The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many aspects of business off-kilter across all industries, sectors, and functions—including sales operations. Meticulously planned blueprints and goals for 2020 were quickly scrapped while teams rushed to address a new reality that was only beginning to unfold.
Since the onset of the crisis, sales operations has shifted from a reactive mindset to a proactive one that involves reframing goals, defining priorities, and finding new and creative ways to serve customers — and revisiting those as needed. As Akamai Technologies’ Senior Director of Sales Operations and Planning Yuri Dekaba puts it, “It’s critical to spend a few days putting pen to paper capturing your priorities and where you want to head, and continually review it.”
From messaging to measurement to the roles that sales ops professionals must play, everything is in flux—but there is guidance to be found. Our Top Sales Operations Strategies During COVID playbook presents a deep dive into how the field is adapting with insights gained during a roundtable with seasoned sales operations leaders from Axiom, Bain, GTreasury, and other prominent B2B enterprises.
Here’s a sampling of the advice you’ll uncover within.
Sales Operations Leaders Share Tips on Adapting to a New Reality
Overall, these experts suggest that this period of ongoing change requires constant, regular evaluation and performance measurement to stay on top of market developments and adjust efforts as necessary, whether that’s a matter of fine-tuning or tough decisions.
As Rishi Sood, now Hubspot’s Senior Director of Global Programs and North American Sales Strategy , puts it: “Where are our strengths and where are our weaknesses, and where can we double down?”
Shriya Ravikumar, Director of Intercom’s Sales and Support Strategy & Operations, takes a highly calculated approach to such self-reflection, aligning a set of leading performance indicators across GTM teams: “We track these weekly, and on a rolling basis, to identify significant shifts in trends.”
The group’s tactics, strategies, and approaches include:
- Modifying financial forecasts. Last year’s strong economy led many to project steady sales, but even the worst-case scenarios turned out to be insufficient to deal with this year’s disruptions. “Opportunities are limited since clients are also in survival mode,” says Priyanka Agarwal, Head of Sales and Account Operations at Resolve Tech Solutions. “It’s all about surviving with what you have and going from there.”
- A focus on retention. The dim outlook is causing companies to switch their focus to customer retention, success, and upselling rather than acquisition to make up for the shift in customer priorities. This can be tricky when sales professionals skilled at winning new business have to make that shift. Reallocating resources often involves redirecting their strengths toward the new objective, something that can be supported by redefining team roles, the rules of engagement, quotas, and other organizational and procedural adjustments. “We accelerated our plan to move to more of a hunter/farmer model, and introduced a new team of account management roles,” says Rosalyn Santa Elana, Clari’s Head of Revenue Operations. The team also needs to look at data and evaluate relationships to accurately forecast which products and services existing clients are most likely to buy in the current climate and support growth.
- New frameworks for quotas and compensation. With less effort directed toward acquiring new business, sales operations leaders must find ways to reward retention-based performance. Visibility into renewals and product history via a CRM can support assigning commissions based on upselling and renewals. For some, the new system is preferable to the old: “I’ve dreamed of designing a one-size-fits-all approach to comp plans for a long time,” says Joel Arnold, Vice President of Revenue Operations at PowerReviews.
- Managing customer concessions. Sales operations also has to figure out how to respond to customers that ask for discounts, deferred payments, and other deals as a result of the economic pinch. “They might want to pause use of a product or service altogether and not pay at all,” says Chris Dent, Bain’s EVP of Commercial Excellence Practice. Some agree to do so on a case-by-case basis, sometimes in return for a testimonial, an extra year of renewal, or other “give to get” agreements, noting that being flexible can give organizations an edge over competitors that won’t negotiate.
- Taking charge of top-of-funnel lead management and pipeline. Organizations in most industries saw their flow of leads reduce significantly, forcing sales operations leaders to go on the offensive, whether it’s a weekly metrics call with executives to analyze how prospects are affected by COVID, or creating a “win room” to create, organize, and assign plays for upselling cross-selling, acquisition, and renewal across their product lines. On the other side, some businesses are offering fast implementation and other packages for potential customers that want to move quickly.
- Putting the spotlight on sales ops. The leaders we talked to think it’s vital to prioritize sales operations as a channel in revenue operations, especially with the focus on retention—which can also nurture more efficient growth later, compared to a constant emphasis on acquisition. Relationship-building especially is a key tool in retention strategy during this challenging time. “You should be building those relationships now rather than suddenly popping in after two years and four months to start selling them their renewal,” says Hanna Dekker of VNDLY.
- Acting vs. planning. “My world’s been a lot more of day-to-day acting,” says John Philippo, Sales Operations Director at GTreasury. Others prefer to plot their course to make sure they can handle changes coming down the pike as well as ongoing uncertainty. Many are just now transitioning from the reactive phase at the beginning of the pandemic and are finally able to come up for air and strategize for the longer term.
Across the board, sales operations leaders are finding innovative ways to work with and serve customers while continuing to support sales and revenue goals under new and evolving circumstances. That makes it even more important for leaders to focus on empathy and listen to their sales professionals, says Akamai’s Dekaba: ”It is easy to overload an already overloaded team.”
Find plenty more insights and guidance from forward-thinking sales operations leaders by downloading Top Sales Operations Strategies During COVID.