Challenger’s 9th pulse survey continues to look at overall sales leader sentiment. In addition, we look at the effectiveness of current customer engagement strategies. To give away the lede, we find that real-time customer interactions depend on a growing stack of sales technologies. Beyond this, we find that respondents who report greater effectiveness in their sales approach communicate with their customers in a specific way, and they are not content to stop with re-affirming and rebuilding rapport.

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

Overall Sentiment

With regards to sentiment, survey results suggest we’ve entered a holding pattern in perspective about the commercial environment. Businesses everywhere have poor visibility into Q4 and until they have that visibility, they’re slow to shift their mindsets. On the bright side, we do see a few improvements since August (the date of our last survey).

Our tracker of sales management metrics shows broad improvement; though respondents continue to question whether their organization provides the right incentives to drive sales performance.

Customer Engagement

Since most businesses are now highly digital, Challenger has seen intense interest in how to best engage customers in a virtual setting. In our survey, we looked to understand sales leaders’ opinion of their virtual engagement strategies. A few would rate their strategies as being “very effective”, but a rather large 57% find it either so-so or broadly ineffective: That’s a big problem.

We followed that question by asking about the toolset these organizations use. Perhaps no surprise, but the most widely used tools are also the three most effective ones: video conferencing, phone, and email. As has been widely noted by others such as Gong.ai, video conferencing has triumphed in 2020; it is simply how business is now conducted.

An interesting finding, however, is hidden in the data: Sales leaders who rate their engagement strategies as “most effective” also make greater use of a fuller sales technology stack. These respondents report using 13 tools compared to an average of 9 for everybody else. This tells us that having a powerful interaction will increasingly depend on mastering a broad technology suite and that sales and customer engagement platforms are increasingly becoming indispensable. It would, in other words, be a mistake to look at the supremacy of the 3 live technologies and assume that you can succeed by only using traditional methods.

Maybe not surprisingly but more passive forms of customer engagement, such as voice mail and chat bots are seen as somewhat less effective. However, these are low-cost technologies and, we believe, they can play an important role in capturing interest from customers who are, for the moment, less interested in one-to-one interaction with a sales representative.

Beyond differences in tool use for more effective engagement, we also observe a difference in how those with more effective engagement strategies communicate with customers. The nature of the change here was best summarized by one of the responding sales leaders:

“Empathy, empathy, empathy … to a point. Establishing a connection and mutual understanding is more critical than ever. But many customers have become so risk averse that they refuse to take any action at all. That paralysis isn’t helping them respond effectively to the crisis, and it isn’t helping them advance their careers. So it’s critical to follow up [expressions of empathy] with strong questions about how they will respond to the obstacles in front of them, and to double down on the cost of inaction.”

In other words, respecting the moment cannot supersede wanting to do the right thing for your customer. These are good words to live by. The greatest differences between very effective and ineffective outreach experiences come down to acknowledging the current situation, re-establishing common ground, asking powerful questions, actively listening, and setting actionable next steps.

Ultimately ̶ and it can be easy to forget this, as intuitive at it seems ̶ it’s not about the way you present yourself, but the way you make yourself available to your customer.

View our Past Survey Results

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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.