Sales Management’s Shoving Point

24 March 2020


Sales organizations know about change. They’ve operated in a context of quickening change for a decade. But that pales in comparison to what they’re taking on now. As the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis rages, sales forces are coping with cratering (or surging) demand, distracted or unreachable buyers, uncertain economic prospects, and plenty of personal uncertainty to boot.

Our audience of sales managers and sales effectiveness leaders will have its work cut out for it over the next several months. They will be forced to recast performance expectations, chart as clear a future course as possible with imperfect data, and adapt their organizations to unaccustomed modes of selling, learning, and collaborating.

They will lunge at tech suddenly indispensable in a social distancing selling environment. They will redesign sales process and selling messages, restructure sales roles, replace suddenly obsolete activity models, incentives, and territory assignments. They will retrain the salespeople who must make sense of these changes, then retrain them again as fluid strategies evolve. They will realize the daunting challenge of mobilizing this effort with a sales force that is both distributed and disrupted. These challenges are only starting to present themselves, and will intensify in the weeks ahead.

Effectively addressing these many challenges will crucially influence how well sales forces, and their firms, fare in the months ahead. How successful will management be with these challenges? There are reasons to be encouraged. Few other management functions are as well acquainted with uncertainty and accountability as sales leaders. Most sales managers with more than three years’ experience have gone through at least one so-called transformational change in their sales organization.

On the other hand, sales organizations have tepid track records implementing large scale change initiatives (just 41% implement them effectively), with getting salespeople to adopt technology (62% underachieve adoption expectations for CRM, the sales function’s anchoring tech investment), or with effectively training salespeople (just 18% of firms do). Getting through this crisis will require doing all three of these things effectively.

Sales organizations previously waiting for a hoped-for tipping point in their efforts to become adaptable, technology-enabled, and learning agile have arrived at what might be called a “shoving point.” That shove will send many reeling. But it would be a mistake to bet against sales forces or their managers in the coming struggle to adapt and respond to challenging markets. The best of them will organize with heightened purpose, rise to the challenge, and remake their organizations.


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About the Author
Bob Kelly

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