With the growth of the economy over the past few years, and the sudden and surprising changes in our world that have recently transpired, it occurred to us that many of today’s current front line sales managers have probably not dealt with the challenge of managing sales teams during times of economic uncertainty or downturn. The last economic downturn occurred more than 10 years ago.  I’m guessing in the years following, a lot of salespeople graduated to sales management and most have been working in an environment where business has been expanding; until now.

As managers who have been through several downturns during our sales careers, we thought it might benefit those of you who have not experienced this to get some feedback about what tactics and strategies can help grow business in a downturn. Also, we want to share a solution our firm has developed that may help mitigate the risk.

Shifting Gears – Are You Ready?

According to recent studies (CSO Insights), sales organizations have primarily grown revenues by expanding business within existing customers. When managing a team that sells mostly to existing customers, it’s important to ensure they have the skills required to sell business to new customers.  Of course, this issue doesn’t exist when sellers already have a relationship with the customer, who knows your business and what you’re selling. Depending on the type of customers, many firms could now be facing a drastic change in the need to expand new business as existing customers cut back on spending. Unless you are selling to the grocery industry or on-line conferencing firms, it’s possible that current customers will not be able to sustain revenue growth that was anticipated prior to a sustained economic slowdown.

Whether this is true or whether the economy roars back once the worst is over, it points out a key risk that most sales organizations must face. Sales managers may not be prepared to shift gears and suddenly move their teams’ selling efforts in a different direction. One of the reasons for this may be the focus on existing customers. However, another reason that managers don’t really think about is how they are currently evaluating and managing seller performance. The primary focus for most managers is on pipeline management and forecasting. That’s great if you have a known quantity to go after in terms of revenue. What if that goes away?

After you pick yourself up off the floor because your pipeline went away, don’t decide to just lay off all your salespeople! That is a knee-jerk reaction, but perhaps consider the pain it may have taken to hire, train and prepare team members. No doubt a considerable investment has already been made in staff.  They may be good salespeople, but with the “new environment,” they need help to shift their focus.  Consider first if you can replace the business. At some point, you will need to consider that you’re going to need new customers to make up for the loss of existing business. It takes more effort and work for each seller to sell new business, so eliminating team members might not be the wisest decision. Instead, start from the premise that it’s “all-hands-on-deck” and each team member is going to need to redouble their efforts to find lost revenue.

However, from an operational perspective, managers may find themselves needing to redefine seller performance without having the right information to do so. If the focus is on pipeline management, and the pipeline goes away, what do you do?  We would suggest the most important thing to do is go back to basics. It starts with an examination of how sellers are performing (or should perform) across all the key selling activities it takes to drive new business revenues. You must go back to your core sales process and revisit the steps your sellers use to generate new revenue. If you have an existing account focus and must create new revenue, your sellers may need to execute sales activities they are not used to performing (like prospecting calls and email-based business development).

Where many businesses will fail in the transition is that they will not reexamine the process and reset goals. When the focus was on existing business the idea of setting selling goals based on the sales process may not be familiar. At Funnel Metrics, our focus both now and in our past careers (when we were managers in several past downturns) led us to think about this from a different perspective. We developed a process for this that we use to explain how new business goals should be determined based on your sales process.

Focus on Activities

Funnel Metrics is more than our company name: it’s the idea that the sales process drives how salespeople can successfully navigate sales opportunities by managing their activity metrics at the right levels. What do we mean by activities?  These are the basic things a rep does to make the sales process work. From the top of the funnel to the bottom at each stage in the process, the number of activities that the salesperson executes determines how well they will perform. Here is a basic framework we use to describe this:

  • Lead Generation – An organization prospects for and/or markets to leads. The number of leads a rep receives is considered the “top” of the funnel. (In many organizations, leads are managed in their own funnel by the Marketing team before they even get to a salesperson.)
  • Opportunity Qualification – Sellers must do something to convert the leads to opportunities. There are generally criteria for how a lead turns in to a qualified opportunity. In our view, there must be one or more meetings that the salesperson conducts to move the lead to a qualified opportunity.
  • Process Execution – Salespeople perform a series of steps in the sales process from categorizing the various people involved, identifying the decision maker(s) and submitting a proposal or quote, to negotiating the final contract and closing the deal. At each of these steps, a certain number of opportunities will fall out of the process for whatever reason.
  • Wins/Losses – Ultimately, opportunities are either won or lost. From these opportunities, information such as the average deal size and the average length of the sales cycle can be determined.

Along the way, salespeople are often asked to assess their opportunities, describe meetings and communications, account for the people they contact, and interact with managers to debrief about what is happening with each deal to ensure it’s closed within a predictable time period. This is all input by sellers into a CRM application, such as Salesforce.

In the current environment, that is where things can start to fall apart.  What we’re describing above can occur for either new business or existing accounts. So, what’s the difference?  In an existing account environment, customer familiarity and the fact that any given deal probably doesn’t blow up the relationship has a lot to do with how salespeople manage opportunities. With new business, the situation is the opposite. If a seller fails to develop the relationship and moves the deal to closure, there’s a good possibility there will not be another opportunity in the short term to sell to that new business customer.

Prior to the current crisis, management’s primary focus was on closing business. That puts a heavy emphasis on pipeline management and forecasting. If you are managing existing accounts as a primary focus, it makes sense, because it’s not about whether you’re getting the business, but how and when.  When a seller develops new business, there is often only one shot to get it, and if they fail, they must move on to other prospects. This is why focusing on sales performance is critical to selling new business. The focus is on getting more customers, not just getting more revenue from the same customers.

CRM Provides the Data

However, there is good news out of all of this. The information managers need is available to them, but they may not realize that without the help of Sales Operations and a closer look within their CRM. Managers cringe when CRM is mentioned because of the way that pipeline assessment is often done in CRM. Much of the information input by salespeople in the CRM for opportunity assessment is subjective, involving the seller’s opinions about deal quality, the timing of closure, evaluation of contacts, communications, etc.

In contrast, the information managers need to assess performance comes purely from activities. As Sales Operations people understand, activities are derived from counting the number of things the rep does in CRM, such as how many opportunities they add, how many leads they convert, how many deals are won or lost, etc.  From this, many metrics are calculated such as close rates, average deal size and others.

With a sales process, we can determine how many activities it takes at each stage in the process to make quota. It takes “X” number of leads to create one opportunity. It takes “Y” number of opportunities to get one win. Based on quota, it takes “Z” number of wins to make quota. On that basis you have a foundation you can build on to determine what sellers should be doing and whether they are executing the right number of activities. This is critical in new business because if a seller can only get so many new customers in a year (or fail to get them), they must have a certain activity level to make that work in time to make their quota.

A key to effective activity management is to execute intentionally. If you must hit specific benchmarks to make quota based on the above equation, then you can set goals for each seller to accomplish those benchmarks. Once you set goals, you can measure the progress of a seller towards reaching their objective. You will know much earlier when a seller is on pace to make their number or not because if they don’t have the right level of activities, it’s very possible they won’t be able to make up the level of activity necessary to catch up.

Funnel Metrics Automates Activity Metrics

We suspect most managers would agree with the above concepts, and in many organizations, you have Sales Operations and/or Sales Enablement personnel who are telling you they’d love to set activity goals in the CRM, but there isn’t such a feature in Salesforce.  That’s where Funnel Metrics can help. We’ve created a solution in Salesforce that automatically performs activity metric processing for a sales organization. Funnelocitytm counts and calculates all the key activity metrics for a seller and provides managers with a simple method to evaluate them that we call Funnelocity Scoring.

Funnelocitytm Scoring & Goal Setting

When Funnelocitytm is installed, it assesses up to three years of previous sales performance history for your team and develops recommended Activity Metric Goals for each team member. It also permits managers to adjust these goals when there is a transition to new business development, and the business needs to ramp up a higher level of activities for their salespeople. To provide a simple method of interpreting performance, Funnelocitytm scores each activity metric against its goal on a scale of 0 to 10 points so that managers can easily view seller performance for any or all activity metrics without having to perform detailed analysis.

Artificial Intelligence

Another important feature of Funnelocity Scoring is its use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s one thing to set goals for activities based on the sales process, but how do you know which activities will end up being most important to focus on to maximize revenue for each seller? Funnelocitytm uses activity metrics data collected on a monthly basis to feed the Artificial Intelligence model, and the model determines which metrics are most important to top revenue performance. Also, the AI model predicts how well each seller will do in achieving revenue objectives by scoring their performance on the most important metrics.

The Funnelocity Scoring approach provides a complete picture of seller performance that managers can use to quickly and easily determine how they should coach and manage each team member to enable better performance.  In a downturn, the most important action managers can take is to refocus the team on the sales process, and on the key activities each seller will need to complete to enable new customer acquisition. Establishing this cadence of activity and monitoring each team member to ensure they are completing activities at the right pace builds confidence in the team, because they know if they adequately execute on the activities, they will have the best possible chance to make their number.

Conclusion

Once the process is reinforced and sellers are refocused, managers can turn back to pipeline management, opportunity assessment and deal management. It may or may not be necessary, but rebuilding the pipeline considering a potential loss of existing business is a risk that can and should be continually managed. Funnelocitytm can rapidly assist a management team that needs to shift gears to respond and rebuild pipeline by addressing the fundamental performance management requirements of your sales process using activity metrics, Funnelocity Scoring and Artificial Intelligence.

Now is the time to consider the risks you may face as a result of a potential downturn in revenues from existing clients. If you would like to see how Funnelocitytm can help sales managers refocus their team and rapidly reinforce the sales process, please visit our website: https://funnelmetrics.com