Executives in sales & marketing across the Serent portfolio gathered virtually to share their challenges and opportunities from the past year.
“COVID was an opportunity to rebuild.”
Each year, Serent Capital hosts the RevGen Executive Summit, where portfolio company sales and marketing leaders convene to discuss the challenges of revenue generation. This year, the major topics revolved around the coronavirus pandemic, particularly the new era of sales teams working remotely.
Executives in sales and marketing shared best practices and lessons learned in themed group presentations, one-on-one sessions, and break-out groups. This year’s key takeaways included the following:
- The COVID disruption provided a good chance to re-evaluate and upgrade sales processes. Several companies used the hiatus to review their sales and marketing organizations and technology stacks, identify inefficiencies, and implement new approaches. As the economy re-opened, the changes often produced meaningful improvements.
- Done right, virtual sales may be least as effective as in-person efforts. A survey by Serent, reinforced by findings from a major international consulting firm, found that 70% of sellers preferred remote sales interactions. As many participants explained, getting the most out of this structure, though, requires thorough training on both product and the sales process.
- Teams “build back stronger” after a period of turbulence if management commits to transparent communication and builds trust and cohesion.
Re-evaluate and improve processes
“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” runs the adage. Several of our attendees took advantage of the shutdown early in the pandemic to examine their internal processes. The VP of Marketing at CoConstruct, which provides project management software for the residential construction industry, explained how the company reviewed its approach to sales and product support during the lull.
After identifying inefficiencies in the old process, the team devised a new approach that better matched anticipated customer profitability with the time invested by the customer support team for implementing the software. The new sales program encouraged prospective customers to implement the product themselves. A revised pricing structure and a series of self-guided onboarding resources made learning the package much easier. Potential customers could test the software and determine its usefulness, even keeping the first month’s fee if they did their own implementation. Higher-value customers, who were likely to have more complex needs, would likely contact the customer success team.
Because smaller customers installed the package on their own, the customer success team could immediately address the needs of larger customers. Once the shutdown was lifted, deal closings increased by 50%, gross margin rose due to the more efficient use of customer success resources, and relations between the sales team, which introduced customers to the product, and the installation-focused customer success team improved dramatically.
Virtual sales teams—here to stay
Early in the pandemic, we heard a lot of concern about sales teams working from home. At the Executive Summit, however, most companies reported strong performance, with the sales teams as effective from home as they were face-to-face.
Our internal poll found more than 90% of our companies plan to keep their sales teams virtual for the next year. Almost three-quarters (70%) of sellers preferred remote sales calls to traditional face-to-face visits. Our findings concurred with a McKinsey report concluding that 75% of leaders think virtual sales could be at least as effective. Further, that report indicated that most B2B buyers also preferred the new selling process; they indicated the remote appointments were easier to schedule and a better use of time.
Of course, remote sales require enhanced skills, both sales- and product-related. To start with, the team needs the right technology. A consultant provided tips on using video conferencing to build a comfortable connection with the client. Another session outlined a recommended sales technology stack to effectively manage a team.
The sales staff also needs deep product knowledge. With shallower relationships to purchasers, salespeople must be able to describe the product’s benefits in a clear and compelling way.
In addition, coaching becomes even more important in remote interactions because a client can disengage more easily. Several attendees added lessons from their own experiences. Commented an SVP from Serent, “Training is a process, not an event.”
Finally, remote sales teams still require support. A relevant set of metrics can ensure they understand performance expectations. Remote sales can’t be “set it and forget it,” but with investment in technology, education, and support, this new approach can succeed for everyone.
Building back stronger after uncertainty
The shutdown early this year hit sales and marketing teams especially hard. At the start of the pandemic, many companies were feeling the stress and pressure that an unexpected event had on employee’s morale. The SVP of Sales at Avionté, a provider of staffing and recruiting technology solutions, shared four important lessons that emerged from the pandemic when managing sales and marketing teams:
- As a manager, communicate and live your personal values. People look for commitment and genuine caring from their leaders.
- Create a meaningful common goal for the team. The company created a quarterly team goal from quarterly individual performance goals. The common goal united the team, which gave 110% of their effort to achieve it. The new process was so effective that it has been implemented long-term.
- Make people feel like they matter. Company managers specifically asked each person how they were doing and what support they needed. By having proactive conversations, showing empathy, and modifying schedules, the company built trust.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.