by Rahul Varshneya

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder and President of CurveBreak. Rahul has been featured as a technology thought leader in numerous media channels such as Bloomberg TV, Forbes, HuffPost, Inc, among others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted wide-sweeping shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders across the United States.

The pandemic has impacted every business differently. Some were able to shift to a remote work model, while others adjusted operations or closed their doors entirely.

According to one recent report by Forrester, in the US alone, sales are expected to drop by $321 billion this year due to Coronavirus pandemic, down 9.1% from 2019.

Now, as parts of the country look to start relaxing these strict measures, businesses need to think about what's next and how they will adapt and move forward safely and sustainably.

In this piece, I will present powerful strategies on how organizations can keep their sales operations functioning at an optimal level even during the ongoing pandemic.

1) Prevent deal flow disruptions by identifying those most affected

Some of your customers will be more negatively affected than others amidst the pandemic. Whether it be a diminished bandwidth or an entirely retrenched budget, some will need to stop buying your products.

Under such circumstances, reacting considerately will definitely work in your favor. Now is not the time to pressure a customer into staying when it isn’t in their best interest.

Even so, you do still need to get your field reps to sell and keep your organization from sinking.

The best way to prevent your deal flow from getting negatively impacted is by having your reps recognize your most affected customers and leads, ideally before heading back into the field. Then, you can easily have them extend the company’s outreach to address the customers’ pain points and ask them if and how you can help.

Perhaps your organization has a product, tool or feature that wasn't diligently being promoted all this while, and can dispense value in this new reality. You can have your field reps educate your distressed customers on how this tool can help and offer a free demonstration.

However, if they still aren’t able to move forward, respect their decision and have your reps follow up once normalcy returns.

Your reps should also constantly be on a lookout to qualify new leads that might not have been a good fit in the past. Since many businesses have now moved remote— even if just temporarily — your organization could benefit from features such as email automation. Reps need to boost their own outreach to cast a wider net and gather more potential customers than before.

By revisiting cold leads and identifying new prospects, your reps can balance out the lost deals and cancelled memberships.

2) Optimize your sales process

Sales productivity is the #1 challenge for 65% of B2B organizations. This is especially true for teams out in the field. In this environment, people need help now more than they ever have and they may rely on your business to succeed, if proven so.

Have a dedicated person on sales process strategy and operations, and redefine metrics accordingly. You can have your team take into account all of the factors that will be affected by this crisis and create definite, updated guidelines.

Do what you can to help your reps steer the customer’s journey in the right direction and get them moving through the funnel at once.

Your organization needs to invest in the best of tools to enable sales personnel to work remotely and manage operations virtually, evaluate their current bandwidth to aid remote work, execute periodic network stress testing and identify workarounds for critical tasks that are not executable from home.

Some of the tools you can harness to gain maximum efficiency from your sales reps during this time include:

Automation tools  

Automation tools can be easily integrated into many of your team’s sales funnel stages. By taking the edge off manual administrative tasks, you can cut down hours off of sales activity and free up your sales reps’ valuable time for them to be able to complete other high-priority tasks.

Email automation tools such as Yesware, Hubspot Sales Hub and Calendly can also work well to your advantage by getting more prospects your way and creating the personalization that gets responses.

Tools to keep your team motivated

You can have your sales managers keep your sales team motivated through tools and promote healthy competition within your organization.

A number of tools in the market today can make this job easier for your managers. These tools embed various features such as customized leaderboards; snapshots of your deals - new, won, lost; activities within your organization; emails, calls, voicemails, tasks and reminders; revenue forecasts.

Connectivity Tools

Messengers and phone calls are no longer restricted to communication alone. Gong and SalesLoft are a few examples of tools that can provide you with critical information as well as useful insights so you can get the most out of your calls and create an effective prospecting strategy.

Similarly, messenger platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Whatsapp are also good options for communicating in a better way and providing an enhanced customer experience while working remotely.

Trying to achieve maximum productivity can be a highly testing task for your sales managers who are constantly managing teams remotely. Your managers need up-to-the-minute measurable metrics so they can track each of their team member’s progress at a single glance. Tools can easily rescue you while ensuring efficiency and promised results through the team’s end.

3) Utilize this time to identify new business opportunities

If you want your organization to keep running smoothly and overcome the crisis effectively, your sales team needs to “stock up” on sales prospects and new business opportunities. Right now is the best time to do just that.

Have your sales managers assign extra effort, time and resources to the reps working on lead generation and prospecting, even if they’re busy at the moment.

Even if your organization is not part of an industry that has been severely impacted by coronavirus, this outbreak can lead to wider and severe economic across the entire market.

Your organization will be well-served by having a deeper pool of prospective clients to work with over the long term if you work on a solid digital marketing strategy for lead generation right now.

Even if the coronavirus turns out to be a short-term concern, or if it’s worse than expected and the U.S. economy goes for a complete toss, it’s never really a bad idea to invest in a well-stocked pipeline of sales prospects.

You can have your sales team do this in a number of ways, one being - turning all offline events into webinars. You can also get your team to create presentations with updates and manuals for your long-time customers. Also, ask them to try and make the most out of your business’ LinkedIn and social media influence.

Right now, your potential customers are spending much more time online than they usually do, so they’re a lot easier to connect with and engage.

Staying top-of-mind and leveraging online channels as well as inbound marketing to explore new opportunities is important because it helps with business  recovery— and ensures that you will have an audience to work with once things are back to normal.

4) Keep existing customers engaged

As observed in the case of many natural catastrophes, customers are generally more empathetic to discontinuation or degradation of certain products and services during disruptions that involve life safety concerns or are beyond a company’s control than they are toward those that are perceived to be avoidable (e.g., system glitches).

However, they definitely expect timely updates and transparency on the company’s end.

Organizations should consider it a best practice to continue to communicate with customers through various social channels, reinforce that customer interests are an absolute priority and furnish information to ease their concerns.

Customers may have specific questions around a company, for instance - it’s supply chain, more so if resources are located in affected areas.

Having your team clearly draft a frequently-asked-questions document, and issue and circulate it through different channels, including the company’s website and social media pages, can prove to be a useful move to proactively address customer concerns.

In addition to this, you can have your team reach out to affected customers to check in on their safety and offer assistance, wherever needed.

Lastly, organizations ought to be especially cautious about how they come across in the current climate. Nobody wants to be looked upon as aiming to profit from this global pandemic.

You can endure through these rough waters by putting your team’s well-being and making their optimal functioning a top priority. Have your existing tools and processes optimized to streamline your inside sales effort and support your team as they adjust to working remotely.

By doing this, you are setting your team up for success. In turn, they will feel less pressured and be more willing and able to achieve productivity from home.