Bringing back sales after the lockdown

Business leaders must act immediately to get FY21 sales back on track amid the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Article   |
  • 26 May, 2020

Quick View:

  • As India's lockdown eases, businesses are looking to recover sales amid huge demand disruption, big changes in customer behaviour, and a wholesale shift to remote selling.
  • To bring FY21 sales back on track, leaders should establish a sales circle that brings together cross-functional experts with a single-minded focus on generating and capturing opportunities.
  • The sales circle should act immediately on six key priority areas to help their organisation cross the chasm of the coming economic slowdown.

As the lockdown in India eases businesses are desperately searching for ways to stimulate sales. However, they must contend with huge disruption to demand, big changes in customer behaviour, and a wholesale shift to remote selling. To bring sales back on track amid the pandemic, business leaders should establish a sales circle with a clear mandate to act on six priority areas.

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Set up the sales circle

With many companies facing acute uncertainty about their sales pipeline for the coming months and quarters, it is important to bring a clear and disciplined focus on sales efforts. Therefore the first action business leaders need to take is to establish a sales circle. The sales circle should bring together a cross-functional team from sales, service, marketing, commercial, and product management. Importantly, it should not reflect existing hierarchies and instead prioritise people who bring strong customer understanding, deep product knowledge, creativity, and comfort with digital technology. The sales circle should also lean toward colleagues who have stood out during the crisis response by demonstrating initiative and leadership.

The objective of the sales circle is to proactively generate and capture new opportunities, accelerate decision-making, set and share new processes and best practices, and continually review progress.

In the current work-from-home environment the sales circle should be virtual and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. It should leverage digital collaboration tools and virtual workspaces so that the team can easily share information and ideas and co-create new strategies on the go. 

The sales circle should convene frequently - either daily or several times a week - to bring a regular rhythm to review.

Rebase FY21 revenue assessments

Most companies will have conducted their annual sales planning at the end of FY20 before the COVID-19 outbreak. Those plans will now be redundant in almost all cases. Therefore one of the top priorities for the sales circle is rebasing and continually reviewing sales targets for FY21. This requires a granular assessment of all existing accounts and new leads in the sales pipeline. The sales circle should then categorise each account according to where they see risks and opportunities for revenue.

For example, accounts can be allocated to four major groups according to the current assessment: surging, safe, at-risk, and unknown. Based on the distribution of revenue across these four categories the sales circle can establish the priorities for the sales organisation. For example, if substantial revenue is deemed at-risk or unknown then the organisation may prioritise intensive customer outreach to create better clarity. On the other hand, where there are accounts that are surging there may be potential to offset losses elsewhere, and therefore there may be a need to re-allocate resources or pitch new product offerings.

For example, one client in the building materials space recognised that its customers in hospitality and commercial real estate would be hit hard, so it redoubled revenue generation efforts on customers serving home improvement and high net worth individuals while exploring an entirely new product line to serve e-commerce platforms.

After re-basing the revenue assessments in this way, the sales circle should review the projections weekly and update them as the picture slowly becomes clearer.

Retune the product offering

The Coronavirus crisis has increased the relevance of some companies' offerings while making others entirely redundant. For most B2B companies the picture will vary across customer segments and product and service lines. As a consequence, every company needs to review its offering in light of COVID-19 and focus on what is most relevant to its customers now and over the rest of FY21. This might result in dropping certain offerings entirely, doubling down on others, and rapidly filling gaps in the portfolio where new opportunities emerge.

Further, it is not just the relevance of the product or service to customers that might have changed. It is also important to retune the value proposition as customers may be interested in different benefits offered by the same product. For example, Marico launched a new product line in vegetable wash during the lockdown, this category was originally created to target consumer worries about pesticides and chemicals on food but today customers' primary concern is contamination with COVID-19.

Revisit pricing and payment terms

With a rebased assessment of where your revenue can come from and a retuned product offering, companies should revisit their pricing and payment terms to support the revenue goal. There will be inevitable pressure from sales teams to drop prices to stimulate sales but businesses need to take a more granular and nuanced view. On the one hand products in high demand from customer segments that are less negatively impacted by the crisis may present an opportunity to milk profits but on the other hand, if a company's market share is low it might also present an opportunity to price more aggressively and capture share from the competition. Therefore firms need to be acutely sensitive to the pain points of their customers and the strategic moves of their competitors in taking pricing decisions.

Payment terms are an equally important lever in reviving revenue as pricing. More flexible payment terms and smaller minimum order sizes can help to reduce customers' reluctance to buy in these uncertain times. The sales circle should conduct a rapid re-assessment of each account's credit terms in light of the impact of COVID-19 on the individual customer and their industry overall. They should then re-rank customers and redefine payment terms accordingly. For those accounts at-risk of downgrades, account managers should reach out to understand the situation and support the customer with specific payment options for their scenario. This will help in improving cash flow during what will be a protracted downturn while also stimulating sales. 

Make remote selling more effective

Both in India and globally almost all sales forces are now operating virtually. Sales leaders in India have traditionally been wedded to the field force model but should mentally prepare and begin working on the assumption that the shift to remote selling will be permanent. In fact, despite the inevitable teething troubles, there are clear benefits to virtual selling in terms of reduced cost, increased sales force productivity, and improved customer experience. 

there are clear benefits to virtual selling in terms of reduced cost, increased sales force productivity, and improved customer experience

The big question for sales leaders and sales staff transitioning to this new normal is how to make it effective. Here it is useful to differentiate between two concepts: virtual selling and digitalised selling. In the former case we are taking the same processes and interactions that happened in the physical world and bringing them online. For example, instead of conducting a customer visit you host a Zoom call. In the case of digitalised selling however, we are redesigning the customer buying process for a digital-first world. For example, instead of the transaction being conducted through calls and meetings between a salesperson and a customer, you allow the customer to self-service through an e-commerce platform.

Depending on the level of digital maturity of your organisation, companies will be able to progress at different speeds, but the current crisis presents both an imperative and an opportunity to leap ahead multiple steps in the digitalisation journey.

Re-align sales coverage and incentives

Given the huge churn in the customer base and with companies and customers working from home, existing sales coverage and incentive plans need to be radically re-aligned. Most Indian B2B companies have structured their sales coverage according to territory or industry with some level of key account management overlayed. The focus on reviving revenue requires leaders to rapidly reallocate resources to where the maximum opportunity lies. This may require substantially reduced coverage for certain accounts and increased coverage for others. Sales leaders should also be quick to promote sales professionals most adept at virtual selling to roles in managing key account relationships. At the same time, geographic coverage (language considerations aside) becomes less relevant in virtual selling with greater emphasis placed on the sales person's understanding of the customer's industry and use cases.

Finally, as with sales targets, the incentive plans developed pre-COVID will no longer be relevant for FY21. Therefore companies need re-align incentives according to the more realistic rebased revenue estimates to ensure the motivation of their sales team. Leaders should also re-look at other key metrics they use to manage sales force productivity. For example, the target for the number of customer meetings can often be significantly increased due to the increased efficiency of operating virtually.

Inspire your sales force with a sense of mission 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, reviving revenue will demand a highly motivated and engaged sales force to overcome the many seen and unseen challenges that lie ahead. This requires leaders to inspire them with a sense of mission that goes beyond simply pursuing sales numbers but connects to the core purpose of the organisation, their role in meeting the needs of their customers during this crisis, and the positive impact they can have on the wider society by fulfilling this mission.  

In a period of remote working it is especially important that sales leaders dedicate significant time for one-to-one sessions with their sales reps. This will help them understand the professional and personal challenges being faced by their team and motivate and equip them with the right tools to succeed. 


About the author

Gehan Wanduragala is principal at Kanvic and lead for the sales and marketing practice

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