Optimizing Your Sales Pipeline During COVID-19

Sales pipelines everywhere have been hit hard by the pandemic. The previous intakes may no longer apply. Some personas and roles have changed. For sales teams, previous approaches that worked may have also changed.

If you thought sales development teams, who make the cold calls and conduct the initial outreach efforts, had it tough before, well this quarter may be brutal. 

Lots of folks are saying this is the time to pivot, but a pivot is easier to talk about than to do. The goal right now is to keep sales/pipeline disruption to a minimum, or in other words, make the most of a challenging situation. 

Sales needs to stay aligned with marketing, especially now, when there are pivots for initiatives that are more likely to be “out of the box.” Both departments need to work together to maximize the potential of any new campaign, initiative, or strategy. 

Those marketing and sales plans from the start of the year? They may need to be chucked out the window. The current pandemic has changed the circumstances for buyers, and for the salesforce in turn. 

Territories and quota assignments are completely disrupted, if not outright obsolete now with the necessary shift to the “new normal.” 

This new normal is also making buyer behaviors erratic and turbulent, prone to minor or major changes in smaller and smaller timelines. So historical data and existing personas honed from years of sales expertise are no longer reliable. This is where AI comes in. 

Optimize your pipeline with AI and automation

AI also traditionally relied on historical data to make predictions about the future. But we’re in a new world now; the past can only tell us about the past. Today’s AI and automation are equipped to start aggregating new data to begin to make accurate predictions/prescriptions. 

Using AI and third party data can help sales leaders avoid bad-fit deals. Volatile market trends can and will lead to inaccuracies in the pipeline, unless the pipeline is optimized for agile accuracy to current customer preferences and needs.  

AI and data give insight on what customers are still buying, and consequently, more accurate predictions on who else are likely to buy, in which channels, and when. 

Automation can use these insights to help your sales teams build/rebuild pipelines and act fast on good deals and good accounts with the best opportunities. 

Utilize digital apps for internal and customer-facing communications

Apart from using AI and automation tools, bring everything to the cloud. Examine how going digital can help you and your teams cut costs, streamline operations, and increase revenue. 

Team communication

Lines of communication, amongst team members, shouldn’t just be kept open. They should be abuzz from all the interaction passing through them. 

Email is necessary, but only conveys so much. As much as Zoom may get pooh-poohed for its limitations, it still helps to see someone when communicating. Slack is another option, with each team and campaign having its own centralized channel. 

WFH has limitations, but technology can help minimize disruption (and the panic it can spark). 

Lead nurturing and outreach

Everyone has prospects whose circumstances changed when the pandemic started to impact our lives back in March (in the U.S.). But prospects who weren’t ready pre-COVID might be in a prime position for nurturing now due to new circumstances and/or role changes. 

Marketing and sales teams need to requalify these leads and check-in. It’s also an opportunity to learn about new pain points, new priorities. 

How have your customer personas changed? 

Previously cold leads might actually become new prospects and make up for the clients and customers cancelling or pausing deals. 

Email campaigns and social media ad retargeting can bring in both old and new customers. AI can give insight on what prospects are searching for so your sales and marketing teams can augment each campaign with attractive angles and offers. 

Aim to increase revenues

That seems like a bald thing to say, but times of crisis can and do put leaders into default fight or flight modes: they focus on minimizing damage and cutting costs. 

This is the time to continue being aggressive and proactive about increasing revenue. 

Applying AI and automation can help optimize your sales pipeline, cutting costs by avoiding wasted time and effort, and increasing revenue through effective, informed marketing efforts. 

Growth is still possible during a time of crisis — not just survival. Actual growth is also possible and should remain as the big, hairy, not-so-audacious goal, so you and your teams can find and even create the opportunities and maximize them. 

I already wrote about the Boston Consulting Group’s Four Rs. You need to keep building your marketing and sales for sustained positive results. 

Right now, businesses might be in the “Reflect” stage of looking for opportunities, but don’t stay there too long. 

Make strides in the “Reimagine” stage of updating your marketing and sales pipelines, and definitely lay paving stones for the “Rebound” stage of using AI and digital automation and apps to scale your wins. 

That’s the stage where you have really recovered from paralysis (“What do we do?!”) and are thinking and acting on adjustments to your personas’ new buyer’s journeys. 

Recalibrate value proposition — and everything else — for sales resilience

Everything above is about recalibrating. Optimizing your sales pipeline makes you look at every detail — from messaging to the actual delivery of your brand’s services and products. 

Before, during, or after your most urgent pivot strategies, consider the big picture

This is the time to revisit your value proposition to match it to the new reality your customers face. I’ve said this above and it bears repeating: What worked before might not work right now and in the upcoming new world post-COVID.  

Dan Baird

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