COVID-19: What We’re Hearing from CEOs & Sales Leaders

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Insight Partners has hosted several sessions with CROs, CEOs and Sales Ops leaders to discuss the sales implications of the evolving COVID-19 situation. These sessions provide an opportunity for leaders to share their success stories, their challenges, ideas for managing during this time, and get additional advice from Insight Partners.

Below are select ideas that have emerged from the discussions: 

  1. Segment accounts based on impact of COVID-19 and align tactics to each segment
    • Industry segmentation – COVID-19 impacts industries differently: travel and hospitality has ground to a halt, some mainstream industries are weathering the crisis without massive decline, and industries like pharmaceuticals, security and remote working tools are experience a short-term benefit.  Software companies have begun to segment customers and prospects into industry categories to create distinct approaches for sales and marketing to different industries.  Companies have gone as far as reevaluating territories based on these new groups and reallocating accounts to balance opportunities. This is a rational approach to the situation and allows companies to tailor their messaging and approach to the specific situation that each prospect is facing.
  2. Adjust your Sales messaging
    • Beware of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt):  It’s easy to revert to fear-based marketing to try to get people’s attention.  We’ve all received those emails with subject lines like “How is COVID-19 effecting your business?” It may be on the top of everyone’s mind, but subject lines like that come across like ambulance chasing and have poor results; one of our portfolio companies, Salesloft, did an analysis showing that subject lines with COVID or Coronavirus in them had a 40% lower response rate.  
    • Your old messaging is stale.  While fear-based messaging is inadvisable, it’s also not appropriate to keep your pre-crisis messaging.  Using the same marketing materials from weeks ago with no modification can come across as tone-deaf to the situation. Re-examine your campaigns and sales messaging to see if they are still relevant and modify as needed, particularly to different industries and buyer personas.
    • Focus on ROI. A big shift during a downturn is the increase in focus on ROI analysis.  Companies that, prior to an event, would have made decisions with a cursory look at the financial impact of the investment, become much more focused on evaluating detailed ROIs.  Get ahead of the curve with messaging and tools that highlight the financial impact that your solution can generate. Revenue generating solutions have a higher bar on the rigor of the ROI than software solutions supporting cost reduction and greater efficiency. If your company is selling the former, a defensible ROI calculator is more important than ever.
  3. Pipeline visibility is crucial: implement the right tools and processes to monitor pipeline
    • Monitor key predictive metrics. Q1’s performance is not a strong indicator of overall COVID-19 business implications. The situation unfolded too late in the quarter to be a strong gauge of what’s to come – many decisions had already been made, budgets were still in place, pipeline coverage was high. For Q2 and beyond, companies will require the right processes and tools to monitor the leading indicators and to provide advanced notice about demand factors. Forecasting capability and visibility into forecast fluctuation will enable a company to identify when and where deals are stalling.  Conversion metrics allow companies to have greater insight into the performance of marketing and sales activities.  Best-in-class companies do this on a regular basis – the capability is even more essential in turbulent markets.  Without the fundamentals companies can’t make appropriate adjustments to the business.  
    • Transition resources from low impact areas to higher impact roles to continue to grow pipeline. Several Insight portfolio companies have transitioned non-sales people (like recruiters and customer support) to the BDR function to help generate new pipeline.  In other cases, portfolio companies have used savings from not filling open positions to fund outsourced BDR expansion that can aggressively target key sectors of the market. This requires agility and the team’s willingness to flex and respond to the unfolding situation.
    • Do not abandon long-term pipeline generation efforts. While top of the funnel efforts may be impacted, don’t make short-term changes at the expense of long-term gains.  To be prepared for the second half of 2020 and next year, companies need to maintain focus on generating pipeline, moving leads through the funnel and keeping prospects warm through showing them value and checking in.
  4. Apply customer centricity to renewals 
    • Renewals in heavily hit industries: To ensure retention in highly impacted industry segments, start discussions early and be prepared to adjust payment terms for the next quarter at least.  Make it easy for customers who are experiencing a downturn to continue to work with you.
    • Focus on ROI and customer value: As mentioned above, downturns drive a heightened focus on the value received by customers.  Prior to time of renewal, customer success and account management teams must understand product usage and adoption (a solution like Gainsight can make this easier). The team should know the answer to questions such as: has your internal customer champion been furloughed or let go?  Has the number of people logging in dropped?  Are customers using features differently than before? This customer data, along with regular touchpoints to help customers get the most out of your solutions, should be a company-wide focus. Without an understanding of customer behavior, customer use cases and a focus on making customers successful, high renewal rates will be at risk. These actions, coupled with an early start to the renewal process (we recommend reviewing all contracts up for renewal this Fiscal year) will help to minimize churn.  
  5. Expand within your existing customer base
    • Offer pilots, when possible, for new products and expansions to existing customers.  Give customers the opportunity to try before they buy and check in to ensure they are getting the value from your solutions.
    • Make online training and certifications free or discounted for the quarter. By offering free training, customers may spend some of their time learning your solutions and that will help you strengthen your foothold within that customer.  
    • Map the white space in your customer base (if you have multiple products) and support the needs of existing customers by cross-selling them products and bundling. 

We will continue to share the ideas and tactics deployed by the sales leaders across Insight’s portfolio companies.  By sharing ideas and working together, we’ll all make it through the current environment and be positioned for stronger growth. Stay focused, stay positive and be prepared.  

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