sales leadership

What Every CRO Needs to Do in These Uncertain Times

Turn on the news and you'll likely find yourself in state of panic. 

The stock market is moving like an amusement park ride. Corona is no longer just a beer. And we’re deep into an election cycle. One thing’s for sure, we’re living in interesting and uncertain times.


Out of periods like these, there will be winners and losers. Some sales teams will embrace this uncertainty and will crush the number. Other sales teams will struggle, ultimately getting crushed themselves.

Back in the Fall of 2005, I met with a prominent hotel and conference provider in Las Vegas. The famous slogan, ‘What happens here, stays here’ had launched. And months before, Katrina had devastated New Orleans, taking Vegas’s largest competitor for conferences offline. Hundreds of miles away in the desert, the phones were ringing off the hook. All major meeting volume for the next month, year, and following years needed to find a new home. Vegas faced unprecedented growth opportunity.

The impact on that Vegas hotel and conference company was huge. Everything was on the table: Renegotiating existing contracts, maximizing space, changing prices, moving volume to sister properties – and of course, new sales comp plans and goals.

How do you maximize the opportunity? How do you reset expectations given such a seismic change? How do you redraw the line for success with your sales team? How do you do so, knowing at some point things will return to ‘normal’? These are the questions we were tasked with answering.

Right now, I imagine the phones are again ringing off the hook in Vegas, New Orleans, and other major conference cities around the world. But those calls are for a very different reason.

Whether you’re in the travel or hospitality business, or selling medical supplies, food delivery, or teleconference solutions – this is a period of uncertainty. It may also be a period of major opportunity. Here are some guidelines for guiding your team through uncertain times:

  1. Keep Calm – You’ll likely need to make some changes. But your goal should be to minimize the number of changes. To do so, build a system to analyze your options and assess the lever to pull. Just because the news is reacting doesn’t mean you need to react. Your most important role is keeping your team motivated, encouraged, and focused. Here are some practical actions: 

    • Increase cross-functional communication - If you're in a directly impacted industry, now is not the time to stay in your lane. Success will require collaborating across and up and down the organization. Look at your calendar and make sure you're clearing time for communication. Also, critically evaluate your communication channels.

    • Increase sales transparency - Your phone is already ringing off the look at the end of a quarter. Expect your dashboards and reporting cycles to accelerate. More people will want to understand where deals stand and how they can help. Proactively prepare this data so you don't get buried reacting to the requests.
    • Get in the market – Call your best customers. Reach out to your top prospects. Understand the view of your market from the street level. Dive into the deals. This real-world intel will be invaluable as you navigate the coming days.
  1. Look 1-2 Quarters Ahead – It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day storm. But take a bigger perspective. Travel bans won’t last forever, cruises will sail, sports arenas will again have full crowds. And, we're pretty sure, Purell bottles won’t always cost $150! Do expect a few lasting changes as a result of recent events. Identify which ones and start making your bets. What does that world look like for your team? What will change? What will stay the same? Here are some examples:
    • Pricing changes Dynamic price movements due to disrupted supply chains often have a lasting impact. Consider what price changes will mean to your existing clients and start having pricing conversations now.
    • Team structure As global demand changes, think about the implications on the sales roles, structure, and size of your team. Are your team members deployed in the best way going forward? Look at your resources and consider changes in demand under various scenarios.
    • Virtual work Many sales professionals already operate virtually. If yours don’t, start building programs and policies to ensure they can be successful should a similar event happen in the future. This issue has special impact on your enablement technology. Rethink the tech stack to make this happen.
  1. Build a more Dynamic Goal and Compensation System. Many sales plan systems are aligned to annual goals. But what happens when the budget you spent days working on gets thrown out? Consider shifting to a more dynamic sales compensation model that looks 1-2 quarters out. Make your YTD plan a discrete quarter. Set new expectations given the new landscape. Adding in dynamic elements to your goal-setting allows you to be more responsive in fast-moving environments. In addition to your timing view, consider these changes as well:
    • Shift the focus – Revenue and gross profit are critical to keeping businesses afloat. However, during times of uncertainty, don’t get hung-up on your “NUMBER”. Focus on the key selling behaviors and relationship-building activities that lay the foundation for hitting the number once things settle. Remind the sales team about the nuts and bolts, conduct product training, reach out to your network, review the whitespace.
    • Team metrics & caps – If you’re in an industry heavily impacted, you’re likely dealing with constraints in production or demand. Your deal desk should be prioritizing opportunities that are most important and most profitable. This can lead to ‘sold’ deals not getting processed, which can impact rep compensation. It’s important to understand what is in and out of your rep’s control. Consider shifting some or all of the incentive into a team metric. You may also need to set a cap on earnings if you’re benefiting from this market. You still want reps hunting for the best deals and building the production pipeline, even if one of their deals is getting delayed. Caps may also come into play if you’re paying on booked deals that might get delayed.
    • SPIFFs – The definition of SPIFF is ‘Special Performance Incentive for Field Force’. While we typically don’t recommend using SPIFFs, now is a good time to think about deploying one. The right program can help keep the team focused and on track.
    • Continue to celebrate – Remember your team is made of humans who are themselves unsure of the future. Make time to celebrate the wins, even if they’re small. Find ways to keep morale high.
  1. Time for Enablement Changing market conditions should be rippling through your enablement strategy. Now is a great time to rethink the programs – from content to delivery. Explore more creative ways to enable your team:

    • Virtual It’s hard to imagine a world where things are going to be less digital and virtual. If you’ve only deployed in-person programs, it’s time to rethink your model. If your webinars or virtual calls lack participation and engagement, reimagine the design. Virtual is too important of an enablement platform to not do it well.
    • Skills Skill training often gets lost in the shuffle between product messaging and sales methodology. Now is a great time to launch skill refreshers. Consider virtual role plays and practice to help your team be ready as your market shifts.
    • Delayed decision timing toolkit – Enable your reps to address stalled deals. Even if you’re not directly impacted by the virus, there’s a great likelihood your deals are stalling as companies assess the future. Help your reps maintain deal momentum with more targeted messages, insights, question strategies, and prospect meeting guides.


This Too Shall Pass?

Every successful rep knows that success will always be a combination of good markets, solid products, effective selling skills…. and LUCK. Ride out this storm (or pandemic), and you’ll be in a great position when things return to greater stability.

Schedule a virtual workshop with us to learn more ways you can enhance your enablement strategy in uncertain times.

About The Author

Author photo Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.

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