Updating the sales playbook: Leadership during the time of COVID-19

Updating the sales playbook: Leadership during the time of COVID-19

If true leadership is revealed and defined during times of crisis, I give you … COVID-19! 

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing three thought leaders and sales industry experts — Tom Schodorf, Scott Lovett, and John Turner. In this three-part blog series, we’re going to share their insights about leadership, moving forward, and making the right hiring choices for a changing world.

Analysis paralysis is something leaders must avoid in this crisis. Focusing on the things that matter most can help maintain a sense of confidence in your team. All of the sales leaders I interviewed are adjusting quickly and developing brand-new strategies for a brand-new economic reality. 

And first things first, it’s time to re-write yesterday’s sales playbook. Let’s get started.

Find sales leaders who care about your culture

Culture has always been important, but our experts believe that it matters even more now than ever before. Now is the time to focus on mutual accountability and trust. You can build culture and trust by rewarding individuals and teams who have the talent and drive to succeed in the face of challenging circumstances. If you haven’t already done so, now’s the perfect time to eliminate entitlement from your ranks. 

People look to their leaders as the stabilizing force in an economic disruption. In the last crisis, the Great Recession of 2008, as with this one, it’s important to simplify your team messaging. Be sure to involve your team in creating a task list. Then, be intentional about the mission-critical to-dos — this will strengthen culture by giving your team a sense of ownership and accountability during a time of crisis. 

In a recessionary cycle, you must acknowledge the need to re-goal. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that sales isn’t all about the goal. It’s also how your salespeople feed their kids, pay their mortgage, and take care of their elderly parents. Keep your brightest talent retooling their goals to be more realistic in times like COVID-19. It’s okay to acknowledge that things are going to be fundamentally different. 

Every downturn creates leadership moments. You need to find leaders who care enough about your culture and your team to re-evaluate and do scenario planning for business impact.

Change your sales cadence

The ability to take advantage of new sales tools and data changed Schodorf’s sales cadence while he was at Splunk during the Great Recession. Instead of looking at results all the time, Tom focused on what was really going on in the funnel, and what activities were required to get Splunk from one point of the sales process to the next or from the top end of the funnel to the middle of it. And he found that data really helped. Then, all training and coaching was designed and integrated with the activities and processes measured by the data. This resulted in extreme focus around that which was most important to advance the business.

If you have an aggressive sales cadence, you’ll need to adjust it for an economic downturn. Lovett, Senior Vice President of Global Web and Security Sales with Akamai, found that more personal communication during a recessionary cycle takes on an increased level of importance. Just checking on how people are doing in a personal way means a lot to your people in the field. People handle stress differently. It’s important to have one-on-one time with each member of your sales team to ask, “how are you doing, how are you feeling?” It’s also a great opportunity to hear about—and learn—what’s going on in the market and what they’re doing.

Update your sales methodology

Downturns, especially sharp ones, offer an opportunity to revisit and adjust your sales processes and methodologies to new realities. Schodorf believes these are good times to introduce changes that previously met resistance due to general apathy or risk aversion.

When you have a downturn, you need to adjust quickly to what’s working and what’s not. Working from home almost certainly will change the way you go to market. Being at a distance from each other is changing the way we interact with each other. It also changes the way systems interact with people, in that they might be more receptive to working in the cloud for example, as well as video conferencing. So that changes everything in how we work with each other, which means your process is going to change. 

During the Great Recession, the most important thing Lovett learned regarding methodology was to look through the lens of the customer, as it relates to the changes he made to the sales methodology. A sales methodology that conveys a sense of empathy to customer targets is critical. Customers who are dealing with a crisis tend to pull back from very aggressive sales approaches. Lovett finds that, in a downturn, customers will gravitate to a solution provider, rather than someone simply trying to sell something.

Looking for more lessons from recession-savvy sales leaders?

Find them here!
Our three sales executives shared other key insight into sales leadership during times of crisis. In the next two installments of this series, we’ll cover the importance of adaptability and the qualities that sales leaders should look for while hiring. We hope you’ll check back in for the rest of our series and download our white paper to learn more! Adam Charlson is the managing partner of Focus Search Partners and co-leader of Vaco’s retained executive search division.