Sales leaders: are your sales ship and crew ready for rough sea?

Sales leaders: are your sales ship and crew ready for rough sea?

You are a sales or company leader and you see the consequences of the sanitary crisis: a very tough sales environment.

You know that this will continue for a while and will happen again in the future.

So, what do you plan to do about it?

Sales and company leaders, imagine you are a ship captain

For a few minutes, imagine you are the captain of a large cargo ship.

So far, your sailing has been focused on medium-range regional routes where sea conditions are never extreme.

Due to a change in the business model of the ship owner, you will now sail on a long and dangerous intercontinental route. There will be multiple sources of danger: rough sea, frequent extreme weather conditions, a very dense traffic in two Straits as well as the risk of piracy off the coast of a few countries.

As the captain, what are you going to do? How will you plan for a much tougher environment?

Knowing that you will sail in a very tough environment, you must prepare your ship and crew accordingly.

Assuming that you have a strong work ethic, you are definitely not going to sea before this crucial preparation work has been undertaken. Once at sea, you know that, as the captain, it is your duty and responsibility to maintain the adequate level of vigilance of each crew member during the whole trip. And you are deadly serious about it.

Therefore, You are going to carefully prepare both your ship and your crew to the new situation. Right?

Regarding the ship, you are going to have its structure checked and may be strengthened. Likewise, the propulsion, navigation, communication and safety systems will also be checked and, where required, enhanced.

Regarding the crew, you will discuss with your officers which additional training is required and which procedures need to be adapted or introduced. You might consider adding new experienced crew members. Because of the risk of piracy, you will have to consider security, which was not a necessity before.

Back to being a sales leader

Now, let’s go back to your real life as a sales leader.

In order to prepare your sales organisation and its members for a much tougher environment there are multiple levers that you can play on:

  • Review the sales force structure and ressources allocation and adapt. Analyse both the customer base, the market potential and the past sales productivity. Is the sales structure adequate or do you need to redesign sales territories, move small accounts to distribution or inside sales, or accelerate the development of e-commerce?
  • Work with your sales managers on the sales management system. Discuss team moral with your sales managers (including their own). Consider where to enhance management practices that ensure strategic alignment as well as a good execution of sales action plan. Also, you might have to improve the sales managers capabilities to manage and coach their teams mostly remotely.
  • Take care of and work with your sales reps. How do your sales people feel (reps and managers)? What can you do to sustain moral and motivation? What is the impact on individuals and teams of working remotely? Do some people need specific help? Identify which skills need to be strengthened or developed and how to foster collaboration and experience sharing.
  • Analyse and improve your sales process (or processes). Does your team clearly understand the two concepts of Buyer’s Journey and Sales Process? Are they able to bring value at each stage of the buying process or are they in a hard selling mode which annoys the customer? These are fundamental of sales effectiveness and are even more crucial in a difficult business environment.
  • Focus on Customer Targeting and Account Planning. A time of crisis creates the opportunity to get closer to your existing customers. Your basic rule of engagement must be “how do we take good care of our customers?”. Simultaneously, all customers and opportunities are not equal. To be more effective, you need to prioritise. This requires a solid Commercial Segmentation (also called Customer Targeting) and excellent Account Planning. Reevaluate the criterions used for targeting in the light of the current situation. If you haven’t used customer targeting so far, introduce it now. You should also review and enhance your Account Planning core processes and review your whole customer portfolio. This is a major topic and an area where most companies have a massive need for improvement.
  • Refresh the sale strategy and the commercial action plans. Based on your analysis of the business environment and of your customer portfolio, refresh your sales strategy. For example, adapt the profile of target customers, the identification of sales trigger events, and the corresponding value propositions. Align the sales tactics of your action plans with specific groups of customers and monitor execution carefully.
  • Enhance the collaboration between Sales and Marketing. Take a pragmatic route to collaboration: put the teams in movement with focused initiatives, for example: profiling target customers, launching a new offer adapted to the current situation, designing and implementing a competitive campaing. Taking a broader view, these actions can be the opportunity to start developing a Sales Enablement practice to help sales reps drive a better value-creating dialogue with customers and prospects. On the marketing side, to complement Customer Targeting and Account Planning, it might be a good time to introduce Account-Based Marketing.

Do you realise how much leading your sales organisation through the current uncertain times is similar to being the captain of a vessel at sea on a new demanding route?

Preparing your sales team is not a nice to have

All in all, you must adapt your sales ship and crew to the tough environment.

Of course, you can’t work on all levers at the same time and must prioritise. Of course, there might be many challenges coming in your way, starting with risk aversion in your company and cautiousness with expenses. However, the above described challenges cannot be excuses to remain passive and maintain the status quo on how sales is driven in your organisation. This is a lethal mistake.

Think about this: What is the risk for you and for your company of being at sea in a storm unprepared?