COVID-19 has impacted sales. Definitely. Some industries much more or less than others. Sales of e-Learning solutions actually increased. Home care, as well as beauty and personal care sales also grew.
Food and some Telco related sales were always going to be high but these industries were impacted by logistics — how to get the product to the customers — rather than demand issues. It seems that many potential buyers simply hunkered down and tried to deal with the impact of the virus on their own businesses and staff. Purchases considered as non-essential were delayed or shelved altogether.
I have spent over four decades in technology sales and sales management around the world. Now I run my own Sales Enablement Consultancy in the Philippines helping companies address their various sales issues/challenges/problems. I also resell two HR software solutions, a powerful eLearning solution developed in the Philippines and a much-needed Organization Chart application from the U.S.
COVID-19 had a significant impact on my business. So it was natural then for me to want to get some input from my sales contacts in the Philippines about how COVID-19 had impacted them as salespeople and sales managers.
During my discussions, I focused on the following three questions:
- Has coronavirus affected your sales team’s performance?
- If yes, which sales stage/s have been affected the most?
- As a sales leader, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the global pandemic?
How sales performance has been affected by COVID-19. Whilst I have spent my entire career in tech sales, the people I reached out to came from a varied array of disciplines: Software (ERP, Cybersecurity, SaaS), non-software IT, Food, Sports and Wellness, Telco, Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO), Education, Financial Services, Advertising, Logistics, Cash solutions, and Real Estate. In a nutshell, almost everyone agreed that COVID-19 had negatively impacted their sales efforts and subsequent results. Essentially, a lot of effort resulted in minimal or zero sales.
Progressing the sale was the most challenging stage. Nearly half of the sales leaders I’ve talked to felt that they were most impacted when it came to progressing their sales from one logical phase to the next. The sales stages they were in with their prospects when the Philippines went into lockdown in mid-March was where they found themselves two months later. Their sales had simply not moved forward.
This makes sense. Whilst for some salespeople projects were shelved, it was more common to hear about projects being put on hold or postponed. Much to my surprise, only about 20% of the people with whom I spoke to identified prospecting as having been impacted the most. My own experiences have been quite the opposite with my prospecting efforts yielding minimal results throughout the mid-March to mid-May timeframe.
Many did recognize that a more diverse approach to prospecting was required. Instead of the tried-and-true phone call and email approach, quite a few felt that they did not know enough about, or use, potentially relevant social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and less obvious, but worth trying, platforms such as Instagram, and even TikTok.
The biggest surprise was that only a handful felt that closing deals was an issue. I suspect that the reason for this was the fact that amongst the people I was engaging with, only a few had deals that were due to close during this timeframe. For myself and quite a few of my colleagues overseas, almost all deal closures were delayed.
“In a global pandemic, it is our humanity, not our business acumen, that can save us.”
— Dulce Cosca, VP Marketing & Sales, MoAnima, Inc.
COVID-19 teaches sales leaders important lessons. When asked about the biggest lessons they have learned from the coronavirus pandemic, their responses were wide and varied, but these were the common themes:
- The importance of the employer and the individual salesperson being financially prepared for situations where sales would take a major hit – having enough money in the bank to weather the “no sales/no commission” scenario.
- The value of a ready-to-roll-out Business Continuity Plan — what to do when sales dry up — even if that plan is imperfect and not a 100% fit to the situation at hand.
- Being aware of all the technologies and digital tools that relate to the sales profession and being able to adapt to new situations by quickly adopting these technologies and tools.
- Understanding all of the social media out there that might be appropriate to specific sales situations – would I have better traction with my particular prospects if I used Instagram or TikTok?
- The value of constant and consistent learning and skills upgrading via the plethora of learning platforms on the internet.
- The importance of being an empathetic partner and consultant rather than simply a quota-driven salesperson.
Motivating a sales team is essential during the pandemic. One of the sales leaders who responded to the questionnaire pointed out that his biggest challenge was motivating his sales staff to “rebound from slow sales” and to “re-focus and make adjustments on priorities.” This response from Ramir Dimaunahan, senior VP for Sales & Marketing at Simpex, got me thinking — in all my writings and readings, the motivation issue was rarely raised.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the pandemic is how to motivate my sales team to best rebound from slow sales.”
— Ramir Dimaunahan, Senior VP for Sales & Marketing, Simpex
Personally, I cannot think of a time in my entire life when salespeople collectively faced a situation where they genuinely had valid reasons to want to give up in despair and walk away from their chosen professions. The 2007/8 financial crisis was tough on salespeople but paled in comparison to this current crisis.
A salesperson’s annual review is simple. They either made their numbers or they didn’t. Very binary. Very brutal. Salespeople know this but it does not minimize the pressure, the stress. If they do not achieve quota, they face the very real risk of being asked to move on, thus jeopardizing their income and their ability to take care of their families.
A salesperson’s career is an emotional roller coaster. And despite many being true professionals who know and accept what they sign up for, there are times when they need external motivation — whether they recognise this in themselves or not. And now, more than ever, sales professionals need motivation from their colleagues and managers.
It could be as simple as letting them know that even if deals were not closing, or had no chance of being closed, they could have used this time — and some eventually did, I am sure — to nurture their deals and stay in the minds of the prospects that would hopefully buy from them when things got better.
“This global pandemic has been an eye-opener for most businesses. It has created a lot of challenges in operating and sustaining businesses across all industries. What I consider as the most critical realization out of this experience is the importance of having an efficient digital platform to continue the sales activities of the business.”
— Mark Yap, VP Sales & Marketing, U-BIX Corporation
Digital tools and social media keep the sales process relevant in tough times. Many of the salespeople with whom I spoke have recognised the value of having a comprehensive understanding of sales-specific digital tools and platforms available to them, and knowing how they could leverage these tools, including learning platforms, social media, as well as presentation and productivity tools, to foster relationships with prospects and customers, as well as keeping the sales process relevant during these challenging times.
Additionally many were left to their own devices about what messaging to put out there. Over time, they learned and adapted. Apparently, there are salespeople who did not know that holding virtual sales meetings with clients was an acceptable “thing”.
Sales teams need Business Continuity Plans to navigate through the crisis. Even after SARS, MERS, the Stock Market Crash of 1987, and the 2007/8 financial crisis, sales teams were not provided with any Business Continuity Plans in order to adapt and cope. Even if imperfect or not totally relevant they would have helped.
I guess our nature is to ignore the last disaster and assume it was the last. It rarely is. And in this case, it was bigger than ever. With an impact that few could have imagined the possibility of it ever happening. But it did. Let’s hope we have learned a valuable lesson and that we prepare our existing and new salespeople with the tools to cope for future Black Swan events.
We may miss our sales numbers, but the lessons we learned from the crisis will remain. My biggest takeaway was that for far too long throughout our lockdown period, both sales managers and salespeople continued the hard sell approach with prospects and customers. Some learned that this was simply never going to fly and that what was called for was empathy, understanding, patience, and a willingness to help. This meant refocusing from winning the account to the needs of the human at that account.
Perhaps the very scale of the disaster was so big that no one could have been prepared. However, human nature did shine through and most sales folks realized that their quota numbers were not going to be achieved and so they focused on trying to consult and collaborate with the aim of helping their prospects.
Most of us might have missed our numbers but along the way, we learned valuable lessons that will provide a foundation for the next inevitable crisis.