How can commercial teams sustain their organizations during a crisis?


The COVID-19 crisis impacts all businesses, but it has particular ramifications for functions that depend on face-to-face interactions, such as sales. In our experience, these specific actions can help commercial teams (sales, marketing, service) sustain organizations during a crisis and provide assistance to partners and suppliers. This list of actions may evolve and grow as we learn more about the crisis.

Bring the Outside Inside

Guidelines around quarantines and bans on gatherings of multiple people are changing by the hour. Alexander Group (AGI) recommends that regardless of what the latest guidelines require, commercial teams should immediately halt all non-essential outside sales activity.

Non-essential activities include the following:

  • Customer sales meetings/pitches
  • Account planning meetings
  • Internal meetings
  • Internal or customer-facing events

One exception may be on-site technical visits for customers engaged in mission-critical activities. If service technicians are required to be on-site, they should follow the CDC’s latest advice.

Field-based sellers can remain effective even when placed inside–they simply become Inside Sales teams. Inside Sales reps use technology (telephony, virtual meeting software, video calling) to communicate with customers exclusively from a distance.

AGI Recommendations:

Sales managers should ensure field sellers have access to tools to work remotely. Tools include:

  • Mobile phone
  • Laptop or tablet with internet connection
  • Video conference software
  • VPN access

Sellers should be able to purchase any missing items and have them shipped to their homes. AGI recommends reimbursing all qualified expenses.

Sales managers should hold one-on-one calls with sellers to walk through daily and weekly expectations for contacting customers.

  • Sellers should expect to work typical inside sales hours (8 hours per day, 5 days per week), contact customers virtually to check in on immediate needs, provide updates on orders and deliveries, provide reassurance, and educate them on how best to interact with the company in the near-term.
  • Sellers should ensure that customers can order products digitally or over the phone (many are used to submitting orders in person with a seller).
  • Sellers should also check on inventory levels of partners and customers to prevent supply chain and production issues.
  • Business development should be treated with care. For most organizations, existing customer care should be the primary objective. If, however, sellers know that a prospect’s incumbent provider is struggling to deliver needed products or services, a call may be warranted.

All Hands on Deck

Many sales forces have been under-staffed as a result of a tight labor market, so marketing, customer service and other functional teams may be pressed into service to reach customers.

AGI recommendations:

  • The marketing function may suspend outbound demand generation activities (and spend) to focus on messages related to crisis management (e.g., what the company is doing to help partners and customers).
    ○ Marketers may also establish a two-way dialogue with partners and customers to gather immediate feedback, accelerate crisis-related insights and provide a communication platform (e.g., online forum, community).
  • The customer service function may proactively check in on users of products and services to head off any potential issues with delivery or quality.
  • Finance may analyze accounts receivable and credit data to identify at-risk partners and customers and create an action plan to address cash flow issues.
    ○ Payment terms, freight and other contractual items may require updates to ensure near-term customer and partner sustainability.
  • Human Resources may suspend hiring activities to focus on employee well-being. Open territories do not need to be filled right away; customers without field coverage can be reached by the functions listed above.

AGI recommends housing and communicating all customer communication in a central repository (e.g., CRM) through the account owner.

Manage and Measure

AGI knows that the sales manager is the most important role in the organization during normal times, and its importance only increases in times of uncertainty. A highly enabled sales manager can help lead sellers by following a playbook.

AGI recommendations:

  • Sales managers should hold virtual team meetings weekly or semi-weekly to provide planning updates and reinforce near-term strategy.
  • Sales managers should hold weekly one-on-one meetings with each of their direct reports to review individual customer updates, discuss potential issues and head off losses.
  • Managers should hold direct reports to a set of activity metrics intended to steer behaviors to the highest value activities. Metrics may include:
    ○ Number of outbound customer/partner calls made
    ○ Percentage of assigned customers/partners contacted
    ○ Percentage of customers trained in alternative methods of placing orders
    ○ Number and type of inbound calls/requests
    ○ Status of open orders/projects
    ○ Number and value of canceled orders
    ○ Number of customers lost
    ○ Number of new customers added

AGI will provide more information as this situation develops. Please contact us for immediate questions or insights into how your organization is handling the crisis.

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