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June Monthly Round-Up
Summer is here, and we are already in full-swing. Catch up on everything we launched in June at Outreach!
Who knew when I wrote my first article about selling in a COVID-19 world that we’d still be struggling to settle into the rules and routines of social distancing?
Most of you, actually. In between non-stop Zoom calls from my new home headquarters, I sent a survey to over 600 people, and 70 percent of them said they believed their organization will experience long-lasting change as a result of COVID-19.
Now that we’re four or five months in (what is time?), I’m sure you’re having the same reaction I did — of course, we’ll experience long-lasting change! We’re in a global pandemic. Without getting into politics, we don’t know how or when this all will end.
The part that jumps out to me is that the responses echo concerns I heard long before this disruption. Many sales leaders knew they needed to make changes to their sales structures — COVID-19 only accelerated the problem. Leaders didn’t have visibility into field activity, they didn’t have a good content management process to align sales with marketing, and they knew their reps were spending too much time on non-selling activities. They wanted to operationalize their sales motions, but they didn’t have an immediate need to shift their whole strategy. Until, unfortunately, March 2020, when outside sales conversations came to an abrupt halt.
Organizations without an operationalized process found themselves facing months of lost sales and pipeline activities. And unsurprisingly, they want to fix it. Fast.
Let’s dig into the data a little bit...
Trends were similar across companies and geographies, regardless of location and company size, but bigger sales teams seem to feel the most pressure. Approximately 80 percent of teams with more than 25 sellers reported a need for change. This intuitively makes sense as larger organizations may have a harder time rolling out new change management initiatives, especially with a newly distributed team.
We all know job titles are not one-size-fits-all descriptions of how sales reps do their jobs. But we did see a clear delineation of change expectations between roles in lead generation and sales development compared to traditional sales and closing roles. Over 80 percent of Account Executives (this includes folks in closing roles and full-cycle sales roles, as well as field sellers) reported that their sales processes would experience long-lasting changes.
Comparatively, 65 percent of sales development representatives stated that they would face permanent change. Although this is still a majority of responses, the 15 percent difference indicates that the reps charged with booking meetings through email and phone calls already had some efficiencies in place to track their performance, which may have more readily scaled to a new working environment.
I spoke with one VP of sales development who described this disparity at their company: “I can be anywhere and manage a team (at a distance) better than someone who’s physically there; you have all the data and insights (you need) in Outreach. The teams that were lacking data have really struggled.”
Digging deeper, we find that the teams “struggling” now weren’t necessarily caught off guard, but the pressure has been dialed way up.
Of the 80 percent of AEs who responded that their teams will experience long-lasting change, 72 percent said their most urgent need was to create more structure around operationalizing their sales process.
What does this mean? In the words of a Chief Marketing Officer I spoke with, it means that the “gaps we had been papering over pre-COVID are now too painful to live with.” In my conversations, these “gaps” ranged from foundational processes (like clearly defining sales stages and implementing CRMs) to coaching challenges exacerbated by remote work. COVID-19 accelerated the urgency to fix the cracks we’ve historically been able to ignore.
Many AEs (52 percent) said the biggest limitation on their performance even before the pandemic was spending too much time on non-selling activities. In follow-up conversations, I learned that sales leaders believe time spent on non-selling activities has expanded exponentially in the past three months, making it a top concern.
When we discussed the root cause, a few trends came through:
Many sales teams have started to leverage a new operations mindset in orchestrating their sales process. Beyond fixing their immediate issues, sales leaders are thinking about how to partner with their operations colleagues to design a more adaptable, resilient sales process for the future. Although most individuals I spoke with were optimistic about their 2020 outlook, many acknowledged that this won’t be the last major disruption their organization faces, and they need to be better prepared in the future.
To execute positive changes, sales leaders are leaning on sales operations as a strategic partner, not just a tool-stack owner. Here are some areas where sales operations teams are driving strategic change:
The above responses reinforce my earlier conversation with Dan Gottlieb, Analyst in the Sales Practice at TOPO: “Everybody is experiencing some degree of change right now, and the degree of change varies by their role, industry, size, and geography.”
That’s mildly comforting as we all strive to make colossal shifts in our business strategies. Selling has always been hard, and the current environment has exposed fragility in many organizations’ sales processes and procedures. The cracks may have existed all along, but we’re all now well aware of how quickly we need to adapt.
We’ll continue to explore the ways sales leaders can help their teams navigate change in the coming months. Stay tuned!