Each morning the ground moves under our feet with new information on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy and our way of life. This will be the new normal at least for the next few months.
In this reality, what key things should a Head of Sales focus on?
We have had the opportunity to speak with various CROs within the Insight portfolio and the SaaS community, and while every company situation is unique, below are some key recommendations on where to focus in the next few weeks:
- Focus on Closing the Quarter: Given the unknown environment for the foreseeable future, it's more important than ever to close outstanding deals this quarter or as soon as possible in the following quarter. This will allow you meet bookings targets and stay as close to budget as possible, as well as to generate cash to help your company through the crisis. Closing deals at quarter end is always a priority – right now it is even more critical too bring in what you can, and focus energy on deals that can be closed in the short term.
- Focus on the Forecast: Sales leaders must be extra vigilant in supporting deals that are stalling and/ or require additional executive support to close. Your normal forecast call takes on heightened importance if deals stall, reduce in value or cancel. At Insight, we recommend that sales leaders implement the following actions to improve visibility into the forecast:
- Establish a Deal Desk if you don’t already have one – this function will help you drive deals through the process faster. The Deal Desk team should consist of Finance, Sales Ops, and select Sales leadership. The Deal Desk examines every deal and is empowered to make pricing and contract decisions to ensure that deals are not held up for approval. A Deal Desk simultaneously streamlines and controls process.
- Institute renewal meetings to evaluate renewals for the year and ensure that your customers are not at risk. By being proactive and establishing the value of your solution, you can mitigate churn in the base. Sales and account management should complete a deep dive on any deal expected to renew this calendar year as customers will begin to eliminate non-essential spend, and you’ll need to get ahead of this to mitigate it.
- Carefully monitor leading metrics to predict potential impacts to your forecast, in particular, assess the following metrics compared to your metrics from last year:
- Lead creation and conversion rates
- Volume of leads by lead source – this may enable you to be more targeted in your marketing spend
- Change in # of new opportunities created
- Sales velocity of opportunities
- Changes in sales cycle – # of deals that have stalled and whether specific stages are becoming bottlenecks
- # of deals pushed (to another Q) and how far out they are pushing
- Create a cohort-tagging field in your CRM for all deals created or in process starting March 1 until the end of the crisis. You will want to distinguish these opportunities from other periods.
- Put your best foot forward – While we don’t recommend massive changes to territory assignments given the time it takes to establish strong relationships, we do see value in assigning new unassigned opportunities to your best performing sales reps. Also consider pairing highly tenured and high performing reps with those that are either new or are struggling to help progress large, late stage deals. This connects the best performing, and presumably most knowledgeable reps, with the opportunities that need the most support.
- We recommend that either you do a spiff or fractionally credit the deal to the high performing rep while keeping the existing territory owner whole. This is an expensive option, but the incremental revenue should offset the commission cost. Alternatively, you can look at split credit between the reps to minimize cost impact; the risk is that the split approach could lead to dissatisfaction and some turnover in the reps who were the territory owners.
- An additional action – ensure that territories are rebalanced based on target customer segments that still have budgets and are not the hardest hit. At this time, it makes no sense to sell into hospitality, travel, airlines or other target audiences that are deeply impacted. Shift your team’s focus to customers who have the budget and to retaining existing customers.
- Continue to prospect and sell – Reps may be cautious to prospect when customers are dealing with a crisis. Our advice is to sell with empathy, but still sell. We've seen some talk in blogs and LinkedIn about not prospecting right now. Your stance (as mentioned by 6sense in a Q&A with their CMO) should be that you’re a business with something valuable to offer. Be proud of your product; it’s your job to continue to educate buyers about what you do and how you can help them. Focus on value, which continues regardless of the macro environment. Make the right tweaks to your messaging and your target audience to ensure you're on-point and sensitive; GTM leaders need to work even harder to keep morale high for customers, the market, and your team.
- Manage expenses – Be strategic in how you reduce spending: freeze or logically reduce all current open positions, and with Finance, understand your cash position to determine your need to reallocate costs. Most companies are immediately reducing non-personnel spending. In sales and marketing this includes evaluating the number of licenses you use (vs. pay for) of your CRM system, your data providers and other systems and subscriptions. Right-size all data and tools expenditure to the size of your team and current needs. T&E and event-based spending is naturally reduced due to travel restrictions. Marketing is already reviewing their digital demand generation strategies and reallocating budget.
- Constantly reassess – Run several reforecast scenarios; ensure that you examine territories, quotas, and sales compensation. No one is yet in a position to have enough information on the impact to the current quarter or next few quarters. Companies should be creating a process where they forecast a 3+9 (3 months of actuals and 9 month of forecast) and a 6+6; these forecasts should include scenario planning for a variety of different outlooks. Forecasts will allow you to examine resource allocations you may need to make, territory rebalancing, and any tweaks or major changes to quotas and sales compensation plans.
- Reimagine recruiting and onboarding – while most organizations have slowed hiring, many companies still have a handful of new hires slated to start in the coming weeks. Insight's team recently onboarded a new person during the quarantine, and we’re therefore keenly aware of the need to make changes to how you onboard. This involves spacing out your onboarding time to be a little longer than normal; there are often technology challenges, and rescheduling may impact the timing of training sessions. You may also have to shift to recorded trainings in order to onboard multiple people. Your enablement team should address these changes. If you do not have an enablement team, this is a good opportunity to start formalizing the content and collateral needed for onboarding your sales organization.
- Most importantly, stay connected to your team
- General guidelines: In the last week two weeks, most companies have had a crash course in everyone using remote technology, and we’ve all learned to use it more effectively. The widespread use of video conferencing is able to create a level of connection above and beyond phone calls or emails. It’s important to ensure that all employees turn on video during calls. If you allow one person to consistently leave their video off, eventually others will follow. It's a slippery slope and you don’t want to lose the personal connection and accountability that will ensure team members feel engaged and in-the-know.
- Sales Leadership: As a sales leader, you’re expected to do more than just check in and connect with your employees. You need to set an example through how you address the situation. You need to exhibit confidence and positivity in these tough times, and you need to lay out the game plan for how the organization will successfully address challenges. You need to act swiftly and decisively when called to, along with demonstrating empathy and understanding of people’s challenges (both customers and team members). We encourage regular (weekly or biweekly) “Town Hall” or team calls with your organization to provide updates, recognize deal successes and share what’s working or not working. These should be in addition to your weekly forecast/ pipeline calls.
- Continue to build camaraderie: Get your teams together regularly to talk about what’s working and what’s not. None of us have been through this exact situation before, so share best practices and learn from each other. These sessions are less about work and more to fill in the gaps left by not seeing people regularly in meetings or in the office. These replace watercooler conversations.
- Don’t forget to have fun: Take time to have fun on every update call. This is a high-pressure time and a quick laugh is helpful in releasing that pressure for a little while. Have everyone join a call with a funny hat, host a children’s recital for your employees’ children to perform for the team, or have your team bring their spouse/ partner or pet to a call. Friday afternoon virtual happy hours are becoming common so that teams can just relax and unwind after the week.
This is a challenging time. It's a time for Sales Leaders to step up and lead. Closing deals on the table is paramount, managing costs and team morale are close seconds. Through deploying ongoing planning and reassessment of the situation, sales teams will make it through and emerge prepared for demand to return and the markets to stabilize.
This is new for everyone. If you have additional ideas, please send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will distribute broadly.