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Over the last 2-3 weeks we’ve been handling all sorts of inquiries related to the Covid-19 pandemic and how it is impacting sales organizations across the technology and services industry. We’ve done our best to provide an objective perspective based on an unprecedented set of circumstances. 

Having said that, there are many precedents that do exist, which can inform and help guide some of the decisions that we are facing. For example, working from home is not a new thing for many salespeople across the industry – it’s perfectly normal. We have members who only have home-based staff and these companies have been very open about sharing what works and what doesn’t. TSIA has compiled its own list of good practices for working from home.

The purpose of this blog is to bring together insights and perspectives on key areas that we’ve observed in recent weeks. The first thing to say is that the situation is incredibly fluid and impossible to predict – so, in everything you do you have to set the context of flexibility – it could all change next week.

Safety First

The first thing that all the best leaders did when the impact of Covid-19 became apparent was to assure all their team that their safety and the safety of their families is paramount. This message of personal safety needs to exist in all communications over the coming weeks and months

And, this is really important, it has to be genuine. You can’t make this statement without backing it up with evidence that you really do put your team’s personal welfare and well-being ahead of everything else.

It may sound a cliché but it’s true that what you do as a leader now (and how you do it) will be remembered by your staff, and their families, for the rest of their lives. How you empathize and show understanding for your people’s circumstances is what will make you stand out as a leader now and in the future when everything gets back to normal.

This is not just about a one-off communication around priorities; it must live through everything that you do as a leader for the next period. Look out for changes in circumstances, keep your ear close to the ground to see if someone needs a little extra help or if another person is making the offer to help others. Leading a team through a time like this takes extra effort, extra care, and especially extra empathy.

New Realities

My comment about flexibility and fluidity is especially true here and it’s where you must start. 

Documenting your understanding of your new reality is incredibly important to make sure that you have an audit trail for the series of decisions you are going to make. Most of your new realities will be based on assumptions – and that’s OK, it’s the best you’ve got at the moment.

We would recommend revisiting your annual budget pack and, to the best of your ability, estimating what’s going to happen to each of the line items in the budget. You should, using data from the last few weeks, be able to make some assumptions about the next quarter. Looking beyond that is very difficult based on the information currently available.

For most sales leaders, the biggest area of concern is around bookings. Some of you may not be aware of this fact, but there are tech firms who have seen an increase in bookings over the last 2-3 weeks. Many of these have been hardware companies who have experienced a rush on products similar to the panic buying seen in certain sectors of the Consumer Goods industry. There are others who have offers directly related to remote working who have seen spikes in bookings.

Do your best to forecast what you think will happen to the existing pipeline over the coming 2-3 quarters. Based on what you’ve seen to demand generation activity over recent days and weeks, you’ll have an idea what’s likely to happen over the coming weeks and months.

At the end of the day, you need to have a forecast of all your key leading and lagging indicators of business performance, which you can track against, to report upwards and also to inform your tactical and operational decisions.

Acknowledge, Align, and Communicate

After your initial communication (Safety First), you will then have spent time making sure you’ve got a good handle on the current situation (New Realities). You’re now ready to develop a communication plan so that all your people, and anyone else in the business who’s interested, can understand how you will be managing the sales organization through this uncertain time.

There must be no doubt from any of your communication that business will go on. One of our members made the point to their salespeople that they, more than ever, have a responsibility to secure the future for the rest of the company. 

Every communication should contain the following two messages:

  1. We still have a business to run and targets to reach
  2. We acknowledge that these are unprecedented times

Your plan, and the key messages contained within it, must be approved and accepted by all your leadership peers. The worst thing you can do is go out to sales to communicate your plan only for one of your colleagues in the leadership team to disagree with something that you’ve already communicated. You will lose credibility, which will be hard to rebuild in the short-term.

It sounds so obvious, but communication at this time is of critical importance. We’ve seen the following practices emerge over the last few weeks that seem to be very well received:

  • Create specific chat rooms / sessions via your communication platform (Teams, Zoom, Slack, etc) for topics that are of interest and benefit to your team
  • Encourage live interaction with all immediate reports at least every 2 days
  • Email update every 2-3 days with updates on business performance
  • Weekly video all-hands to keep everyone engaged and informed.

Keep the communications short and relevant. Now is not the time for over-rotation and over-inspection.

Logistics and Reality

Working from home is not for everyone and different people react and respond differently to it. If your sales team is generally based in an office environment remember that you hired them on that basis – you didn’t hire them on the assumption that they would be home-based.

One of our members has run a really effective campaign aimed at humanizing the realities of working from home. NTT has openly talked about the fact that children may be around when you’re on a video call and interruptions are not only inevitable, but they should be embraced. They’ve positioned this under the slogan “Family is part of the team”.

For other practical points around working for home see our checklist.

Changes to Selling in a Pandemic

If you’ve been a follower of TSIA for the last few years, you will have inevitably heard the expression “Helping will sell; Selling won’t help”. Never before has this been more true.

The impact on the world of sales is profound, not only in the technology sector, but in most B2B environments. The facts are simple: no travel means no face-to-face meetings, but no face-to-face meetings does not mean that selling has to stop.

Salespeople across our industry, many of whom rely on hitting their targets to pay the bills, are facing a period of intense professional and personal pressure. The buyers of technology, who are increasingly the business budget holder, are themselves going to be under intense scrutiny when it comes to releasing new and extending existing funding.

Now more than ever, companies and individual sellers must focus on articulating the business impact of their solutions. During a period of economic uncertainty, a seller who can clearly explain the connection between their solution and the customer’s financial results stands the best chance of securing their unfair share of restricted budgets.

There are three clear priorities for revenue leaders and quota-carrying salespeople:

  1. Avoiding deal drift – otherwise known as unsticking the pipeline. The deals that are in process need to have clear business cases attached to them. Sellers must be able to demonstrate a clear connection between the solution that they are proposing and the positive impact that it will have on high priority business outcomes and the most critical financial metrics.
  2. Keep priming the pipeline – in other words identifying quality new deals. Sellers must be engaged (albeit remotely) with new and existing customers talking to them about how your proven solutions can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes that matter to your customers’ right now. These may be new priorities that have emerged over recent days and weeks.
  3. Protecting the core – also known as securing existing ARR. There needs to be an intense focus on “high impact renewals”; these are high risk and high value contracts that are approaching their renewal dates. Sellers and/or Customer Success Managers need to be getting in front of these customers to demonstrate the value (quantified and non-quantified) that the customer has experienced so far.

These three priorities all require the same two specific capabilities.

  1. Outcome storytelling. This is the skill of being able to succinctly and plausibly explain the connection between your solution and the customers’ business outcomes.
  2. Value modelling. This is the science of co-creating the ROI model that tangibly explains the financial and non-financial benefits of a particular solution.

How To Use This Time Smartly

There is an interesting “time-dynamic” occurring during the first few weeks of the pandemic, which is not surprising as we understand the implications of this new normal.

Of the senior executives we have engaged with, 95% + have reported that they have been exceptionally busy. “War-rooms” have been created and 14-16 hour days are not unusual. There is a lot of planning activity focused on protecting the welfare and income of employees and assuring the long-term viability of their companies. This is an intense period for any senior leader.

One of the factors that leaders must consider is how to have their sales teams spend their time during this period. And don’t just consider the front-line staff, also think about what sales operations, enablement and support functions can be doing to help today and help shape tomorrow.

The reality is that companies often delay strategic initiatives that have the potential to negatively impact the quarterly financial performance of the company because of the time investment required. During a global economic downturn, investors are not expecting stellar financial performance. This reality provides air cover to pursue more challenging initiatives. 

Look at how you can utilize the time to upskill your staff. Virtual training is becoming the norm, so use the time to give your salespeople new outcome-selling skills, or immersing them in industry workshops, or educating them on a business topic that you’ve been wanting to teach them for years.

Breaking these learning experiences into 30-90 minute “edu-bites” is an incredibly effective way of using some of the time that your teams will have on their calendar – and many of them will be thankful for the opportunity.

And, having said all that, this is not necessarily a time to be overloading your teams with unnecessary administration. As mentioned earlier, your ability as a leader to show empathy is what your team (and their families) will remember in the future. When, in six months, you’re asking for an extra hard push to get a quarterly commit, your best people will remember how you behaved at this time.

TSIA is Here for You

We understand that our member companies, the technology industry, and the world at large have been impacted by COVID-19. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to get through these challenging times. TSIA is committed to providing visibility as quickly as possible into the changing industry trends and practices that come as a result of COVID-19. Visit our Rapid Research Response Initiative resource page for more information.

If you have any questions related to how COVID-19 is impacting your organization, we’re here to help.

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Martin Dove

About Author Martin Dove

Martin Dove is the former vice president of subscription sales research for TSIA and brought a unique set of experiences and insights on outcome-based selling and subscription sales methodologies. Martin helped TSIA members navigate the journey to being more outcome-based in the way they sell and to optimize their organization’s sales of subscription, or “as a service” offers, to both new and existing customers.