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4 Pandemic Priorities for Sales Operations

May 12, 2020

Contributor: Gloria Omale

The business effects of the COVID-19 pandemic require sales operations leaders to focus on forecasting, analytics and cost controls.

As the coronavirus crisis creates a “new normal” for B2B sales operations, leaders must decide how best to address the changing needs of their sales organizations head-on.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the time it will take for businesses to return to their pre-COVID-19 operating levels,” says Steve Rietberg, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “In the meantime, sales operations leaders must be proactive in addressing the impact of softening demand and supply chain disruptions.”

Gartner recommends that sales operations leaders focus on four impact areas to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

Download Framework: Take a proactive, strategic approach to cost management

Remote sales operations workforce

Whether mandated by the government or the organization, many sales operations professionals now work remotely. But unlike the sellers they support, few are accustomed to it.

Sales operations leaders, acknowledging the productivity and engagement challenges of remote work, must formalize work-from-home policies and develop strategies to build virtual communities and promote active engagement among sales operations team members and their stakeholders,” says Dave Egloff, Vice President Analyst, Gartner. 

Read more: 9 Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Forecast uncertainty

The economic risks created by the crisis are reducing buyer confidence and clouding a range of sales forecasts. Leaders can’t assume once-predictable portions of the business will continue to behave predictably.

The leading indicators used to inform preexisting forecast processes (for example, historical load rates, lead/pipeline conversion rates, weighted pipeline) may not be as effective at projecting unit volume, bookings and revenue in current conditions. These unknowns leave professionals less able to make confident decisions, resulting in even greater forecast uncertainty.

For now, supplement existing forecasting techniques with new leading indicators. Identify and track markers that signal when supply and demand might get worse or better, and provide strategic insights on how these factors drive forecast changes.

Sales analytics

Sales analytics inform an organization’s decision making, and key decisions often depend on how specific metrics are performing against targets. The organization may need to revisit its normal performance expectations. Typical performance questions include:

  • Are sellers making enough calls to sustain their productivity?
  • Are sellers promptly qualifying and converting leads?
  • Is pipeline velocity meeting or exceeding historical levels for this time of year?
  • What deals are at risk based on their age or days at the current sales stage?
  • Is indirect channel transactional volume performing as expected?

Work with sales leadership to adjust the targets for key performance indicators. Sales analytics programs need to adapt to the new state of normal during the pandemic and its aftermath to deliver relevant insight to the organization.

Cost of sales

Managing the cost of sales is a function of revenue and expenses, and with most organizations anticipating lower revenue, many are cutting budgets. A recent Gartner poll of sales leaders shows that 63% of organizations have already cut sales operations budgets, and another 38% plan to cut their budgets in the next three months.

As pandemic impacts continue, work with sales leadership and finance to help close late-stage opportunities and identify other options for generating revenue. From a cost perspective, examine variable expenses. For most sales organizations, the largest variable expense is people, including their sales incentives.

Look into a list of immediate options such as freezing open head count, limiting discretionary expenses and removing special sales incentives. These should provide some reactive and immediate options.

Read moreManage Sales Costs Despite Uncertainty

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