29 July, 2020

Adapting Enterprise Sales in a Brave New World

Economic Downturn

Anand Shah

Two weeks ago, your world likely looked very different than it does today. Your business was different. Your pipeline was different. You were probably feeling much more secure.

Is it possible to regain your balance in this unsettling new reality? Absolutely. I believe that sales leaders who adapt quickly will soon find their footing and climb back to safety.

But what exactly does “adaptation” entail?

Acknowledge the shift in priorities

First things first. You need to recognize that things are not as they were, which means previous expectations no longer apply for many companies. In terms of sales, that means your committed Q1 deals will probably still close—but any opportunities set for Q2 and beyond may now be difficult to nail down.

Bottom line: You should assume that every date will need to be pushed out. And the lower priority the project, the longer it will be made to wait.

Why? Because account plans and forecasts that were made in Q1 2020 are no longer relevant; customers are changing their plans by the day and are primarily interested in expense reduction and extending their cash flow to stay in business.

In fact, for most businesses in the thick of this crisis, solutions will only be deemed essential to purchase if they speak directly to one of three key value drivers: 1) massive revenue generation 2) massive cost reduction or 3) significant risk reduction. (And if we’re being honest, cost reduction is where most companies are focused right now.)

Delta Airlines is an example of this shifting prioritization in action. The CEO has cut officer salaries by 50% and is targeting a $4B cash savings in Q2 alone. This is a clear signal that the company now prioritizes savings and efficiency above all else—so if you are reading this and Delta Airlines is in your Q2 pipeline, take heed: Unless you are specifically responding to these new immediate priorities, your deal has likely evaporated.

Delta Communications Image
Delta Airlines CEO Communication to Employees During COVID-19
Source: Ed Bastian, CEO Delta Air Lines, Wed 18th March 2020 (link to memo)

Get your bearings

The harsh reality is that it’s not just Delta making these adjustments. Most businesses share these new priorities, so your pipeline needs major scrutiny if it’s to remain solvent. Remind yourself that this is no longer business as usual, and the status quo won’t work right now.

Adapting to Survive in a Brave New World
Table Comparing Typical Enterprise Sales Tactics with New Tactics
  1. You need to re-prioritize deals by how well you can meet customers’ immediate needs.
  2. You must be pro-actively engaging with SVP Level+ decision-makers.
  3. You have to be more compelling than ever.

Take focused action

As a Sales Leader, immediately take a deep-dive deal review into every meaningful opportunity expected to close in the next three months. Then, together with the rep and sales management, answer the following questions:

  • What are our top prospects and customers priorities (in response to COVID-19)? What operational problem(s) are we directly solving for them?
  • What is the potential for impact and payback in 2020? Does our latest proposal clearly explain how we achieve this together with the customer?
  • Which CxO executive cares about this problem and have we met with them? If not, can we arrange a customer reference call?

In addition, Sales Leaders should work with Marketing to repurpose unspent event budgets towards top-of-funnel activities, such as webinars and account-based sales development for SVP Level+ stakeholders.

As an Account Manager, revisit your Tier 1 and 2 accounts and assess each account objectively against the following criteria:

  • What are the operational pain point(s) for the company as a whole? Does our pipeline address their fundamental needs?
  • What is the customer investing into (in response to COVID-19)? Is there white space for solving a core problem which we haven’t yet proposed?
  • What relationships do we have with key stakeholders under most pain and urgency? Can we engage our top leadership (COO, CTO, CEO etc.) to do 1:1’s with their management team to share peer level insights?
  • Can we offer creative commercial contracts that align to when they will receive the business case benefits, to make sense in the new cash poor environment?

The world has changed significantly in the last two weeks. Your task now is to look at what you and your company can do differently to change and stay in the game.