After more than a year of uncertainty and forced improvisation, Chief Sales Officers (CSOs) are cautiously hoping that the 2022 sales planning season will mark a return to normalcy.
In reality, though, this moment in the Covid-19 pandemic’s life cycle may be more challenging for sales leaders than the beginning. While some economic indicators hint at new market stability, CSOs who let down their guard now may be caught flat-footed in the months ahead when sales strategy slips out of alignment with the facts on the ground. The sudden impact of the Coronavirus Delta variant is a sobering reminder that market fragility can manifest with little warning.
To manage lingering but still-undetected sales risks during annual strategic planning sessions, CSOs and their teams should consider the following eight questions as they emerge from pandemic disruption:
1. How Has The Covid-19 Pandemic Changed GTM Strategies & Buying Journeys?
As CSOs turn their attention to 2022, their organizations will depend on them to lead a disciplined, vigilant and measured approach to reassessing and mapping changes to customers’ buying needs. CSOs will need to deliberately govern the decision-making process so it enables agility but avoids premature decisions based on unstable customer needs.
2. How Should GTM Change To Reflect New Workforce, Operations & Finance Realities?
3. Will My Leadership Decisions Impact The Results Of Internal Colleagues?
Sales leaders must remember the events of the past year did not create a single, uniform experience for internal leaders or customers. To lay the groundwork for effective decision making, CSOs must reestablish a shared, cohesive point of view on the priorities and limits of the sales organization. In fact, many communication channels that were disrupted during the pandemic may need to be repaired or adapted to meet new needs before these differences can be ironed out.
4. What Are The Right Sequences & Timing To Bring Organizations To A Common ‘New Normal?’
In returning to steady-state commercial activities, the order of operations that sales organizations follow will affect their speed and success. Changes to the sales force should follow a standard logical sequence in most cases, with many decisions depending on details of “predecessor” choices.
5. How Can Organizations Leverage The Risk Management Strategies Introduced During The Pandemic To Their Advantage?
Sales organizations that built new risk-management and decision-governance processes to deal with the Covid-19 crisis should continue using them to guide commercial operations. In the near term, these capabilities remain essential because selling constraints, customer preferences and recovering markets are far from stable.
In the longer term, risk management is a capability that must be standardized and elevated in importance as a component of any modern sales organization. Even industries spared the brunt of the pandemic’s impact should look to the model set by companies that have been hit hard and proactively evaluate and shore up their own risk management activities.
6. What Planning & Decision-Making Tactics Can Ensure Sales Analytics & Projections Are Valid?
All sales teams — from those using basic single-coverage territory models to the most matrixed global sales forces — depend on assumptions to operate when complete information is unavailable. These assumptions appear in nearly every part of the sales force, but many are the responsibility of the sales operations team. They may originate in externally sourced benchmarks or be derived from historical company data. These inputs – like operating guidance, financial ratios and industry-based standards – are easily overlooked and often taken for granted. Yet, they are needed to keep complex systems running at scale.
As the pandemic wanes, each of those assumptions, heuristics and guidelines must be identified, scrutinized and potentially recalibrated to reflect changes to the company’s GTM strategy and coverage tactics.
7. Is My Enablement Team Agile Enough To Respond To Uncertain Buyer & Seller Needs?
Sales enablement leaders can accelerate post-pandemic success by anticipating three distinct, but related, changes their functions will face:
The “what,” which includeschanges to sales enablement deliverables needed to respond to shifts in customers’ buying journeys.
The short-term “how,” such as how changes to sales processes, linked to unsettled customer needs, are likely to roll through the sales organization and beyond. Sales enablement leaders should cultivate a heightened vigilance within the function so their teams can respond to sudden, time-sensitive changes in sales process and operations
The long-term “how,” which includes inevitable changes to the sales enablement function, many linked to technology advances. These would have arrived irrespective of the Covid-19 pandemic, which simply accelerated their arrival and increased their urgency.
8. Do We Have A Robust Process To Identify & Share Innovations?
Smart sales enablement leaders recognize that effectively supporting the sales force requires a top-down, end-to-end view of the challenges sellers are facing. But the power of a top-down executive perspective does not lessen the potential impact of a motivated seller using raw creativity to close a deal.
As they emerge from the pandemic, companies that can learn and document lessons from successful sellers and then export them to the rest of the sales team will be more responsive to customer needs. All things being equal, those companies will win out over competitors trying to solve complex customer problems from a centralized headquarters perspective.
Steve Herz is a senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice.