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COVID-19

Managing sales during pandemic is once in lifetime career experience

For chief sales officers CSOs, risk management related to the COVID-19 pandemic extends beyond the sales organisation to risks originating in the customer ecosystem and the supply chain. The planning and execution decisions CSOs make today will help the sales organisation to weather the crisis as it unfolds — and position sales well for the recovery phase when it comes.

The COVID-19 outbreak is the latest reminder that sales organisations have unique challenges that arise during large-scale disruptions to business. Handled appropriately, such crises, whether health pandemics, natural disasters or other uncontrollable acts, represent tremendous downside risks, but good decisions made now can position the organisation to thrive in the long term.

Gartner recommends that CSOs and sales leaders focus their planning on three key objectives to address the risks associated with the coronavirus outbreak.

Prepare for risks

Internally, communicate the importance of keeping the sales organisation safe, as sellers need to know the company prioritises their health over short-term sales outcomes. Back up this commitment to seller well-being with a willingness to proactively manage sales compensation plans and quotas as a result of coronavirus-related disruptions to the business. 

Global disease pandemics like COVID-19 threaten more than internal commercial activities, so sales leaders must scope their planning efforts for such disruptions beyond the sales organisation.

Prepare for softening of demand and longer sales cycles, and plan for inevitable order cancellations. Equally important in many industries are the risks to the supply chain and available inventory, as many sales are not considered complete until the product or service is delivered to the customer.

Prepare for execution

As the health crisis grows and business slows, create and evolve rules for response governance and efficient decision making that are relevant to the unique challenges the sales organisation will face. 

During a crisis, consistent messaging, transparency and communication discipline are indispensable to help instill confidence and reinforce new governance processes. Also create metrics to track sales activities, identify new issues and track adherence to emergency policies and priorities.

Strengthen the position

Choices made now can strengthen the sales force’s competitive position when the crisis subsides. The top priority is to invest in customer relationships and channel partnerships, so sales leaders should look to increase and reward loyalty from key stakeholders. In addition, they must find ways to help equip key customers, channel partners and suppliers to succeed during and immediately after the crisis. 

Act deliberately to strengthen the sales culture and protect team morale during the disruption. How CSOs lead now will set the tone and pace for a powerful and career-making experience for everyone in the sales function. 


Key takeaways 

  • Prepare for softening of demand, longer sales cycles, order cancellations. 
  • Equally important in many industries are the risks to the supply chain and inventory.
  • Sales are not considered complete until the product or service is delivered to the customer.
  • During a crisis, consistent messaging, transparency, communication discipline are indispensable.
  • Choices made now can strengthen the sales force’s competitive position when the crisis subsides. 
  • The priority is to invest in customer relationships and channel partnerships.
  • Act deliberately to strengthen the sales culture and protect team morale during the disruption. 
  • How CSOs lead now will set the tone for a career-making experience for everyone in the sales function. 

By Steve Herz, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.

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