By Aurora Toth and Ann Anderson
During times of business volatility, companies are forced to make quick decisions about how to deploy their resources – financial and human. While we acknowledge that Sales is an expensive function within an organization – it is a critical one. Times of crisis provide an opportunity to look at how the salesforce is deployed, where it creates the largest impact, areas you may be missing and how to either refine or completely redesign Sales to achieve your business objectives.
My colleague, Ann Anderson is the founder at Retail Partner Solutions. Ann has spent 25+ years partnering with America’s largest retailers such as Target, Walmart, Walgreens, Barnes & Noble, Sam’s Club, Costco and more to help CPG brands thrive in-store and on store shelves.
A recent Harvard Business Review article sparked a conversation between the two of us where we discussed our perspectives on how the pandemic and economy have impacted the Sales function. We also shared ideas about how companies might respond, resulting in the following thoughts for CEOs of mid-sized companies.
Even though it is September as we discuss this topic, there are still many companies in limbo around the appropriate deployment of their sales organizations. Some have customers hit hard by the economic downturn, while others are juggling increased customer demand. Some have made zero organizational changes, others have been forced to furlough or even permanently reduce headcount. A good place to begin is to ask two questions:
By defining and then aligning leadership to “go-forward” business goals, companies can begin to design the right strategy and structure for the sales team. This may mean changing or adjusting practices that previously were tried and true, and that’s OK. The important thing is to make sure all of your leaders are on the same page, and then work with your sales leader on how to translate those objectives to the sales team.
For organizations that maintained their sales force during the current volatility, client retention and loyalty must be the focus for Sales right now. Support the sales team and encourage them to take new approaches with existing clients and with prospects. With clients that are struggling, Salespeople might offer support in the form of expanded employee training on how to best use your product or service. They might offer to facilitate a brainstorming or ideation session at the client company. Demonstrating value beyond just making the sale inspires loyalty and helps retain clients long term.
Have the sales team bring issues back to your company from each customer, share them as a team, and brainstorm how your organization might help. Look for patterns or trends in client issues, focusing on those where you can quickly make a positive impact. It is in your best interest to help them succeed.
Consider new tools your sales force might need to be able to interact with and support customers virtually. What might they need to reach potential customers? Can you support with more powerful laptops, headsets, better broadband? Push decision making down and let them figure out how to best serve their customers at this time. It’s OK to let them try new things. Trust that you’ve hired the right people for the role and let them go.
Sales is partnering with Customer Service more than ever before, and the restrictions brought about by COVID-19 may mean that your Customer Service team is an untapped resource into customer needs. Partner your salespeople with customer service and let them learn from each other and ideate together. At the very least, your sales team will emerge with even deeper customer knowledge than they previously held.
Companies that furloughed their sales force or engaged in layoffs still need to communicate with customers. Marketing will ramp up the channels that are most visited by your customers, but you may need to further invest in digital, both in eCommerce platforms as well as connected marketing efforts, to meet customers where they are gathering information now.
Now is the time to partner with the marketing department and determine benchmarks for growth in these channels and innovations that might exist outside of these channels. For example, think about how the grocery and retail industries reverted to curbside pickup and delivery services. Where can you shift to meet your customer? What other changes might you make?Understanding where the client is today and what they need right now is critical. If you can be more flexible and demonstrate empathy for their situation, you’ll be more likely to retain that customer long term.
About our Authors
See Aurora's bio below.
Ann Anderson – is the founder of Retail Partner Solutions, a retail advisory and sales company providing Go-To-Market strategies and solutions for consumer products. Retail Partner Solutions explores retail opportunities, finds the right buyers, and executes a game plan that brands need to thrive on store shelves. Reach Ann at https://www.retailpartnersolutions.com