Sales in the ‘New Normal’

COVID-19 has put true value on adaptability, patience and empathy. Sales leaders and sales reps need to find new strengths, to over communicate and continue to learn, and to rethink metrics to enable partnership. 

Here, Ian McAdam provides his five top tips for sales teams and leaders now – and not one of them is ‘sell sell sell!’.

1. Be adaptable in all facets of sales

Strong sales reps and teams have always been able to adapt to changing environments. No one thought that the inability to jump on a plane and go to close a deal within the country would be something for sales to adapt to so quickly, but sales teams and reps have done that. 

Careers full of unforeseen forces have prepared reps well – it’s always a winding and bumpy path from lead to deal, so reps are incredibly adaptable. Now is the time to really be as adaptable as possible.

Adaptable doesn’t just mean being able to work remotely though – it also means finding new opportunities. So if your clients are travel, tourism and hospitality, it’s easy to throw your hands in the air right now. But that’s dismissive – an adaptable rep accepts that there are things outside of their control and looks for new opportunities.

If your contacts at prospect companies are moving around, it’s easy to now think a deal is lost because the CIO, the CFO – the person you’d been working with – has left. But that’s a very defeatist attitude. Adaptability means understanding that people may move but the companies remain the same and their needs will still be there. It’s about going back to the drawing board to enable that new contact to get up to speed on your value quickly.

2. Practice patience and empathy

In the absence of a burning directive to pivot (for example COVID-tracing apps), the concept of a fast sale has pretty much been eroded. In particular, establishing a new relationship now is a matter of taking time for empathy – to relate on a human level to what someone is experiencing. 

So we’re seeing a slowing down of certain conversations, and more wide-ranging conversations as well that might be about how someone is managing a remote team or helping employees through difficulty. 

Having those conversations is really important – it’s not about just trying to get yes-or-no answers. It’s about understanding each other, building a relationship based on empathy. That’s been quite important for salespeople to learn – there was no sales book for this and it’s just evolved this way.

3. Find new strengths

One thing we have been able to do much more easily than we could have in the past is make use locally of some of our international leaders. 

When I’m inviting some of my contacts to join virtual events or calls, I can say that our Global Growth Evangelist Tiffani Bova will be in conversation with our ANZ CEO Pip Marlow. The switch to virtual events and virtual meetings means the list of potential speakers and collaborators is far longer than it would otherwise be.

We can also open up the participant list on scenario treatments – I can ask our CFO Mark Hawkins to join a scenario treatment with my team for example. We’ve had to practice it more because it is a foreign environment for many of us to sell in, and virtual meetings have really complemented what I think is a good technique. We’ll keep on doing this, when things get back to whatever the new normal is.

4. Over communicate

And the reality is that we don’t know what that will be – it may be that not everyone is 100% back in the office. This means sales leaders may still be looking at ways to improve remote teaming, while reps may still be leaning on their inside sales skills rather than jumping on planes or in Ubers. 

Amid that ambiguity, and while remote working continues in some form, over-communication is really important. When we see good news stories – whether that’s deals closed, a customer relationship deepened, an influx of quality leads – we’re actually seeing the results of people learning from mistakes. 

Over communicating is a bit tough in sales – there’s an element of ‘oh I actually said that – I told my team and my boss about a mistake I made’. But overcommunication can be useful in the same way as scenarios – a mistake is a lesson to be learnt. And it might just be you sharing something you found as a good example in your industry with the rest of the team.

Those moments of over communication should run the spectrum of good news through to learning and everything in between. If everyone is sitting at their desk alone at home – or their table or their lounge or the edge of their bed – and there’s too little communication, you’re banking on everyone learning through osmosis. It’s just not going to happen. 

The importance of over communication became really apparent very quickly when we all started working at home – we can’t miss a one-to-one or team meeting, and we’re doing more win/loss reviews now than we’ve ever done before. One of the most important steps a sales leader can take at the moment is to formalise a program that encourages over communication and makes learning from mistakes a priority.

5. Demonstrate partnership and rethink metrics

The first wave of businesses affected were startlingly fast –  smaller companies that probably didn’t have a strong balance sheet to be able to deal with the incredible reduction in cash flow before the government stimulus would kick in. Now the impact has of course reached businesses of all sizes – even if some segments are seeing some positive changes. 

This was very foreign for many sales reps and sales leaders. We stood up scenarios very quickly so we could support customers through this – for example if a customer asked for quarterly billing to help with a cash flow, we could provide temporary licences to complement quarterly billing and demonstrate partnership and live our value of customer success by understanding the difficulty they were facing and being there to help. 

These scenarios have evolved as the economic impacts of the pandemic have moved from SMBs to enterprise – we could replicate some of the learnings at the smaller scale and create a process that we could follow for everyone, helping reps to understand the signals and triggers to have a different conversation. 

Rethinking metrics is essential in this of course – if your sales reps and teams are judged against quota attainment at the end of the quarter, communicate that this will change for this quarter. Outline how demonstrating care for customers, deepening relationships and enabling customer success will be incentivised; consider concessional payments for those sales reps who will be adversely impacted; and look at the industries that are going to really thrive as the economy recovers and work out how you can accelerate commission payments to reps working in those industries. 

We were very lucky at Salesforce. We had, and still have, a unique opportunity to demonstrate how large corporations can respond and ultimately thrive – we don’t take that lightly. That response must focus on core values – we continue to prioritise customer success as we proceed into the ‘new normal’ with our customers. Ultimately we will be judged later on our behaviour at this critical point.

Ian McAdam is Chief Commercial Officer Australia at Salesforce

For more ways to empower and enable sales success, download the 50 Pro Sales Tips ebook.

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