Challenger surveyed 139 commercial leaders March 31-April 1, building on data gathered March 6th and March 18th. This post continues to look at changes in sentiment, the concrete steps that companies are taking to safeguard their businesses with a view toward 2021, and takes a look at whether current changes are likely to have permanent ramifications. Download the infographic with the full survey results here.

Sentiment

When we first surveyed commercial leaders at the beginning of March, only 1 in 10 respondents expected COVID-19 to have a high impact on 2020 revenue or budget. Now, just one month later, the majority expect a high impact to both (51.8% and 57.4% respectively).

We have seen a similar shift in terms of how long participants expect it to take before business goes back to normal, with participants essentially expecting the disruption to last for 2 quarters (5.78 months).

Most dramatic, however, is respondents’ new expectations for Q2 top line activity. Only 8% of commercial leaders report forecasting either a neutral or positive change relative to their original forecast. A full 92% report a reduction: on average, an eye-searing 47% drop from the original forecast. Business in Q2 will be difficult indeed.

Challenger’s perspective is that businesses will need to create a fresh revenue plan in Q2 that is based on detailed segment and account-level analysis of the business impact. Neither Q2 performance nor 2019 are likely to be a good model for 2021.

Challenger recommends that all companies operate as if they were a brand-new business, scoring market demand from scratch and obsessively tracking cash flow. Our survey respondents implicitly acknowledge this, with 25.7% expressing high levels of uncertainty around the forecast.

Heads of Sales, in particular, need to be ready to bring their CFOs an outline of a revenue plan that can be used to start setting more granular targets once things become clearer going into 2021. One option would be to take a heat map approach using the state of current business as a start, as shown below:

Illustrative Heat Map of Business
(Color Coded Speculative Based on Current Observations)

Concrete Steps

In terms of the actions commercial leaders are taking, they are ramping up their response, looking for tailored messages and insights that address their customers’ bottom-line and current acute pain.

Challenger’s perspective is that companies are just beginning to internalize some of the more strategic changes they need to make as they adapt to the new situation. In this environment, where CFOs are focused on cutting costs, sellers need to be able to hold their own with the finance department. To access Challenger’s training module designed to enhance your customer understanding skills, click here.

It is also early days in terms of how companies are changing goals or incentives. While the exact nature of the change required likely depends on industry, geography, and the amount of variable pay that sellers already receive, Challenger believes that the failure to set new, relevant expectations can lead to wasted time and disengagement.

Currently, the most common action taken is using add-ons/SPIFs to drive specific activities. Challenger believes that this is appropriate for more junior employees, but we would recommend using non-cash incentives, and appealing to sellers’ natural competitiveness to drive behaviors – particularly as there is no guarantee that these activities will have the desired results.

Permanence 

Challenger also asked respondents if the current situation has resulted in any permanent changes in the way that sellers and customers complete business. For the moment, a significant minority anticipates changes to both marketing and buying practices. Challenger’s perspective is that buying behaviors are likely to undergo significant changes as companies learn that they can complete complex B2B transactions virtually.

We will continue to track these numbers, to try and identify how purchasing, and thus selling, might be permanently altered.

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First pulse survey collected 59 responses, March 3-6. Second survey collected 69 responses March 16-18. Third survey collected 139 responses March 31-April 1. Respondents represent a cross-section of commercial leaders.


To learn more about Challenger’s virtual training solutions head here.

Timur Hicyilmaz

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.