. One of the benefits from this shift towards greater transparency is a greater focus on individuals’ virtues and companies being more virtuous.
There is a difference between virtues and being virtuous.
- Virtues are individual moral excellence – such as Compassion, Forgiveness, Humility, Wisdom.
- Virtuousness aggregates individual virtues – It manifests itself as behaviour, processes, actions in a company.
Those salespeople and companies that are self-serving, or putting their investor interests before the customer and other stakeholders, will risk being left behind by their target customers and competitors.
Technology is forcing us to adapt or fail. I discuss this further in our online training course – Sales forecasting accuracy and closing deals quicker.
Pulling it all together
Adapting to the new world of sales requires us to sharpen our virtues as salespeople. It also requires companies to demonstrate and follow through being more virtuous. Our own company’s purpose must facilitate the actions and behaviour required to guide, develop and coach salespeople to focus on helping buyers with their buying struggles to move along their buying journeys.
This shift requires salespeople’s behaviour to be more transparent focused on serving and guiding, rather than self-serving focused on achieving their own quarterly number.
Focus is shifting from selling to helping buyers make a better purchase decision. Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, at Gartner, sums up the buyer challenge perfectly.
“As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling; it is our customers struggle to buy.”
I discuss this further in the sales blog – Help buyers make better purchase decisions.
In the next sales blog – Your sales teams’ generation diversity has power, we consider why focusing on the different generations within your sales teams. Supporting their career development and needs, coaching them through their struggles, will ensure your business remains relevant, successful, and competitive into the future.