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Sales Leadership during COVID-19

Sales Leadership during COVID-19

Finding wins in uncertain times

Over the last 60 years, Magid has worked with hundreds of sales teams across the country and around the world to help them drive improved performance. That work, with teams from NBC to Amazon to local media sellers in Mobile, Alabama, has given us a unique perspective on what makes some sales organizations thrive while others wither in times of crisis.

We start all of our work by building up from primary research. Gathering key insights from brands, agencies, media sellers, consumers, and internal data sources allows our teams to craft a robust view of each sales organization we work with. We use this baseline both to frame our consultative work, but also to create a more robust picture of what the best sales teams look like from the perspective of their clients and from inside the organization.

Here’s what we’ve learned about what the best sales teams and best sales leaders do:

1) Relentless focus on the customer’s needs. 

The best sales teams we work with are maniacal about understanding their customers.  Not just a simple Customer Needs Analysis (CNA) or a paint-by-number consultative sales checklists, but a cultural commitment to putting their client’s challenges at the forefront of their strategy. We often describe this as ‘Relevance’ – it’s the ability to speak your prospect’s language, to connect to their business needs and unlock real value in the sales process. It starts with listening.

All of this without pitching anything.

That’s the key element most teams miss. Average sales teams use CNA’s and Consultative selling as a roadmap to pitch products. The questions are generally designed to move the prospect towards the close of a specific set of media elements – the ones the account executive is incentivized to sell. The best teams we measure use the same approach but keep the focus on the client’s need state. This lets them uncover the real challenges their clients face and opens the door to new opportunities the client had never considered.

2) Confidence in themselves and their teams.

Advertisers regularly report that “Return on Investment” is the most important factor when selecting between media choices. They also report the lowest satisfaction with the ROI they get from most media teams. That’s because far too many sales teams are only selling product without any context or strategy. It’s also because most sales teams don’t believe in the ROI of what they’re selling.

Less than 10% of the sellers we surveyed in 2019 believed their clients were ‘completely satisfied’ with the ROI on the products they sold. That’s compared to the 19% of their advertisers and agencies who reported being ‘completely satisfied’. Think about that.  Advertisers and agencies are twice as satisfied as the average sales teams think they are.

That shouldn’t be surprising since virtually every sales call ends in either a ‘No’ or a ‘Yes, but you’re too expensive and I want more.’ Best-in- class sales teams have leaders, systems and structures in place to help offset the drumbeat of negative reinforcement account executives are subject to day in and day out.

The best sales teams we work with are able to take that confidence and project it as expertise.  When they believe in the solutions they sell, account executives are better able to position them as the solutions their clients need as opposed to simply the solutions they have to sell.  The best sales teams take clients’ business challenges and connect them to best-in-class marketing products to craft solutions not sales packages. That requires access to best-in-class training and consumer insights.

3) They step up when others lay down.

Behavioral economics teaches us two important lessons about sales teams – fear of loss is a greater motivator than promise of gain and that most people freeze when faced with a crisis. Both of those insights are borne out by our research in the field and our experience over the last six weeks.

Most sales teams we survey spend far too much time servicing accounts and managing internal processes and not enough time leading clients through the marketing process.   The majority of account executives we hear from work harder to keep accounts in place than they do seeking out and winning new business. That’s a sustainable pattern in normal times when managing avails and RFP’s can eat up 75-80% of the available sales time for a typical team. However, when the inbound business slows down – or when it dries up completely – most sales teams aren’t equipped to make the transition to finding new accounts and bringing them into their media.

As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation and work from home and shelter in place became the new norm, advertising revenues plummeted alongside average commute times. We’ve worked with over 3,000 media sellers in the weeks since the crisis broke and heard from hundreds of advertisers, agencies and marketers.  On average, 31% of those advertisers say they are increasing their advertising spend during the COVID-19 crisis, and yet the vast majority of account executives we hear from are focused on cancellations, not on opportunities.  To be clear, overall revenue and advertising spend levels are down, but they aren’t down evenly and they aren’t down everywhere.  A recent Magid analysis of March spending found some accounts rocketing their spending by as much as 448%.

Best-in-class sales teams aren’t waiting for those dollars to come to them. They are creating those opportunities by leveraging insights, expertise and creativity to drive new business in the midst of the pandemic. Of course, that means that best in class sales organizations give them the tools they need to deliver on that promise.

One last ingredient

Putting your customers first, inspiring your teams and arming them with the tools they need may seem straight forward enough, but world class teams deliver one more thing: a consistent experience from your sales brand.  Many sales teams have the tools and have access to training, but what they are missing is sales leadership that drives their sales brand.  Elite athletes know that it’s the commitment to doing the hard things no one sees that delivers results when everyone is watching.

Same goes for sales teams.

The hard work of consistently delivering excellence doesn’t show up in a CRM, or in a flash report, or on a spreadsheet somewhere and so it often gets overlooked or undervalued.  Best -in-class sales teams have leaders who know this and who build systems and structures to encourage their teams to deliver excellence at every touchpoint.


Contributors: Bill Day, Jaime Spencer

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