When the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world in early-2020 it was nearly impossible to imagine the effect it was going to have in our lives and how it was going to affect our businesses and livelihoods.
Since March 2020, I have been tracking what a range of businesses across different markets are doing, or not doing, to adapt their sales processes, sales teams and strategies to stay in business, attract and retain customers, and sell better in the new normal.
Having engaged with more than 300 leaders, including SME business owners and corporate CEOs, mostly across Australia, I’ve found some interesting trends, including where they have been exposed and left wanting during the crisis.
So where have businesses been exposed when it comes to sales?
My findings have exposed 11 cracks and gaping holes that exist in businesses’ sales systems.
1. A lack of quality customer data
Many businesses found that their CRM databases were full of partially completed, out-of-date, inaccurate data. This made it very difficult to prioritise what clients and prospects they want to reach and engage with during and beyond this crisis.
One business had 30,000 contacts, which sounds impressive on the surface, but upon closer inspection, it had less than 500 contacts that were actually usable and relevant.
In a situation like this, any digital marketing activity done to engage clients and prospects is essentially useless and costly.
2. No sales strategy
Some businesses have realised they have no formal discipline, knowledge, awareness or process of how to execute a targeted sales strategy or do sales market segmentation on a regular basis.
Instead, they have been relying on old channels and markets that may not be operational any more. They have no awareness of new or emerging or alternative markets so are unable to pivot or adapt quickly.
Sales strategy is a dynamic process and usually needs to be reviewed and reassessed at least every 12-24 months under pre-COVID conditions, but currently every three-six months. If you’re not doing this at all then you’re just reacting to the market.
As the saying goes, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going every road will lead you nowhere’.
3. A short-term approach to sales
Many have discovered that they have no articulated sales processes that can guide people as to ‘how we sell around here’.
This leads to inconsistent sales skills and capability across the sales teams, meaning lots of random acts of sales with inconsistent or poor execution and no steady sales pipeline.
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4. No proactive prospecting activity, capability and discipline
Some sales teams simply stopped selling when COVID-19 hit and seemed immobilised.
This was especially true for field sales teams who used to just pop in to see their clients.
Many salespeople just don’t know how to prospect effectively.
This was brought home at a recent live webinar attended by 84 CEOs. In the Q&A section, many people asked: ‘My salespeople are not able to get appointments. What do we do?’
5. Lack of support and training
On the other hand, I see many eager sales teams wanting to keep selling throughout the pandemic, but unable to, because although businesses owners and sales leaders have the same intentions, they are just not providing their teams with the support they need to keep selling remotely.
Selling and prospecting remotely require additional skillsets from the ones required for face-to-face selling.
6. An over-reliance on networking events to get sales leads
Professional services firms especially have been exposed here.
Many professionals do not know how to prospect or sell (in other words, call people to ignite opportunities beyond a networking event).
7. Focusing on cost management over growth management
While this crisis has meant we have had to manage costs, most businesses have not put in the same amount of effort into managing growth.
Main reason? See all the items above. As they say, ‘you can’t cut your way to growth’.
8. Ill-equipped and poorly skilled sales leaders
Managers, especially sales managers, are struggling to lead teams remotely, especially if they have been the default ‘super salesperson’.
They have been found wanting in terms of coaching, mentoring, strategy, crisis management, educating their teams and so on.
9. Not genuinely customer-centric
Businesses that are not genuinely customer-centric are losing customers because they never really had the customer at the centre of their business operating model in the first place.
So no amount of platitudes will cover the lack of genuine customer care.
10. Too bureaucratic
Businesses that take weeks and months to make decisions are losing customers and market share at the expense of faster, more agile and adaptable current and emerging competitors.
11. Waiting for it all to go back to the old normal
I call it ‘hiding under the doona of gloom’ or ‘fingers in the ears going la la la la la hoping it will all pass’.
And yes, I have heard this more times than I care to admit.
Business isn’t going back to the old normal any time soon, or ever, so leaders must acknowledge and act on this new normal before it’s too late.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.