The CEOs we work with are focused on making necessary changes to grow sales right now.
As a founder and leader, when was the last time you thought about sales strategy?
Sales is your revenue engine; therefore, it should be a top priority to work with your sales team now so you pull the levers that will grow sales and profitability.
However, many CEOs are focused on cost-cutting and survival, not on the strategy needed to get profitable sales growth.
Have you been in survival mode? Look up, and let’s get focused on sales strategy.
Where Has Your Leadership Focus Been Lately?
Let’s find out where your attention has been. Would you agree or disagree with any of these statements?
- “I’ve been heads-down working with finance to secure a PPP loan.”
- “I’ve been figuring out where we can cut costs.”
- “I’ve been scrambling to set up our whole company to work remotely and make sure everyone has the tools and support they need to be productive at home.”
- “I’ve been personally working with our key customers to provide essential services so they can keep their heads above water.”
I’m guessing one or more of these statements describes you. Hopefully, you’re past these urgencies now and can focus on sales growth.
While you’ve been focused on other priorities, your salespeople are stressed. Some of them are trying to sell with kids at home during social distancing. They’re not able to come to the office to connect with colleagues, nor are they able to hit the road and visit customers in person. In short, they can’t operate in the ways they’re used to, and no one is really sure what to do. In fact, I’ve heard salespeople ask if they should stop selling right now.
Your sales leaders are also uncertain. They’re trying to figure out how to keep their teams motivated, engaged, and focused on the customer under the strangest conditions they’ve ever seen. You may be depending on your sales leadership to figure it out, but very few sales leaders can pull off this level of change in strategy by themselves. They need direction from the CEO, who holds the vision.
In a moment like this, teams need extraordinary leadership. A good leader has to lead the way, admit the unknown, and be confident in what to do next (not forever—just next). Smart leaders are saying, “We cannot do things the same way we’ve always done them and expect it to work.” A pivot is needed and everyone needs to agree on what that will be.
A Pivot Means Investing in Sales Growth
Pivoting means making the necessary changes to invest in sales growth. For your company, a pivot might mean one or a few of the following.
- Extreme changes in product lines or even industries. For example, a number of companies have shifted their businesses to address the extreme shortage of medical supplies and equipment needed to manage this pandemic.
- Selling the same thing in a different way. During this pandemic, many people are shifting from selling or delivering in-person to online. If your customers no longer need what you’re selling the way you normally sell it, you need to figure out an appropriate pivot.
- Selling the same thing in the same way but to a different audience. People who never needed what you sold may need it now. Plastic shielding that was probably being used to protect displays and equipment is now being purchased by grocery stores to create a barrier between the cashier and the customer. (A need most of us would never have imagined before COVID–19 struck.) If your customers are in industries so negatively impacted that they may not survive, you will have to find a new target customer.
- Refocusing your prospecting message. New problems have emerged for your customers, and your old messaging may be irrelevant. For example, a company that makes a unique kind of spa equipment was focused on helping spas provide a new service. During the pandemic, the fact that this treatment doesn’t require the provider to come in physical contact with the client makes it now a selling feature that spa owners wouldn’t have cared about before. If your current messages don’t resonate anymore, you need to refocus your prospecting messaging.
Because sales and customer service teams have the closest relationships with customers, you should involve them in your pivot strategy planning.
Three CEO Action Steps to Make Your Pandemic Pivot for Sales Growth
Every decision you make as a leader right now will impact your sales. (Even securing that PPP loan is impacting your sales because the terms stipulate you need to keep 70% of your staff on the payroll – which means you may not be able to fire underperforming salespeople right now, even if you wanted to.)
Here are three key action steps CEOs can take to plan for greater sales growth.
#1: Look for new market opportunities with growth in mind.
Some CEOs we work with are jumping to fill the needs of markets that seem like they have a high demand right now. But hold on! Are those market opportunities really viable?
For example, a staffing company focused on accounting positions might want to pivot to staffing for healthcare because at first glance there is a great need. But the reality is, only certain healthcare companies are hiring right now. For example, nurses working at hospitals in less impacted areas can’t get shifts because there are no elective surgeries happening. Examine the market carefully. Is there really business there? How do you plan to test that market before you spend money to go after it?
If it is a viable market, you’d need to proceed methodically (but quickly) to pursue it. For example, you’d need to build out a dedicated web page for the new audience. Your sales team would have to understand how to approach that market. They’d need a proper lead list to call. Before you invest money in pursuing a market, make sure it will support the growth you need. Move quickly, but not with undue haste.
#2: Evaluate the products in your portfolio and provide the sales team with strategic direction.
Will you be able to sustain your business with your current product line? Or will some of your products go away, at least for a while?
Also, will you need some new products or services to round out your offerings to meet new needs of your customers (or because you need to sell more to survive)? One of the best ways to increase sales is by selling more to your existing customers. If the customers you have can’t keep buying what they’ve always bought from you, can they buy something else from you? If they can keep buying from you, is there a new problem you can solve for them?
You also need to think about giving the sales team some strategic direction. Since sales may be down, at least in the short run, can you make more profit? Many companies have an array of products or offerings, and they can sell some more profitably than others. In the midst of a pandemic, make sure your sales team is focused on selling your high-profit offerings.
(If you could increase your price, that would be great—but it’s probably not going to happen right now. Customers usually want more for less in a recession.)
Let’s say you sell security services, including equipment, installations, and monitoring. You know you make about five percent profit on equipment and installations, but the recurring revenue you get for monitoring is between 15% and 20%. Focus on selling monitoring with every installation.
If you’re like most teams, you’re still selling the same old way – trying to sell whichever product line you can (of course, leading with empathy). But if you change your strategy—which changes what you sell and how you sell it—and focus on more profitable offerings, you might pull in less revenue but your overall profit could be higher (or at least stay in the same place as last year).
You have to sell what your customers need, but with the right strategy, you can reposition your offerings to help your customers get what they need and make your company more profitable at the same time.
#3: Triage your sales pipeline.
With what certainty can you forecast right now? I’m guessing you may be struggling with this. Don’t leave it to the sales leaders to bring you the sales forecast. CEOs and company leaders need to work with sales leaders now to truly understand what’s in the pipeline. Your strategy should guide which opportunities should be pursued at this time and which shouldn’t.
Examine your sales pipeline together and look at all the open opportunities. Anything that has low-margin potential may not be worth actively pursuing right now. (If those prospects happen to call you, great. Otherwise, don’t have salespeople invest the time to relentlessly pursue them.)
Be ruthless about evaluating opportunities in the pipeline. Some opportunities will go away, some will decrease, some will stay the same, and others might increase. Face the realities head-on so you can make good decisions.
Once leadership has carefully reviewed the pipeline and made some strategic decisions, the sales leaders can help the salespeople prioritize.
Salespeople perform best when they understand the strategy and receive some structure to work within. If they’re overwhelmed working at home right now, they’re probably working on what’s right in front of them with very little planning and they may not be prioritizing well. Your sales leaders can fix that if they have a strong strategy from leadership.
Take Time to Plan and Set a Vision for Your Company
To keep sales strong in tough times, the CEO has to set the vision and the path forward. Remember, opportunities for sales growth exist!
One of our clients sells security systems to nursing homes—and he just discovered a new business problem he can solve. Nursing homes have added a new level of infection control and vector tracking to existing safety issues they need to address. The CEO realized that by extending the access control system to include location tracking, his company could solve that new priority. Out of the pandemic, an opportunity appeared that they had never thought of before.
This moment in history is a leadership test. Stay focused on the right things and your company will weather this storm. If you remember why you are in business and stay true to your core, you will more easily be able to change what you sell and how you sell it.
Alice is nationally known for her expertise in elevating sales to increase valuation for companies with a B2B complex sale that have exceptional growth potential. She’s originally, from the widely known Miller Heiman Group. Spending her time strategizing with CEOs and their leadership teams to build the strategies that find new business and grow existing accounts is her passion. Her clients love her spirit and the way she energizes their sales organization.