As countries around the world are lifting lockdown and opening up their economies, the unimaginable impact on society and economies is becoming apparent.

Considering the UK, COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the UK economy is staggering. According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), in April 2020, the first month of lock down, the UK GDP fell by 20.4% in the month. The most significant fall since monthly records began in 1997, reflecting widespread record falls in services, production and construction output.

You would expect when reviewing the impact on output in the UK economy during April 2020, referring to the GDP graph below, that cliff fall was a statistical simulation rather than reality. No, this is reality.

It is a sobering wake-up call for us all, especially for business leaders, and those of us in sales, how COVID-19 pandemic will have impacted many companies sales pipelines and forecast.

There will be a few winners. However, taking into consideration the ONS figures, the majority of companies sales pipelines will have been severely weakened as we come out of lock down.

Gartner has provided both insights and guidance for sales leaders in their report, Next Steps for Sales Leaders After the Initial COVID-19 Disruption. “Organisations that quickly adapt to this new normal of uncertainty, helping make sense of the market dynamics and driving a market narrative, will see a host of benefits.”

The following sentence from their report resonates. After the initial COVID-19 response, CSOs should prepare for the impact on three areas: customer uncertainty, financial uncertainty and sales engagement — and their related focus on the customer.

This is the first in three sales blogs that will deal with the impact of COVID-19 on your sales pipeline. Each sales blog builds on the previous, providing guidance how to implement a rapid audit strategy using the Sales Pipeline Development Platform to help strengthen your sales pipeline after the initial COVID-19 disruption.

  1. The next steps to strengthen your sales pipeline after the COVID-19
  2. Delivering a rapid audit service to support buyer enablement
  3. When should I offer a rapid audit to help deal with the COVID-19 disruption? 

As we all come out of lock down and settle into our new normal, we will share our insights and guidance how you can prepare for the initial impact on customer and financial uncertainty, and sales engagements to strengthen your sales pipelines.

Central to achieving this outcome is how you support your sales leaders, their managers, and sales teams better manage sales engagements, strengthening their sales pipelines and maintaining an accurate sales forecast.

Delivering more customer and financial certainty during a crisis

Delivering more customer and financial certainty during a crisis

Gartner highlights that conflicting information and speculation will fuel customer uncertainty. The White Paper – How do you protect your sales pipeline against Bot disinformation?  We take a realistic look at why we need to be aware of and protect our sales pipeline from the threat of disinformation and fake news.

The same threat will be present for your sales opportunities and their risk making poor buying decisions based on incomplete information, disinformation or even fake news.

Both the risk to your sales pipelines and risk customers could make poor buying decisions will impact both your financial certainty and customers’ confidence and certainty. A lack of customer confidence often leads to not making a decision, which further affects your own financial certainty.

There is a clear opportunity for suppliers to make sense of rapidly shifting conditions and help bring clarity to their customers.

Our interest in this sales blog is how do you arm your sales teams with the tools to support your sales opportunities to make sense of their shifting conditions and bring greater clarity to their situation.

Do this well, and all your salespeople and managers will earn more trust, deliver more value, and strengthen their sales pipelines, supporting them maintain a more accurate sales forecast giving you greater financial certainty.

Gartner highlights that customers may not realise their suppliers have market insights that can reduce confusion, and recommends a rapid audit, coordinated with sales enablement and marketing, to reveal opportunities for valuable dialogue.

I wholeheartedly agree. However, coordinating such a program internally within your company will be challenging even for the best-managed companies. It is especially challenging while your sales teams are getting to grips with working through this crisis and their emerging new normal.

We will focus and guide what you can do to expedite this plan of action with the minimal effort to deliver the greatest impact.

Focus on supporting evolving work regimes

Focus on supporting evolving work regimes

To implement a response program and to be effective, consider offering customers a rapid audit service. Focus on integrating this program with the evolving work regimes as they support sales people adapt to their new normal, especially when working remotely.

Evolving work regimes must adapt to support salespeople, and managers better manage these three tasks:

  1. Their sales pipeline,
  2. Their deal reviews,
  3. And the sales forecast.

If your sales pipeline is the strength of your business, and the sales forecast the health of your business, in other words, sales revenue. It makes sense your deal reviews are sales managers’ regularly health checks with their teams.

In the sales blog – Are you adapting sales discipline to be competitive virtual selling?, we discuss how to release your teams from outdated internal processes.

Maintaining rules and procedures that frustrate salespeople who are already struggling to adapt to the new normal, only serves to offer a safe harbour for their poor sales discipline.

It is imperative your business processes and culture quickly adjust to the changing situation if you are to improve sales discipline, remain competitive and thrive into the future.

Sales behaviour that increases your prospects and customers frustration will weaken your sales pipelines and business health.

Focus on developing and guiding sales behaviour

Focus on developing and guiding sales behaviour

Your salespeople’s sales pipelines may project success, however, deals forecast to close may not, resulting in a proportion of sales pipelines and forecast deals falling off a cliff edge, similar to the UK April 2020 GDP performance presented in the ONS graph above.

It is essential to separate achieving your company fiscal targets from your salespeople’s sales behaviour, presenting an accurate sales forecast and achieving quota. In the sales blog – Anticipate the next three, four or five obstacles ahead, we presented why you need to separate these two measures.

Before COVID-19, according to a Salesforce survey, sales teams were struggling, 57% expected to miss their quota targets in 2018-2019, which is a slightly higher figure than that presented by CSO Insights. In other words, salespeople’ performance consistently achieving quota was not getting better; it was getting worse.

However, the same CSO Insights 2018-2019 Sales Performance Report highlighted that over 90% of companies were achieving their fiscal plans.

Considering the market shifts underway, your financial certainty and confidence, especially following the impact of COVID-19, your success will become more dependent upon your salespeople’s sales pipeline and how confident you are they will deliver on their forecast promise.

A further reason you need to improve control and confidence in the sales pipeline is that sales leaders will also come under pressure to readjust quota plans during this crisis to reflect the current market outlook.

Gartner, in their report, Next Steps for Sales Leaders After the Initial COVID-19 Disruption, recommend long-term actions for sales leaders to work with their sales operations functions to revise sales methodologies and implement predictive, leading indicators of customer demand.

Our view is this should not be a long-term action; you must act now. Start planning now to implement revised sales methodologies and leading indicators. You need these indicators to guide the sales behaviour required to remain competitive, provide greater financial certainty, and fuel your longer-term value-growth.

Most sales pipelines do not tell the truth. That is a reality many sales managers and leaders have become accustomed. My question to you is – Why are you accepting such mediocrity?

Take an honest look at each of your salespeople’s sales pipeline and sales performance before the COVID-19 pandemic. How many were struggling or consistent performers before the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the sales blog, – How should I develop and reward sales talent?  we tackle the thorny topic on how to redress a broken reward system. You must stop accommodating mediocrity – you must change how you manage your inconsistent and struggling sales performers.

Salespeople need support handling objections in sales, which we discuss in the sales guide – How to handle the seven most common sales objections, guiding handling objections in sales. They need sales prospecting tools and sales enablement scorecard guiding them better manage their sales engagements.

Sales training needs to focus on both their own sales enablement as well as supporting buyers’ enablement to help strengthen their sales pipelines.

You must implement an early warning system

You must implement an early warning system

Early warning indicators, often called leading indicators, allow you to focus and better coach your salespeople achieve their sales quota targets and become the best versions of themselves.

Implementing leading indicators can be done immediately using the Sales Pipeline Development Platform. These leading indicators will be synchronized with your sales pipelines and forecasts managed by your Customer Relationships Management (CRM) system, such as Salesforce, Dynamics, Oracle Netsuite, or any other system you are using. We discuss this further in the sales blog – When should I offer a Rapid Audit to help deal with the COVID-19 disruption? .

Here are three activities we recommend you consider implementing, using the Sales Pipeline Development Platform, better to manage customer uncertainty, financial uncertainty and sales engagement.

These activities will support your salespeople earn buyers’ trust, so they open up and share more insights, required to deliver more value, better manage your sales engagements, strengthen your sales pipeline, and forecast more accurately.

  1. Offer a rapid audit to earn buyers trust and discover insights upon which to build and manage a value-based sales engagement.
  2. Offer buyer enablement helping support buyers make better purchase decisions.
  3. Implement revised forecasting methodologies and leading indicators focusing on progress and success in your control.

We will discuss both the second and third recommendations further in the next two sales blogs, Deliver rapid audit services to support buyer enablement, and When should I offer a rapid audit to help deal with the COVID-19 disruption?

Offer a Rapid Audit as a free service

Offer a Rapid Audit as a free service

In the sales blog, – How do I implement an agile sales pipeline strategy?. We reinforce communication is, in our opinion, the difference between valuing individuals over processes and policies because the flow of information gives you the insights required to implement a more competitive sales engagement.

It is your people that manage their sales pipelines using your systems, processes, and policies you put in place. To foster agility, give them purpose and autonomy, which includes your company adapting to support their evolving work regimes, not forcing them to adapt to your processes and policies.

Offering a rapid audit will help reduce customer uncertainty giving them the confidence to take action and decisions to purchase. The rapid audit will also help address your financial uncertainty because it helps your salespeople better manage their sales engagements.

If you are to improve sales behaviour, you must avoid salespeople passing responsibility to pre-sales or sales enablement to deliver the free rapid audit. It must remain a shared responsibility between the salesperson, pre-sales and sales enablement.

The reason this is important is that the rapid audit guides salespeople, sales enablement and pre-sales to earn the trust required to develop a value-based sales engagement. Salespeople offloading delivering the rapid audit to supporting sales functions undermines its value to your company and the salespeople it is intended to help.

Gartner highlight in their report, Next Steps for Sales Leaders After the Initial COVID-19 Disruption, sales leaders do have a few options to mitigate the stress of compensation during this crisis.

In addition to those options tabled, you need to be proactive in implementing an agile response helping your sales teams adapt to their new normal, giving them the tools and programs to help achieve their quota targets.

Offering a free rapid audit to qualified sales opportunities helps sales teams because it guides the sales discipline and behaviour required to earn buyers’ and influencers’ trust.

Pulling it all together

The impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have had on many companies sales pipelines and forecast will be dramatic. We have reviewed its impact on the UK economy during April 2020, with GDP falling by 20.4% in the month. The most significant fall since monthly records began in 1997.

Many companies will have seen equal, possibly worse percentage impact from COVID-19 on their sales pipelines.

Accepting a sales pipeline and forecast on face value is no longer enough to remain competitive after the initial COVID-19 disruption. Strengthening your sales pipelines requires you to implement the distributed governance and sales tools to challenge and strengthen your sales pipeline and forecast.

In the next sales blog – Delivering a rapid audit service to support buyer enablement, we consider why there is significant value in helping buyers deal with their buying struggles to move along their buying journey.

Using the Sales Pipeline Development Platform, you can quickly deploy across your business a ‘ready-to-go’ rapid audit service.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.

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