Challenger surveyed 76 commercial leaders on May 4-6. This post look at changes in sentiment, on the working relationship between sales and other functions, as well as the consistent application of crucial sales skills.

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

Sentiment

At this point, perceptions around the impact of COVID-19 have clearly stabilized, with significant effects to 2020 revenue and budget for about half of companies surveyed.

Percent Expecting Impact to Revenue & Budget

However, respondents continue to push out the recovery timeline and now believe it will take almost 9 months from this point onward before business goes back to “normal”. This implies that business will continue to be a “hard slog” for the foreseeable future as the economy slowly rebuilds.

Months of expected impact

Alignment with other functions

We asked sales leaders to tell us about the state of alignment with other functions and the friction inherent in conversation and collaboration. Candidly, relationships between departments are best described as “luke warm” and some may be “frosty”. Sales departments score Sales Enablement high in effective relationship, but roughly every fourth to fifth respondent described an ineffective relationship with an important function.

Most tense, appears to be the relationship with the Finance function. We believe that this tension manifests itself in two major ways. First, finance departments are likely reviewing existing and future contracts with a view toward minimizing risk. This creates friction as sales leaders and sellers chafe under new guidelines and what they might perceive as a loss of empowerment. Second, and perhaps more fundamentally, the CFO wants a new revenue plan despite the current uncertainty. In our experience, CSOs that were previously reliant on existing revenue find this particularly hard to deliver as the immediate past (pre COVID) turns out to be a poor guide to the future.

Percent of Sellers Rating Relationship Ineffective

Organizational Capabilities

We asked about seller’s readiness to conduct business virtually when we started this analysis two months ago. The update in the chart below shows that companies are making steady but slow progress in terms of managing this new virtual environment.

That said, only about half of respondents would say that they are able to deliver coaching and training well. This will be a continuing problem – and one that should be actively addressed – as companies need to manage and coaching employees through the ‘reset’ of their businesses.

Most concerning is that only 34% of companies believe they can effectively generate viable leads in this environment. This puts extra focus on targeted and engaging outbound operations and the need for marketers, SDRs and sales executives to work together more effectively on an inbound/outbound lead strategy.

Percent of Respondents rating skills as a strength

Sales skills

In an effort to identify critical skill gaps, we asked sales leaders to identify how consistently they see individuals in their sales force demonstrate different skills. The results are revealing:

In terms of gaps, there is a disconnect in the perspective of senior sales leaders and managers, and the perspective of other respondents (mainly individual sellers). Not surprisingly, senior leaders are consistently more critical of capability. The gaps are largest in the sales force’s ability to navigate internal processes (a gap of 13%), the ability of the sales force to drive urgency (12%), and whether or not sellers are able to generate a sufficient volume of prospects to meet quota (11%).

Percent Agreeing that Sales Force Consistently Demonstrates the Skill

In terms of general skill weaknesses, we see that companies struggle with the ‘reset of 2020’. In particular, this means engaging customers around how they can help them in the new environment. The trouble starts with not having refined new insights, motivating customers out of inaction and finding mobilizers who can make a purchase happen. All of this is reflected in terms of anxiety around the sales force’s ability to drive urgency.

Overall, what we see in this 5th pulse survey is an acceptance that there will be no snap-back of the economy and companies must prepare for a difficult market for months to come. Many are learning fast how to conduct business virtually, but more work is needed to generate new opportunities and coach these opportunities effectively when not face-to-face. Sales leaders should take the initiative to manage and mend strained relationships and difficult collaboration across functions. And all organizations, from top to bottom, need to be honest and willing to take necessary actions when they lack the skills to handle the long, hard fight.

View our Past Survey Results

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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.