Sales targets

I never mess with sales targets. At the start of each year I help my clients set targets, and from that create aligned incentive and commission structures. My rule to date has been that once these plans have been agreed and put into action, they are pretty much set in stone.

That was before we got hit with an unforeseeable worldwide pandemic,  leading to the undoing of many golden rules. Circumstances are changing almost daily.

This has been pretty demotivating for sales teams. Let’s say that pre-COVID, your sales team was riding a wave, upping their goal from $1.5 million to $2 million. Considering this new reality, these high hopes are unrealistic. Why continue towards what you now know is an unreachable target? 

Unrealistic goals are demotivating for staff, and translate badly into real life work. Goals should be a stretch – but not impossible. Sticking to a redundant practice sets you and your team up for failure. As with the rest of our lives and business, this pandemic is forcing a readjusted perspective. Don’t be afraid to throw away KPI’s, targets, expectations, and start from (almost) scratch. 

What effect has the pandemic had on supply and demand?

To be sure, it’s not all doom and gloom — but it’s not easy for a sales leader out there. Consumers have gone through multiple phases as the pandemic has progressed. It started with panic-buying, not just from the general population, but from the government and healthcare systems too. Now that the panic has somewhat settled and the job market is at a low, it’s more likely that cost reduction and savings dominate.

(On the bright side, for some companies, like personal protective equipment suppliers, it’s a seller’s market.)

So how do we approach the unpredictable and unknown?  Creating scenario-based forecasts will help you realistically explore best and worst scenarios. Take the past few months into stock. Identify key customers to focus on, and take a closer look at their history and figures. How can their data help you understand where the industry is heading? How has COVID-19 affected different industries?

Once you’ve established this strategic standpoint, translate this to the potential effects it could have on your sales pipeline. Do you foresee another rush in sales, dependent on a second wave? Or do you need to reposition your product to make it more relevant? Your sales targets need to take into account another wave, and another lockdown. Creating sales targets based on both scenarios – best and worst case, reflects forward thinking and helps the rest of the business create plans to deliver on both.

Moving forward: re-onboarding the sales team

Even though we are experiencing a serious economic downturn, some companies are looking at how they can accelerate growth during this time. I am seeing enormous innovation, new products being introduced and new markets being explored.  We are still dealing with untested circumstances though, and that means higher risk. 

Global circumstances are changing on an almost daily basis, making it hard to set long term goals. This is the perfect time and opportunity to go through a complete re-onboarding process with your sales team. Who is selling what to whom? Are the right people aligned to the right target segments? Who are the high performers and who has the team been carrying?  Now is the time to reflect and reset. Start with creating short term, achievable targets. What can you achieve this week? In the next two weeks? What about today? Find the right ways of motivating your team

Build flexibility into your plans. Set targets that will keep your team inspired. If you had a sales pipeline of $10 million that has disappeared overnight, how will you keep your team purpose-driven and focused? When you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for days on end, you start losing hope. Find a new focus, an achievable one.

Systems and processes are usually built around achieving certain goals, so the next step is to take a look at what you have in place. Teams are remote, work and home boundaries are overlapping — an unthinkable situation requires unthinkable solutions. While you might be tightening spending, now is the ideal time to get outside help. External consultants can bring a fresh perspective and out of the box thinking to a situation where the internal team is too busy struggling to keep their head above water — let alone, be creative about solutions. 

Some organizations have adopted a method that I like to call virtual agile sprints, an attempt to reap the benefits of team collocation while the team is scattered. This combines the agile working principles with the work chat and natural brainstorming that occurs from sitting in close quarters with colleagues. A sense of normality, however close you can get, can boost motivation within the team, and negate some of the negative mental effects of the forcibly changed targets. 

A second method is to create a virtual sales ‘war room’. Set up scenarios, imagine what your future could look like, and create plans around that. Make sure everyone knows their roles. Prioritize. Considering sales targets may need to be re-evaluated on a regular basis, act out these scenarios to see how you can best be prepared. The power of a physical war room is not to be underestimated — try combining a video call with an at-home war room to harness the best of both worlds. 

Let’s re-look at the targets: what is feasible in this environment?

Now we’ve looked at managing your team and understanding the supply and demand, re-establishing your sales targets should be a little bit easier. A large part of this will be accepting what you cannot control, and managing your team’s motivation levels. But what else can you do?

Define your big picture objectives through this painful period. Are you more concerned with pipeline growth, or customer retention? 

If it’s customer retention, you need to shift your focus from long-term clients, to not losing any clients. Take existing relationships and apply these new circumstances to them: how can you adapt contracts to retain your clients? Are you able to defer any payments? There’s a lot you can do from an account management point of few. 

If pipeline growth is still your main mission, adapt your team and strategy for that — but accept a level of helplessness. If you haven’t a new product to take to market to build up sales, focus on other methods. LinkedIn is commonly underused, so conduct a focused effort on lead-generation through that platform. 

This is also the ideal time to revisit your business development and content strategy to build relationships over time.  If sales are just not happening, what can we do to nurture and build strong relationships for when the market shifts?  Using LinkedIn and/or the relevant target audience’s preferred social media platform for business is a very powerful and productive way to build a pipeline.

Slow down to speed up

There is so much and so little going on at the same time and the amount of information and change being thrown at us (in work and at home) is immense. The knee jerk reactions that we think are warranted are causing a loss of focus, and even more disruption.

Yes, you need to adapt your targets — but take a breath, and allow your people to have a moment of reflection and reassessment. Patience and reflection are  amazing tools that, in my humble opinion, are not being leveraged enough in this time of upheaval.