Our previous pulse survey of sales leaders, issued May 6, revealed respondents anticipating that it would take another 8.7 months before business reverts ‘back to normal.’ At Challenger, we read this as an assumption that a “new normal” is setting in. The economy through the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 will look very different than what we expected early this year.

Accordingly, Challenger reset our questions to explore a different angle in this most recent pulse survey. We asked sales leaders to indicate their level of optimism with regard to their personal future, their organization’s future, and the general business environment. We plan to track these metrics on an ongoing basis while we also look to explore other relevant topics. 

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

Overall sentiment

Three quarters of sales leaders are strongly optimistic about their own and their organizations’ future. Strikingly, however, everyone is less confident about the overall business environment.

Sentiment with regards to sales management practices

Perhaps speaking to a sense of fewer job opportunities, 72% of sales leaders are confident their organizations will retain their best salespeople through 2020. Other indicators, however, may signal cause for concern. More sales leaders expressed concern with the level of support their organizations provide salespeople or their incentives to drive sales performance. Finally, the fact only 40% of organizations report having a strong coaching culture is especially concerning.

Current Performance

As we saw earlier, sales leaders are much less confident about the current business environment. This is clear when you compare expected revenue in Q3 2020 with Q3 2019: on average, respondents expect a 12.5% drop.

That said, the average hides a fairly wide distribution: 11% expect reductions of 50% or more, while a small percentage of respondents, 3%, expect to increase revenues by 25% or more. For sales leaders, this emphasizes the need to focus on identifying how existing accounts can continue to drive value while also serving as a reminder that some organizations are managing to deliver considerable growth.

Respondent’s confidence in the broader business environment is likely driven by how the current quarter, Q2, is expected to close. Roughly a third, 30%, believe the quarter will meet previous revenue expectations, 38% report it will be worse than they previously expected. Finally, 32% report they expect things will be much better than previously expected.

Channel Strategy

By April 16, 19% of organizations reported the need to make a reduction in force. We wanted to understand if there were any data patterns between this survey and that. Overall, we find that the recruiting market for sellers is in flux; cuts in one segment are balanced with selective additions elsewhere. Most impacted, for the moment, is the sales enablement function with 13% of leaders making cuts of 5% or more. Tentatively, we might also conclude a small shift away from field sales reps. Lastly, at a time when companies continue to rethink their offers, it is heartening to see many organizations substantially expand their training & development staff.

In summary, although the market is very difficult, sales leaders are optimistic about their chances for success. Retaining, developing and coaching people is key to survive Q2 and Q3, with a hoped-for recovery coming in late 2020 and 2021. Our hope with this data is that the period of substantial job cuts is ending. Organizations will soon transition back to growth mode and will want to make the most of the capable, experienced talent out looking for the next opportunity.

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Spencer Wixom & Timur Hicyilmaz

Spencer is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Challenger, and has helped transform sales and marketing teams in some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

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.