During these times of rapid changes and a crisis affecting us all deeply, we all have the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience to support others in need. It is a time to come together and work together in new ways.
It is also a time for reflection and to curiously investigate what is emerging, how it affects us here and now as well as over the long term. There are things we need to handle immediately, and not knowing for how long the present situation will last, or how it will evolve we’ll have to embrace uncertainty.
From our side at 3S we will openly and freely share our own experiences and knowledge in various formats and channels.
· Hosting webinars concerning the current state, next is Tuesday the 7th April on Managing Sales During a Crisis, book your spot to the right.
· Sharing blogs post concerning how to manage B2B sales during and after crises, where we’ll share our methods, concepts and tools.
Our hope is that it will be of value and that we help to manage and reduce the difficulties we are all going through.
How to lead sales organizations through crisis and how to prepare for when it turns around.
Some of us have been through several crises before and even though every crisis is unique, there are several aspects that we recognize.
The immediate effects are usually severe, and we never know how long they will last.
When customers stop taking visits, orders are canceled and budgets cut, too many organizations act reactively with price cuts towards the market and a focus on cost reductions internally.
Looking back in the rear mirror of history, we can predict rather surely that the situation will turn around.
What should you do to manage this situation, and to prepare and be in a better position than your competitors when business goes back to a more normal situation?
The opportunity with enhanced demands on the chain-of-command
In sales, for every level and role in the sales organization, there are two essential factors needed to create an efficient sales:
· their specific work pattern (what tasks are expected of you and how you spend your time)
· Their sales pattern (how you sell, how you run a customer meeting) towards the market.
Quite often we encounter a strict focus on the sales reps and what they should do.
Our experience, and clear recommendation, is to spend equal time on defining how sales managers should adapt their work, and not the least the Sales Directors role.
All levels, the whole chain-of-command, are important for sales and to handle, and adapt a crisis situation quickly, the Sales Director and the Sales Managers are instrumental.
Picture 1. RACE Model – The chain-of-command
Simplified, sales is cause and effect = the changes you do in your activities in the sales organization will create different results.
Every level has to contribute to make the necessary changes during a crisis, including adapting the work patterns and sales patterns. Sales reps should probably not visit the same customers, selling the same products.
Sales Managers need to support, coach and motivate their team more and the Sales Director work to enable the teams to change work patterns and sales patterns through adapted tools and frequent communication.
Below is a more extensive explanation what these changes could mean for each role in the Chain-Of-Command, starting with the Sales Director and finishing with the Sales Rep.
What can you do now as a Chief Sales Officer, VP Sales or Sales Director?
The Sales Director, VP Sales or similar, is the main enabler and need to adapt his/her work pattern and tasks to ensure the rest of the organization adapt theirs. Possible activities and changes could include:
Start together with the management team to define which segments, types of customers and which products or solutions you should prioritize, where you have the biggest potential to sell.
Anchor this change in Direction in the management team, achieve buy-in for support from other departments such as marketing, finance, HR etc.
Produce adapted Sales Patterns for the products and segments that are most prioritized/ have the best potential.
Change objectives and KPIs to reflect changes in Direction for the sales reps activities (if sales reps should focus on certain segment or products, activities aligned with this change should be measured, e.g. not only counting number of visits in general, but visits towards the right target group).
Help Sales Managers with relevant content and support material for their own communication with and support of sales reps, individually and during team meetings, e.g. strategic information, documentation and training material to train sales patterns, templates to prepare visits towards specific segments etc.
Give orders, instruct, delegate and establish changes or adapted expectations on roles and activities locally for the Sales Managers.
Ongoing and frequent coaching of Sales Managers, ensuring they are executing what is agreed in a changed work pattern, with additional support where needed.
Be a role model, inspire sales reps and sales managers to work aligned with the changes in work pattern. Communicate more frequently with the teams and the whole organization.
Picture 2. The RACE-model™ for Management by Objectives. Focus during crisis must be on Direction
What is the focus for Sales Managers during crisis?
The Sales Managers are responsible for implementing the desired changes in work pattern and sales pattern. In times of dramatic change the Sales Managers must work closer to the sales reps, with more focus on leader and coach activities:
Manage Direction of sales activities is vital. Of course, Quantity and Quality is important, but the sales manager must ensure sales reps focus on the customers with potential, and focus on the products that have the biggest potential, given the situation. Sales reps always have a tendency to go to the same customers and sell the same products as they always do. That will not work now!
Keep (or increase) frequency in Sales Management activities such as performance reviews, joint visits and coaching. With changes in the Direction for the sales reps and a more difficult business climate sales managers must work closer the sales reps. More steering of activities, more coaching, motivation and support is needed.
With changes in Direction (meaning selling to different/certain segments and customers, and selling different/certain products and solutions) it is likely that at least some sales reps need extra support to make this happen. Preparing visits, showing and training them how to run a meeting, providing the questions and arguments, learning how to handle common objections specific for these segments, following-up etc will increase in frequency and importance.
Keep the sales reps busy. There is nothing worse than anxiety or limited work load for demotivation. Between field exercises in the military service, the officers would have the soldiers dig the same trench again a few meters away, to keep soldiers busy. Do the same, but with tasks that are valuable for the sales force.
Direct The Sales Rep To Value Creating Activities
Go through the customer list and prioritise customers and products for these customers (aligned with the new Direction)
Prepare adapted sales patterns to virtual meetings (Microsoft teams etc)
Prepare adapted presentation to virtual meetings (Microsoft teams etc)
Increase email contacts and activities on LinkedIn (posts, shares, likes, comments)
Prepare adapted plans for the customers with the biggest potential (or adapt them of you already have customer plans)
Take the opportunity to discuss strategy and future plans with customers that are not able to order your services at this very moment
When orders and projects are delayed, meetings cancelled and more customer meetings are taking place on-line, the sales organization will have a lot more time available. Unless you are reducing labour time, spending this new time available on the right tasks will make you better prepared and put you in a better position compared to your competitors when the crisis ends.
We recommend you plan for the platform effect when the situation goes back to normal. This means focus activities also on the customers and prospects with the biggest potential when the business climate turns. Work on them now and have this work as a lever for when it turns.
Of course other functions and parts of the organizations can help the sales organization handle the crisis situation, and depending on how severe the crisis becomes and for how long it lasts they probably should support with some of these suggested and other tasks:
Provide content to emails and Linkedin for the sales organization to increase frequency and quality in communication through digital channels.
Adapt communication and channels to the current situation (website, LinkedIn, product sheets, tendering templates, customer magazine, newsletters etc.).
Adapt campaigns and systems for creating leads in prioritized segments.
Target customers with the highest potential now, and for when the situation changes.
Help adapt KPIs and reporting aligned with the current priorities in terms of segments and products/solutions.
Support Sales Director, Regional and local manages with analysis and reporting, freeing up time for them to spend where it is more valuable (i.e. in the field, supporting sales reps).
Supporting sales managers in their coach and trainer role.
Organizing training in the new sales pattern for sales reps and Sales Managers.
The effects of a crisis can be reduced by being proactive and focusing on what you can influence – your sales organization and the work you do or don’t do. Rightly done you will come out of this crisis stronger and better prepared than before, and much better than your competitors!
Mr Lange is the CEO of management consultancy 3S. He has more than 20 years of experience from strategy development, management, marketing and sales. He has international sales & marketing management experience from Ericsson, successfully started a retail research company and most recently, before becoming CEO of 3S, held the position as CEO and country manager for the largest retail services company in the Nordics, Retail24.
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