Challenger surveyed 108 commercial leaders on April 14-16. This is the fourth time we’ve built on data originally gathered on March 6th; or what feels like an eternity ago. This post continues to look at changes in sentiment, changes in the sales motion, the concrete steps that companies are taking to safeguard their businesses with a view toward 2021, as well as taking a look at the relative effectiveness of different tactics companies are deploying to maintain the focus and resilience of their sales force.  

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

Sentiment

At this point, perceptions around the impact of COVID-19 have stabilized and might even have improved somewhat as companies have more of the information needed to make decisions.

That said, respondents now expect it to take another 7 months before things go back to “normal”, reinforcing the notion that we are now observing long-term shifts in the nature of demand.

Respondents perspectives on how long it will take to go "back to normal"

Sales Motion

To understand the current seller experience, we asked respondents to tell us where in the sales process they observed changes. This data provides us with some important insights:

  1. While customer conversations are increasingly difficult to secure, it is even less likely that these conversations convert into viable opportunities. This reinforces the need to focus sellers onthose customers with the best fit and potential to transact business.
  2. Conversion rates are also down, with 63% of respondents reporting a fall of at least 5% . This development is likely to undermine forecasting accuracy, and lower conversion rates of course mean more opportunities are required to hit bookings targets…a tall task in an environment where opportunity volume is decreasing.
  3. Average deal size is also coming down a bit, which makes intuitive sense as even willing buyers hedge their budget bets in an uncertain macro environment.
  4. Sales cycles, however, seem to be more or less the same on average but that likely obscures some more extreme changes within individual companies. Rather, 78% of respondents report that the sales cycle is changing significantly, but an almost equal number report that cycles are decreasing as those who say it is increasing. Here, it appears that changing sales cycles likely depend on other factors (possibly industry, or type of sales motion).
Perceived impacts to the sales motion

We are also observing a change in the composition of the buying group, with more stakeholders becoming involved. Beyond that we are seeing an increase in the involvement of finance in purchase decisions. These two observations underline the importance of being able to quickly articulate how exactly a purchase will help customers maintain their bottom-lines.

Concrete steps

We observe significant steps now being taken in terms of companies changing revenue goals and account plans. Our perspective is that the moment demands a focus on securing and nurturing quality business and that all sales forces will need to rethink their account plans. You can read our perspective on account planning here.

Actions Respondents are Taking

Beyond changes to account plans, we also observe an increase in the involvement of sellers in collection efforts. This is likely the result of needed to engage contacts higher-up in customer organizations and high pressure among suppliers to not only bring in bookings and revenue, but also cash.

Not surprisingly, given the contraction in demand, almost 20% of companies report having to reduce the number of sellers they employ. This necessarily means an interruption of long-standing customer relationships and will likely have a further knock-on effect in terms of back half 2020 pipelines.

Virtual working practices

Now that B2B salesforces across the world have been working virtually for over a month, Challenger was interested in identifying those practices that appear to be most effective.

Overall, the following trends emerge:

  1. Respondents report greatest effectiveness from deploying more persistent, and free-wheeling platforms for having conversations such as Slack or Microsoft’s Teams. Challenger’s experience is that while these platforms can appear to be distracting – especially to more senior people – they really come into their own when many people need to rapidly exchange information virtually.
  2. Managers are also being asked to increase the frequency of individual ‘catch-ups’ or to conduct more formal ‘stand-ups’ where individuals are asked to share their daily plans. Maintaining this level of commitment and energy is obviously taxing and Challenger finds that managers will need extra support (reduced time burdens elsewhere and/or better training) during these times. Read Challenger’s perspective on Manager Coaching here.
  3. Respondents also report on the effectiveness of making more training opportunities available. At a time of change, individuals will find that they cannot rely on their current skillset and will be hungry for information and training that helps them stay current.
  4. Interestingly, gifts and a willingness to defray expenses such as mobile costs, appear to be surprisingly ineffective. However, respondents do report on the effectiveness of specific outreach to thank individuals who go beyond the call of duty. This is a good practice always, but particularly helpful when people feel isolated and not sure of the value of their work.

View our Past Survey Results

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

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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.