Challenger first surveyed a cross section of B2B commercial leaders on March 6th . We repeated the survey March 18th. The first survey collected 59 responses over 3 days, the second survey collected 68 responses within a day. This post covers changes in sentiment as well as the concrete steps that different companies are taking to mitigate the effects of this social and economic tragedy. Download the infographic with the full survey results here.

Sentiment

The two-week period between March 6th and 18th saw a dramatic shift in sentiment, with respondents sharply revising their opinion of the severity of the situation.

More sales and marketing leaders now believe it will take longer for business to go back to normal, with the average estimate of how long the crisis will last increasing from 3.7 months to 4.5 months. Only 15.1% of respondents believe that things will go back to normal in under 3 months.

In this most recent survey, Challenger also asked respondents to provide their sense of the amount of Q1 2020 forecast pipeline revenue that is being postponed. On average respondents report seeing 29.6% of revenue being delayed since the onset of the crisis.

The overall distribution, however, suggests that companies are experiencing three types of responses. First, there is a small number of respondents who report no impact on pipelines. There is a second group whose responses cluster around the median postponement of 25%. Finally, almost 3 in 10 respondents expect to see 50% or more of their forecast pipeline revenues postponed.

Concrete Steps

Two weeks ago, we found that most sales and marketing leaders had communicated at least general awareness of the coronavirus. Not quite two weeks later, over 90% of respondents report asking employees to telework, skipping some of the interim measures that were being considered previously.

There is now also a considerable increase in the number of respondents taking steps that will reduce expenses, such as postponing or canceling hiring decisions or major investments.

Concrete stepsMarch 6thMarch 18th
Ask employees to telework36%92%
Communication of public health advice81%92%
Mass communication to employees acknowledging outbreak84%91%
Asking employees to meet virtually 39% 89%
Postpone or cancel major in-person company gatherings58%86%
Postpone or cancel major in-person customer meetings41%85%
Shift in-person training to virtual32%78%

In the pulse survey, we also asked respondents to tell us whether they had taken any of the more tactical steps to ensure that the sales organization remains productive during the disruption. Here, we find that most respondents have not yet taken steps that will likely be required to address what is shaping up to be a fundamental disruption in both demand and supply. While the gravity of the situation is well understood, sales and marketing leaders are still very uncertain about what to do in response.

For the moment, 40% report having shifted marketing spend toward digital. This makes a lot of sense in an environment where social distancing is likely to be the new normal for a prolonged period of time. The unanswered question is then whether buyers will return to their previous modes of purchase, heavily reliant on face-to-face interaction, or whether digital purchasing of even more complex solutions will become the new normal. A smaller number of sales and marketing leaders have made changes to account plans, likely triggered by the unexpected postponement of forecast revenue. Leaders are also spending more time with their high performers, knowing that their engagement and continued performance will be critical in the short-term.

Challenger’s perspective is that companies need to urgently bring forward additional operational changes to cope with a disruption that respondents themselves anticipate will last 4.5 months, on average. We believe that customer requirements will change – and change fundamentally. There will be customers for whom a “nice-to-have solution” has now become an urgent buy. A small number of clients, for example, report runaway demand for their products and services, leading to delivery and fulfillment issues.

But for most solutions, customers will curb spend, reducing demand, and it may take a long time for that demand to bounce back, especially if B2B buyers develop new patterns of consumption. To adapt, sales and marketing leaders must:

  1. Redefine their ideal customer profile and market strategy
  2. Take a hard look at their commercial messaging – does it speak to critical pain points in the customer’s operations?
  3. Model and develop high performance sales behaviors for a difficult economy – can sellers create demand when it doesn’t exist organically in customer organizations?
  4. Lean heavily on friendly customer stakeholders (we call them Mobilizers) – they are the best real-time information source inside your customer and can get the attention of functional leaders your people will find it much more difficult to engage.

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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.