As the pandemic progresses, leaders have learned resilience. They’ve overcome challenges that no one saw coming in strategic, thoughtful ways. Sales leaders, specifically, have been forced to rethink how they operate. No longer able to direct teams to make in-person connections, they had to pivot when COVID-19 started spreading across the country—and they had to pivot in a hurry.
These pivots ultimately taught sales leaders countless lessons, and those lessons will carry them forward into 2021. These leaders now face a new challenge: In the months ahead, they’ll have to move past the immediate response necessary for pivots instead of focusing more on recovery and the future.
For sales leaders determining how to do this in the coming year, these four suggestions can guide your decisions and inspire a forward-thinking approach:
1. Outsource sales leaders.
Something executives don’t always consider that can be transformative for a business—especially in times of crisis—is to outsource sales leadership. As everyone begins to find their new normal, companies in every industry can benefit from bringing in outside expertise to influence and bolster their operations. This solution especially serves businesses that can’t afford to hire full-time leadership.
Mark Thacker, president of Sales Xceleration, says businesses “benefit from someone who has led large sales teams, been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, dealt with complex sales cycles, and led teams to meet large corporate goals with tremendous pressure on them to do so. They have been ‘through the fire’ before, so managing a less complex business is easy by comparison.” In the end, outsourced sales leaders make it possible for your company to weather the storm caused by the pandemic and come back stronger than before.
2. Motivate differently.
Another requirement of successfully recovering from the events of last year involves thinking about how to show your team members you appreciate their work and are ready to recognize and reward it in a way that meets the moment. Because this moment is still relatively new, it’s a good time to rethink and restructure your incentive plans. This actively shifts the focus from being solely on responding to the crisis in real time and toward recovering from it in the days ahead.
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Depending on your goals and needs, this will look different for every organization. For some, it might make sense to choose a different type of incentive plan altogether. This could involve moving away from commission based on the first dollar from sales toward a structure based on meeting and exceeding sales goals instead. You could also work to align your incentive metrics; rather than paying salespeople for contributing to total sales of all products, consider rewarding incentives for sales of specific products in specific ways.
3. Automate and increase conversion.
In the average company, sales reps spend roughly 16% of their time in front of customers; meanwhile, the best-performing sales organizations aim for closer to 40% to 50%. What makes this difference possible? Automation. These organizations have intentionally redesigned their processes and automated tasks that take time away from representatives—and give them that time back to put to better use.
There are many ways to implement this automation. Lead generation analytics can identify leads with the best potential for conversion, for example, and automated chatbots can then reach out to initiate contact. By moving these responsibilities to automation technology, sales reps can spend more time nurturing relationships with the leads most likely to result in a sale. Technology is a huge reason businesses were able to pivot like they did last year, and now it’s time to think about how it can propel those people into the future.
4. Go digital-first.
Understanding the role technology can play in recovery and growth this year, sales leadership needs to consider taking a more holistic digital-first approach. As more people adopt a digital mindset and use technology for almost everything, sales teams have to engage with customers in a relevant digital way.
Making this shift lets sales leaders and sales teams exemplify the customer-first mindset that is so crucial to success. Start by diversifying your slate of digital sales tools and channels. Ensure these channels and tools are able to mirror your traditional sales process and serve both your customers and your sellers.
When making a digital transformation, prioritize your salespeople as well as their experiences. Find a balance between implementing this new technology and enabling your reps to do their jobs well. Training will be key—as is ensuring everyone fully embraces the digital transformation from the start.
The resilience sales leaders have shown in the last year is admirable, and they deserve some praise for the ways they’ve pivoted to ensure their teams can continue their important work. Now, they have a real opportunity to use that resilience to adapt and innovate to continue to lead their teams into the future.