3 Ways to Propel Sales Growth During a Crisis

Sales teams that flourished rather than famished in the COVID year have these key differentiators.

Salespeople, sales leaders and sales trainers faced extreme changes and hardships in 2020, and these challenges continue today. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the global economy and forced a shift to both virtual selling and virtual sales training. Yet some sales teams enabled their companies to excel and have a banner year of growth, while others blundered and reported the lowest revenue growth of the last five years.

To discover what sales teams that grew in 2020 did differently, ValueSelling Associates and Training Industry surveyed 256 U.S. sales leaders and learning and development (L&D) decision-makers about the approach their companies took toward sales skills and managing change.

The study demonstrates how a strategic focus on sales sets apart companies that flourish from those that fumble. High revenue growth companies, those sales and L&D leaders who said 2020 was a year of growth for their company, take a multilayered strategy of approach, skills and change readiness. These high-growth companies are confident in their ability to continue to grow as they rely on a collection of factors, not a “magic bullet,” to propel sales. These factors include having the right sales managers, salespeople and supportive technology in place, as well as having the right tools and competencies. They are also “extremely confident” that they are well prepared for the uncertainty of an economic recovery.

3 Ways to Grow Sales in an Economic Downturn

Here are three ways to grow your business in the face of unexpected events.

Use a value-based sales approach – 87% of high-growth companies take a value-based approach to sales, compared to 45% of negative-growth companies, according to the new research. What top-performing salespeople do differently than their colleagues is focus on helping prospects understand the value gained from the product or service through each customer interaction.

High-growth companies find success in social selling — using social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter to identify, contact, and nurture prospects. The research reveals that 74% of high-growth companies compared to 30% of negative-growth companies rely on social selling (see Figure 2).

Develop unique sales skills to stay relevant – No matter what sales approach an organization uses, salespeople’s skills need to shift to meet today’s needs and to stay up-to-date, especially when navigating unpredictable times. The study shows that companies focus on sales skills related to closing deals, positivity, moving deals forward, understanding the client’s business, and matching the company’s solutions to the client’s challenges.

What differentiates companies that grew in 2020 from those that didn’t?

High-growth companies have some of the same priorities listed above, such as closing and moving deals forward. What’s worth mentioning is they are also focused more on prospecting, negotiating, differentiating from the competition, empathy and presenting in virtual settings.

Virtual presentation skills varied the most between high-growth and negative-growth companies. Almost half (47%) of high-growth companies focus on upskilling their sales people in presenting virtually, compared with only 13% of negative-growth companies

High-growth companies Prioritize Unique Skills

The research also found that soft skills are especially crucial when salespeople and their customers experience market uncertainty and rapidly shifting business needs. High-growth companies focus on soft skills such as teamwork and collaboration, written communication, active listening, empathy and building rapport, and social and emotional intelligence.

Be ready to respond to change – Companies must be ready to respond to change to keep their sales team operating smoothly and successfully. In 2020, when everything was changing quickly and unexpectedly, 55% of high-growth companies saw a bigger impact on agility from their sales training versus 5% of negative-growth companies. Salespeople who are able to pivot and take the new workplace and selling situation in stride are a huge asset to their company.

To explore this idea in more depth, we asked respondents about a number of areas related to change management. The research found that high-growth companies are undeniably better at managing change. These firms are more effective at everything from achieving desired goals from change initiatives and communicating change initiatives to their organizations — to identifying changes necessary for success and finding the right metrics to gauge their successes once those changes were made.

High-growth Companies Are Better at Managing Change

The coronavirus has impacted all of us in a significant way — from keeping many salespeople at home, away from customers and prospects, to requiring us to navigate a challenging economy and tighter purchasing budgets.

These impacts required a shift in how salespeople do their jobs, interact with customers, and, in some cases, even changed the nature of the product or service they sell. To adapt to these changes, many companies need to reassess how they approach both selling practices and the sales skills necessary to execute them.

As you plan for 2021, keep in mind the lessons learned from this new research. Sales organizations of growing companies use a value-based selling approach, develop essential foundational skills as well as unique soft skills, and are agile and flexible in adjusting to new techniques and tactics that align with evolving buyer preferences.

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    Julie Thomas, president and chief executive officer of ValueSelling Associates, is a noted speaker and consultant and the author of “ValueSelling: Driving Sales Up One Conversation at a Time.”

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