Sales operations should focus on 4 areas to mitigate Covid-19 – Gartner

The impact and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has changed the definition of normal for sales operations.

A Gartner poll of 38 sales leaders on 14 April 2020 showed that 38% of organisations have already cut sales operations budgets and another 14% plan to cut their budgets in the next three months due to the coronavirus.

As a result, sales operations leaders must adjust quickly to preserve their teams’ productivity and to anticipate the changing needs of their sales organisations.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the time it will take for businesses to return to their pre-COVID-19 operating levels,” said Steve Rietberg, senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice.

“In the meantime, sales operations leaders should bear the brunt of softening demand and supply chain disruptions and confront the most pressing impacts caused by the initial wave of changes the pandemic presents.”

The four impact areas that Gartner recommends that sales operations leaders focus on include:

Impact area 1: sales operations professionals

Whether mandated by the government or the organisation, many sales operations professionals are seeing an unprecedented amount of remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But unlike the sellers they support, sales operations professionals are less accustomed to working remotely.

“The first step for sales operations leaders is to recognise the productivity and engagement challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a remote workforce,” said Dave Egloff, vice president analyst in the Gartner Sales practice.

“Next, they must formalise a work from home policy for sales operations and develop strategies to virtualise communities and promote active engagement among sales operations team members and their stakeholders.”

Impact area 2: forecast uncertainty

Instability in supply and demand patterns has affected buyer confidence. Sales leaders are less able to make confident decisions based on their usual leading indicators, resulting in greater forecast uncertainty.

“Sales forecasts are sales operations leaders’ predictions of future performance based on qualitative and quantitative inputs. Unfortunately, neither data nor people’s perceptions can be fully trusted in these times,” said Rietberg.

“For now, leaders must identify and track markers that signal the worsening or improvement of supply and demand in order to provide strategic insights on how these factors drive forecast changes.”

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Impact area 3: sales analytics

Sales analytics are used to inform an organisation’ decision making. These decisions are based on how specific metrics are performing against targets.

However, the coronavirus pandemic now means expectations for performance need to be revisited. Sales operations leaders must identify the indicators of change and — working with sales leadership –adjust the targets for their key performance indicators accordingly.

Sales analytics programs need to adapt to the new state of normal during the pandemic crisis and its aftermath in order to deliver relevant insight to the organisation.

Impact area 4: costs of sales

Managing the cost of sales is a function of revenue and expenses. This pandemic has most organisations anticipating revenue declines, which can quickly lead to forced expense cuts.

As the impact of the pandemic continues, sales operations leaders should work with sales leadership and finance to help close late-stage opportunities and identify other options for reducing expenses and generate revenue.

Additional information on what sales operations leaders should be doing amid the coronavirus outbreak is available to Gartner for Sales Leaders clients in the report “Leading Sales Operations Through the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

Industry comment

Commenting on this report from Gartner, Tom Castley, vice president of sales, UK, at Outreach, said:

“Every industry is impacted by the emergence of Covid-19 — and as the guarantor of the business’ bottom line, sales has a fundamental role to play in keeping the fabric of the UK moving forward. Yet, Gartner’s four key recommendations for sales leaders highlights the discrepancies between budget cuts on sales operations and the onus on the sales team to be the central figure in the future of their company as they ride the coronavirus wave.

“As the sales industry embraces this new normal where face-to-face contact, events and lunches simply aren’t possible, it needs to rethink the way it works — and that often means adopting a more tech-savvy approach to sales forecasting, management and engagement. With the right data and tools, sales leaders can train more talent to sell products and services in a new way — creating a more personable, accurate and predictable sales function.”

“Many aspects of our lives are already virtual: from the way we engage with friends and family to the way we shop for products, the content we watch and, increasingly, the way we work. Yet, making real connections with other people is crucial even in this virtual world.

“Adaptable, tech-savvy sales teams are now a gamechanger for businesses across the country — providing the best possible experience for users and, most importantly, prospects and customers. And they need to be armed with the right tools to deliver on their main objective: supporting the future of business in the UK.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.