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Navigating the Perils of the New Normal in ‘Sales’

Jun 25, 2020

There’s so much of uncertainty, businesses are grappling with challenges like cost reduction, people optimization, remote workforce, safety and at the same time trying to decipher a new sales approach overlooking the perils of the new normal.

The rapidly growing coronavirus pandemic has pushed the lives and livelihoods in an extremely dire situation. There’s so much of uncertainty, businesses are grappling with challenges like cost reduction, people optimization, remote workforce, safety and at the same time trying to decipher a new sales approach overlooking the perils of the new normal.

If you are a sales leader, acquiring new business, renewals, omni-sales channels, sales team performance are definitely things keeping you awake at night during these tough and grim times. This has made it inevitable to shed inhibitions and visualize business continuity from a new perspective. How does one navigate the perils of the new normal in ‘sales’?

Dr. Michael Ahearne, C.T. Bauer Professor of Marketing and Research, Director of the Sales Excellence Institute at the Bauer School of Business, University of Houston and an academic partner with BI WORLDWIDE, is currently researching on this topic of sales strategies in times of change with Dr. Jeff Johnson from the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

Sales organisations across the world could experience a massive shift in their overall go to market approach defined by new business acquisition and portfolio customer retention. Another big shift to consider would be sales organization structure to recover and thrive in the times to come. Most organizations have reduced their field sales staff because of the limited mobility and access to client sites. There is an increased dependency on virtual contact and communication with the clients leading to a boom in the inside sales or virtual sales development teams.

Let us look in detail on how the sales teams or organisation structures are evolving and functioning in this environment.

Downsizing sales teams is “A BIG NO” on the radar

Key observations from organisations on how they had fared in previous economic disruptions showed that the companies who emerged out best from the crisis are those which made the last cut on the sales reps. Not only retained their top talent but also the laggards and average performers and reaped immediate as well as long term positive returns. Those organisations that retained only the top performers saw immediate return but did not succeed in the longer run. Alternately the firms who made their top sales talent to leave emerged negatively out of the crisis or did not recover from the crisis.

Change in target strategy- “LASER FOCUS” is the new go

During this time all the sales reps should focus on a select few potential customers, the ones that they can help to sail through the crisis. More than making a sale, focus on what kind of value can you provide to them, unlocking the market potential can be a great enabler. This strategy will give the organisations an advantage over small players who focus on a larger market in quantitative terms and do not deliver the expected value.

Create smaller milestones- “WIN THE WEEK” approach

Sales managers should put a plan together with the sales reps that what they will be doing this week during the crisis to be successful. Not for a month or 3 months or a year but particularly this week, what will they achieve, how will they achieve.  It will not only accelerate their success but also make the sales reps accountable with a mapped process to achieve it.

Sales reps are no more the “SOLE RANGERS”

It is critical for sales reps to go out in the market to meet the customers to figure out the opportunities. Unfortunately, in the current COVID-19 scenario, the sales reps are not getting physical access to their customers and neither are they able to visualize the market and the competition. During this time the service and other customer-facing teams should help collaborate with sales teams to do the necessary knowledge transfer.

Sharpening the sales rep’s skills- “LEARN & EARN”  

Since there is a little bit of downtime as the sales reps do not have to travel for meetings, a lot of organisations are opting for training courses. All these virtual training courses are for upskilling their sales reps. A general trend is observed in packaging the learning courses, the general modules will not grab much attention, the need is for a specialized training plans and strategies.

Quick fixes to move forward swiftly

Leaders should look at re-organising the core functions within the sales domain. An emerging and critical role is the inside or virtual sales function and now is perfect timing to implement to up the game.  Redeployment of sales teams with an optimal mix of inside sales reps and field sales reps will accelerate the achievement of the defined goals. Improvising technology with sharp content acts as a catalyst for customer search, lead management, and lead nurturing capabilities. Activating the framework towards value-based selling and moving away from price sole selling will give organizations an impetus over the competition.


This article is a modified excerpt from a webinar by Dr. Michael Ahearne delivered with BI WORLDWIDE on June 03, 2020. To access the recording to the webinar, click here.

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