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How COVID-19 Has Changed Sales Best Practices

September 22, 2020

It’s hard to imagine that just six months ago, revenue organizations around the world basked in the glow of a bull market. All focus was on maximizing growth, and frontline sales managers were most worried about what to do if their reps were regularly exceeding quota.

But COVID-19 has drastically changed this environment. It’s altered so much of the context surrounding sales, from the kinds of companies able to buy to the language that wins deals. The recent pandemic has changed sales best practices, too. Selling as though the past half-year never happened is unlikely to end well for your sales team.

The following are a few examples of how COVID-19 has changed sales best practices, how to coach your reps around these shifts, and how to make them work for you as you navigate the world after the pandemic.

What Are Sales Best Practices? #

Sales best practices are a set of norms, techniques, and rules that, if your sales team follows them during the sales process, will most likely result in a good win rate. There is no universally agreed-upon set of best practices for sales, but well-tailored guidelines will include a mix of procedural, ethical, and cultural factors.

Making sales best practices work for your sales team requires alignment between your frontline management, your sales reps, and other team members.

Management is responsible for sales enablement through best practices in the following areas:

  • Keeping up with sales coaching
  • Keeping both employee and client turnover down
  • Continuing to share knowledge
  • Creating and maintaining the right sales culture

The other sales professionals on your team also have an important part to play.

They’ll be responsible for ensuring that the following sales best practices are enacted during the sales cycle:

  • Using sales terms during the buying process
  • Follow-up communication
  • Giving sales presentations or a sales pitch
  • Ethical selling

All of these best practices are primarily geared toward creating a positive customer experience, which is the central pillar for sales success in SaaS. Let’s take a look at a few sales best practices that have taken particular prominence following market changes due to COVID-19.

The New Post-COVID-19 Sales Best Practices #

COVID-19 has disrupted conventional sales logic across the board. Whether you’re assessing new potential customers and buyer personas, catering to existing customers, refining your onboarding process, or evaluating sales training methods, you may find that best practices have shifted. The new sales best practices best tailored for COVID-19 fit into several categories.

Sales calls, Outreach, and Follow-up #

There has been a high degree of speculation as to how COVID-19 would impact sales calls. However, industry leaders note that connect rates are flat post-COVID. For that reason, maintaining sales call volume is a key best practice and an essential part of sales enablement in this new climate.

COVID-19 has also given sales professionals license to consider outside-the-box approaches, beyond what’s usual during the sales process. For instance, you may now find it effective to open a sales cycle with a Zoom call, whereas such a thing was unthinkable before.

It can be difficult to create a great customer experience when so many new prospects are also encountering operational difficulties post-COVID-19. For that reason, personalize your outbound messaging for a great likelihood of success. This is particularly important when trying to break through crowded channels, such as email.

Finally, when perfecting your new sales best practices for outreach, ensure that you’ve unified your sales and marketing teams’ approach for better lead qualification. This is vital whether you’re switching buyer personas post-COVID-19 to target less price-sensitive segments or to improve conversion rates and bolster your sales pipeline’s health. It’s also important for ethical reasons: to ensure that your marketing department is reflecting your product’s (and sales team’s) capabilities when reaching out to new prospects.

Best practices in Sales ethics #

Along those lines, maintaining best practices in sales ethics is fundamental in times like these. Trust and credibility take a back seat only to ROI, with respect to the most valued attributes of a SaaS vendor. Making good use of big data is a vital strategy for keeping your company steady, but make sure your use of data is thorough and accurate. You can do so by

  • monitoring errors for repeated instances (i.e., that may be owing to a defective or a solution with a poor setup);
  • investing in a data validation tool for ensuring the accuracy of your cleaned data; and
  • having a couple of data analytics tools active at once to cut the likelihood of duplicates.

New customers for your business are valuable, but credibility and reputation are priceless. Even if you’re finding the going extremely tough, never be tempted to cut ethical corners.

Onboarding #

Onboarding has often been overlooked as a component of sales success by sales teams and as a part of sales enablement. Onboarding churn has long been a risk vector for sales teams — it’s even more of a deal risk now. Sales best practices will include a few steps to help minimize your onboarding churn. These will include the following:

  • Having standardized processes for transitioning your client from the deal phase into the first stage of customer success (e.g., setting them up with credentials, etc.)
  • Having standardized processes and tools (like Deal Hub) for transitioning responsibility for the client’s onboarding from your sales reps to your customer success specialist

It goes back to the question of ROI and providing it to the highest degree possible. To that end, more companies are offering personalized payment plans due to COVID-19 (i.e., offering a particularly valuable feature not usually included on a given plan) to sweeten the deal. It's something your company should consider as well, and when you're implementing such plans, your onboarding process should be accordingly thorough and personalized. This allows your sales team to clearly align with your client on a vision of customer success.

Customer Success #

Given that value and ROI are so key in times where companies are strapped for cash, if your company has never before stated best practices for customer success, now is the time to do so. As a SaaS company, you have extraordinary means to control the quality of the customer experience you’re giving to your new clients, both during onboarding and after.

Your approach to sales best practices should reflect this. Have a standardized plan for customer success. Be collaborative with clients in establishing what success looks like to them, establishing performance milestones based on the ROI they can realistically expect. Provide product training where required, and make a note of their feature usage. Flag any features they’re not using that could be of use to them, and point toward upsell options appropriate to those features they’re using frequently.

Also, consider the customer support you offer as a key best practice. Offering plenty of consistent customer support, for both new and existing customers, gives your customers a better shot at more meaningful ROI. A number of industry experts, including Lars Nilsson, insist that any best practice valid for increasing ROI is indispensable for sales teams post-COVID-19.

Tech Stack #

As a frontline sales manager, a key pillar of sales enablement is providing your sales team with the correct tools and solutions that will improve decision-making and lead to success in the sales process. Being able to advance deals, mitigate risk, approach the right prospects — it’s all more difficult post-COVID-19. To bring it all within closer reach for your sales team, thoughtfully expand your tech stack.

Tech-stack-boosted coaching, and continuing to harvest and make use of big data, are even more important in a post-COVID program of best practices. This can include fundamentals of sales technology, improved product analytics, and data-building platforms, or new approaches to recruitment.

When it comes to training sales reps to identify deal risk and perfect follow-up, tools like Chorus’ Conversation Intelligence are there to help. Deal Hub can also be a great pillar of sales enablement around customer success. There’s one reason top sales leaders consider additional items more important than ever: data rules.

Preparing Your Sales Team for Post-COVID Changes #

The competencies of a frontline sales manager will never be more in need or more strongly tested than in times of crisis. Your sales team needs you to prepare them for the changes they will experience through the sales cycle. That’s as true of your best salespeople — your real top performers — as it is of your new recruits.

As a sales manager, be prepared to monitor calls and review call recordings more often to assess reps’ speed of adaptation to new techniques. According to our data, the intercession of vendor-side senior management figures at key stages of the sales cycle has, since COVID-19, been linked with higher win rates.

While sales managers can have direct influence over conversion rate in this way, they also have a huge part to play purely through empathy. Being empathetic with your reps is universally seen as vital in these trying conditions. Trish Bertuzzi of The Bridge Group encourages all frontline sales management to do the following:

“Walk a mile in [your reps’] shoes — I don’t mean an hour, I mean a mile. See what their job is like. How are the buyers responding? What challenges are coming up?”

Last but not least — sales enablement is often a case of simply making the right information available to your sales team members. Centralize your data sharing, and ensure that you maintain full transparency with respect to what ups and downs your company is facing and what the outlook is.

Selling for the Future #

When implementing any of the new sales best practices detailed above, the view within your sales team should always be fixed squarely on the long term. Things are likely to remain difficult for a while, but with the right application of sales best practices, the enablement and coaching your sales team will take you into that unknown future in style.

Want more cutting edge sales insights to beat the post-pandemic downturn? Tune in to Chorus’ Weekly Briefing series for the freshest and best hot-takes from top industry leaders.

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