Given its focus on in-person relationships, few functions are more impacted by the emergence of the coronavirus (officially COVID-19) than the sales organization.

The enormity of this event – the Black Swan of 2020, as many are calling it – has outpaced our ability to understand, fully, what the impacts to business might be. This situation is still extremely fluid and many companies are still formulating their responses.

To provide some perspective into what steps sales leaders are taking, Challenger reached out to a convenience sample of our contacts to learn and understand how they’re responding.

A majority of respondents expect coronavirus to impact their business, one way or another.

In terms of the expected business impact, slightly more than half (58.9%) of respondents expect a medium to large impact on revenue. A slightly smaller percentage expects a medium to high impact on budget (51.8%). What is abundantly clear is that very few companies expect to pass through this event unscathed.

Most respondents (75.7%) expect the current state of uncertainty to last for no longer than 4 months. A small number of respondents (5.4%) expect it to take 7 months or longer before business goes back to normal.

Despite uncertainty, the outbreak is starting to have real impacts on businesses, with 58% postponing or even cancelling events.

In terms of the different things that companies are doing, currently, as of March 5, 2020, those actions fall into 3 buckets.

The majority of respondents have already taken the following steps:

Respondents have already taken the following steps: YesNo
Mass communication to employees acknowledging outbreak​ 86%14%
Communication of public health advice 81%19%
Asking employees with travel to high risk regions to stay home​ 66%34%
Postpone or cancel major in-person company gatherings​ 58%42%

The following steps are reasonably common. Of particular note for sales leaders is that 41% of respondents report having already cancelled major in-person customer meetings.

Respondents have already taken the following steps:   Yes No
Postpone or cancel major in-person customer meetings 41% 59%
Ask employees to meet virtually 39% 61%
Ask employees to telework 36% 64%
Reinforce existing sick leave policies 34% 66%
Shift in-person training to virtual 32% 68%
Make contingency plans to support employees deal with closures 31%70%
Acquire and distribute items such as hand sanitizer 27% 73%

Fewer have taken any of the following more disruptive actions ; we do expect, however, that this could change as the situation progresses.

Respondents have taken these steps:YesNo
Prevent contract staff/visitors from coming to premises 17%83%
Postpone or cancel major investments 12%88%
Shift work around so that it is performed at multiple locations 7%93%
Postpone or cancel any hiring decisions6%94%

Though we’re still in the early stages of this event, it’s clear that there could be some pretty substantive impacts to all business functions, and the sales organization more than others. We’ll be keeping on eye on these developments to help us better understand what they could mean for you and your operations.

As events continue to unfold, we expect companies to take further steps in reaction to the spread of COVID-19. We’ll update our new findings as the situation develop, so keep on eye on this space.

If you are interested in adding your perspective to this data, click 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.