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4 min read

How Sales Leaders Can Respond in a Time of Crisis

Mar 31, 2020 9:05:38 AM

For sales leaders, there is no playbook for what we have experienced in the last two weeks. Most of us have gone from working on established sales plans to rapid crisis mitigation in a matter of days. Our perfectly-manicured pipelines are in shambles, and many of us are left wondering whether it’s even appropriate to continue our prospecting efforts. 

As a sales leader, I’ve seen my share of difficult situations. In fact, I actually enjoy problem-solving—give me a difficult project or negative prospect any day. But this situation is fundamentally different from anything I’ve ever faced, and it has put my love of problem-solving to the test. How do we respond in a time of crisis? Where do we focus first? How do we rally our teams? These are questions I have had to grapple with (and quickly come up with answers to). 

I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with some of the best sales and leadership teams in the country. These past few weeks, though exhausting and tumultuous, have pushed us to quickly adapt to meet the needs of our team members and customers. Below, I’m highlighting some of the most impactful actions we have taken and biggest lessons I am learning as we navigate this pandemic. 

Rally your leadership team

In times of crisis, this is critical. You must present a united front and ensure that your leadership team is not only aligned, but communicating frequently regarding the health of the business. I have established a daily leadership check-in to recap the previous day and get an update on each area of the business. I like to start these meetings with a market recap: What trends are we seeing? What are our customers saying? Have we identified any new opportunities or risks? Then, we move into operations: How are we delivering to our clients? Are there any supply chain or service issues? Next, the finance portion of the meeting includes an update on the budget, any A/R issues, and the overall financial health of the business. We conclude by aligning on a shared focus for the day and setting goals to accomplish before our next meeting. 

Check on your team members

There is no question that this pandemic has caused fear and uncertainty for many of us. It is imperative that you humanize your approach and connect with each team member to understand where they are, mentally and emotionally. If your sales team is feeling overwhelmed and insecure, it will directly impact their ability to impart enthusiasm and engagement to their customers. This is equally important for managers. If you, as a manager, are struggling, it could affect your ability to lead your team. In times of crisis, there is immense insecurity, and it is our job as leaders to empathize with our team members, understand their fears, and help them set their minds to accomplishing amazing things, despite the difficult times we find ourselves in.

Prepare corporate communication

Although this may sound cliché, it is important to deliver a statement to your customers and partners addressing your plans and preparation for the crisis. This provides reassurance that you are committed to your team members and doing your part to respond to the situation. People are naturally on edge and less stable during these difficult times. Providing assurance that you are still working to fulfill your clients’ needs, and that you remain committed to uninterrupted service, can go a long way in establishing brand loyalty. 

Assess your portfolio 

The first thing that I tasked my sales teams with was evaluating their customer portfolio. We started with our existing book of business, both to get an idea of who was most at-risk due to the current situation, and to assess who might have some opportunity. This was key in understanding the potential impact on our business, and allowed us to get ahead in communicating with our customers. Once we identified the at-risk and opportunity partners, we proactively reached out to each client to understand how the situation was affecting their business and how we might be able to help them adapt. We performed the same analysis on our pipeline. Once we knew the risks and opportunities, we were able to focus our communication and connect with our customers early in the process. 

Re-evaluate your messaging 

This is not the time to continue with your standard outbound cadence. Once you have conducted your initial outreach to check in on your client/prospect with a humanized approach, you need to evaluate your messaging to ensure it is value-driven and current. Try establishing some pillars of communication that will be relevant to your clients. In the first few days of the pandemic, we began to receive requests and questions from our current customers that might be beneficial for our other customers to hear. We began to aggregate these topics and prepare outbound communication to highlight these requests and demonstrate how we were responding to similar customers. We continued to build on this content to ensure that our sales team had appropriate talking points to include in their outbound communications. 

Over-communicate internally

During a crisis, you can’t communicate with your sales team enough. It’s tough out there, even when there’s not a national health emergency unfolding. Make sure you stay connected in order to understand how they are feeling, to gauge what messaging has been most effective in their conversations, and to find out how you can best support them. Your sales team can also be a great sounding board for your executive team, as your salespeople have direct insight into what is happening in the market today. Open a fluid feedback loop that allows the sales team to talk strategy, share tactics, and communicate how these different approaches are being received by customers. 

Iterate and Evaluate

Once you have a set plan, you need to be nimble and update your approach as things unfold. This is an evolving situation. What works one week might sound out of touch the next week. If you are communicating internally, facilitating communication within the sales team, and working quickly to respond as an organization, you will be well-positioned to meet your customers’ needs and weather the storm. Don’t be afraid to adjust as you learn more from your customers, either. Their feedback should be the drumbeat of your organization.


Don't stop generating revenue during crisis! We've created a quick-guide to help you pivot and keep revenue flowing during these times. See it here.

Rachel Dillon

Written by Rachel Dillon