“Leave me a voicemail, if it’s interesting, I’ll call you back”

Sales in the Time of COVID-19

In an increasingly uncertain, confusing, and constantly changing macro-environment, sales organizations worldwide are being impacted – obviously – and most, not necessarily for the best. Every Sales professional you know, and every Sales professional who they know is making adjustments to their strategy one way or another. Some adjustments are dramatic, while others are more subtle. Even so, not a soul is doing the same exact thing they were before March crashed down on us.

Needless to say, it’s a unique time for everyone. One that we will all certainly never forget, and hopefully never live through again.

With that in mind, the Underscore Sales Fellows thought it would be a helpful experience to bring together the Boston Sales Core community to talk through how their teams have been adjusting to the new climate.

We were lucky to have panelists with a cumulative 40+ years of experience at a variety of companies ranging from Seed round to Series C sales organizations. Ultimately the discussion provided unique insights into how the global circumstances are driving folks on a more local level to innovate and get creative with their go-to-market efforts.

Before we share the learnings uncovered, let me introduce the panelists:

Dan Hopkins | VP of Finance and Sales at Soofa
Mike Schumann | VP of Sales at SYRG
Ashley Krahn | VP of Sales at Salsify
Waikit Lau |Co-founder and CEO of RemoteHQ

Sales Core Panel | Sales in the time of Covid

Throughout the session, there were a handful of common themes, along with some strong mantras and takeaways to bring to your own work.

Customer Acquisition Strategy

The first and foremost takeaway surrounding your acquisition model, is understanding your clients, and their struggles in this new Covid world. Ashley pointed out that at Salisfy they’ve assembled a Covid Response Team. The sole purpose of the team is to monitor and learn from their various target markets in real-time as they change, uncovering which of their customers are being disrupted more than others vs who’s in a healthy industry that they can double down on. Given the rapid rates of change and the seemingly endless amounts of information, the closer you can keep your ear to the street of your customers market, the better off your go-to-market team will be.

In Waikits case, he’s been spending any “downtime” reaching out to his customers to learn from them, particularly the ones who are using RemoteHQ in a unique way – under the presumption that perhaps these are the folks who can offer some of the best feedback and help shine a light on product strengths that may not be top of mind. From an outreach standpoint, he’s found that short and sweet is doing the trick. The less fluff the better, as folks want straightforward and helpful communications.

Dan’s strategy has been similar to Ashely’s in terms of huddling the team, and using everyone’s brainpower to do as much market research as possible, asking themselves the question, “who are going to be the winners after this?” Specifically, as it relates to industries they may be able to focus on, or customers they’re already working with. It’s worth mentioning here that Soofa had just recently crossed a major revenue milestone and without skipping a beat, has been able to take these challenges in stride, and adjust their strategy to keep pushing forward – that’s something everyone can take to heart.

In that same vein, possibly the most interesting response from one of our panelists, as it relates to their outbound sales strategy, was from Mike who was confident in sharing that at SYRG, they hadn’t tapered down their outbound strategy one bit – if anything they’d leveled it up and he pointed towards some of their prospects who are doing the same. It’s probably an important caveat to mention that SYRG’s business is one that helps companies manage and deploy a flexible, on-demand workforce made up of current and former employees to meet customer demand, so it makes a lot of sense for folks who need additional manpower on the frontlines.

In particular, something that Mike mentioned stuck with me, he told a story about Tiger Woods’ long term caddy who until very recently – Tiger’s Masters Win in 2019 to be specific – was not someone who many folks reached out to. But after that win, lots of people reach out to him. And when he doesn’t answer, they receive his voicemail box which says, “Leave me a voicemail – if it sounds interesting, I’ll get back to you – if it doesn’t I’m probably not going to.” This hits the nail on the head in terms of how prospects are receiving your sales outreach. In this new environment, customers have even less time to return your call or email, they have to be ruthless with their time and money in order to keep their own business afloat.

Consider that voicemail box when you’re reaching out to customers. If you have a product that may be able to help them, tell them that, but do so in an understanding, empathetic and interesting way. Because let’s be honest, everyone you know is more easily accessible digitally than ever before, whether it’s email, phone or social media, you better believe it’s never been more likely that your outreach will land in front of the person you want to get in touch with.

Repurposing the Team

Even if you’re working with the right person, at the right company, and this happens to be the right time for them, they could still err on the side of caution and choose not to incur any additional expense. And, hey, you can’t really blame them! That said, keeping your sales folks productive and contributing to your company is still critical.

Our panelists shared how they are using their sales teams as flex players and getting their hands dirty in other parts of the organization. Some account managers are now hosting weekly meet ups with their customers and prospects, others are shipping out weekly newsletters to keep their customers and prospects informed on how they’re being impacted, and of course sales teams are buckling up and putting together case studies and blog posts – the gifts that keep on giving.

Keeping the Team Motivated

Being in sales in times of global economic struggle can feel thankless, pointless, and downright bad. It’s an incredibly difficult job to begin with, now add in the fact that no one has any idea what’s going to happen and when, and you’re looking through a different psychological lens with every potential customer you encounter, asking yourself, “was that a terrible demo?” when in reality the person on the other line could be living alone in a 400 sq foot apartment in London and hasn’t seen his family in 3 months. It’s taxing. Thus, keeping the team motivated and positive, has never been more important. And in order to appropriately do so, it all comes down to communication.

Some of the things our panelists are doing to keep the teams engaged are as you’d expect, happy hours, game nights, zooms where you cannot talk about work – challenging I know.

Spend time talking to the people on your teams about their personal lives and living situations, about their friends and their families, and share stories of your own. Everyone is getting a glimpse into their colleagues, and customers’ personal lives in a way that we never have before – let’s run with that – it’s more than okay to ask your team about their personal space, it’s actually beneficial.

On this topic, something that Dan said stuck with me, “focus on the company you want to build three years from now.” With all the chaos and anxiety out there, this is a great north star to stay motivated and avoid getting caught up in the short term distractions.

Hopefully, this is helpful. Let me know in the comments what you’re doing to navigate your sales team through the storm!

Also, keep your eyes peeled for upcoming Underscore Sales Core events – you can apply to join future events here.

Kind Regards,

Tucker is the head of inside sales at Breezeway. He’s also an Underscore VC Sales Fellow, responsible for convening and championing the sales Core community in Boston. You can find Tucker on LinkedIn and Twitter!