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Top 3 Pandemic-Driven Priorities for Sales Leaders

November 18, 2020

Contributor: Kelly Blum

Chief sales officers can expect rapid changes to the sales organization, customer ecosystem and supply chain as they weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

For chief sales officers (CSOs), risk management related to the COVID-19 pandemic extends beyond the sales organization to risks originating in the customer ecosystem and the supply chain. The planning and execution decisions CSOs make today will help the sales organization to weather the crisis as it unfolds — and position sales well for the recovery phase when it comes.

Global disease pandemics like COVID-19 threaten more than internal commercial activities

“The COVID-19 outbreak is the latest reminder that sales organizations have unique challenges that arise during large-scale disruptions to business,” says Steve Herz, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Handled appropriately, such crises — whether health pandemics, natural disasters or other uncontrollable acts — represent tremendous downside risks, but good decisions made now can position the organization to thrive in the long term.”

Gartner recommends that CSOs and sales leaders focus their planning on three key objectives to address the risks associated with the coronavirus outbreak.

Prepare for risks to the organization, customers and suppliers

Internally, communicate the importance of keeping the sales organization safe, as sellers need to know the company prioritizes their health over short-term sales outcomes. Back up this commitment to seller well-being with a willingness to proactively manage sales compensation plans and quotas as a result of coronavirus-related disruptions to the business. 

“Global disease pandemics like COVID-19 threaten more than internal commercial activities, so sales leaders must scope their planning efforts for such disruptions beyond the sales organization,” says Maria Boulden, VP, Executive Partner at Gartner. 

Prepare for softening of demand and longer sales cycles, and plan for inevitable order cancellations. Equally important in many industries are the risks to the supply chain and available inventory, as many sales are not considered complete until the product or service is delivered to the customer.

Read more: Coronavirus: How to Secure Your Supply Chain

Prepare for rapid, precise execution 

As the health crisis grows and business slows, create and evolve rules for response governance and efficient decision making that are relevant to the unique challenges the sales organization will face. 

During a crisis, consistent messaging, transparency and communication discipline are indispensable to help instill confidence and reinforce new governance processes. Also create metrics to track sales activities, identify new issues and track adherence to emergency policies and priorities.

Strengthen the organization’s competitive position

Choices made now can strengthen the sales force’s competitive position when the crisis subsides. The top priority is to invest in customer relationships and channel partnerships, so sales leaders should look to increase and reward loyalty from key stakeholders. In addition, they must find ways to help equip key customers, channel partners and suppliers to succeed during and immediately after the crisis.  

Act deliberately to strengthen the sales culture and protect team morale during the disruption. How CSOs lead now will set the tone and pace for a powerful and career-making experience for everyone in the sales function. 

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