Remote selling for return to growth

The past months have taken “on-the-job learning” to a whole new level, not least for sales teams that have had to respond quickly, and continually test and iterate. It has been a mammoth task to keep the critical revenue engines going.

Inflexion recently spoke with three portfolio companies about how they are pivoting their sales approaches to succeed. Tim Noble (CEO of Chambers and Partners), Maurice Peeters (CCO of Calco) and Alex Tillisch (Founder and Director of Ridgewall) candidly share their recipes for success, which include a few snags along the way.

Protect what you have - maintaining revenues

Focusing on retention and existing customers has been the highest priority for many businesses, but not all products and services are well suited for remote delivery. As a provider of IT services, Ridgewall needed to demonstrate that they could still deliver. This was done through a combination of picking up the phone, but also trying direct marketing (DM) for the first time, and focusing on the services that can be delivered remotely. “We worked with the marketing team to develop content and campaigns to show we are still here, still open for business,” Alex explains. He says they had great success with DM that comes from the sales person. “We also offered free trials for remote services, which has seen a high level of interest”.

IT staffing business Calco found that some clients were asking for discounts. “We had to consider why they were asking for discounts and what the real underlying reason was, how they had been impacted” Maurice recalls. They trained sales people within the first few weeks of lockdown to manage discount conversations and when and how to hold the line with existing customers, and it paid off as the team was more prepared and comfortable to have those conversations.

Build momentum - new business

Sales cycles have become longer, so building the pipeline and pro-actively keeping momentum has been critical. However, doing so over the phone and video conference in a complex global context has not been easy.  

Calco eased their sales team into having “cold” conversations, starting with internal role-playing, then moving on to asking for referrals to other departments within existing clients, and lastly speaking to new clients. Calco works with the top 500 businesses in the Netherlands, and the sales team is now trained to get referrals out of them. “It’s silly we didn’t think of this before COVID, but we’ve been forced to think in other ways now,” Maurice admits.

In March the team at Chambers was selling into the US, specifically into NY law firms. Tim recalls, “Our new business sales team may not have understood some of the challenges the NY firms were having, and so we rang them with our same old pitch. We quickly had to change our talk track and become more empathetic, being more consultative rather than to just make a sale and move on.”

In addition to working with marketing on messaging, building out the pipeline was an important initiative. Chambers focused on states and practice areas less affected by the pandemic, such as restructuring, employment law and regulation.

Looking back, Tim feels it was a productive learning experience: “A confluence of factors meant we made some mistakes. But we learned and pivoted.” Indeed Chambers are now writing more new business than this time last year.

Make it fun - culture

Sales folk tend to be social creatures and remote working may cramp their style. The energy and focus which typically comes from being together can wane quickly, and picking up the phone and calling a prospect may not have generated the positivity they’d hoped for. The panellists all agree that spending more time together as a team as well as on 1:1 coaching and training have been one of the most important things to keep motivation up.

Tim says the firm has developed the idea of focus days themed around regions or geographies. Sales people were given lists to call, objectives, practised role playing and then it became a cold-calling session. “We’d re-group and see how it went and learn from each other. This process has really kept everyone energised.”

It is not just staff who need to learn in this new backdrop we are working in – trust issues may run deep in leadership teams, too. Alex explains he was monitoring the number of calls and emails sent for a week without telling the team. “I then had a stern word about my observations, and productivity has been great since.” But he admits he should have given his team more trust.  “We can work effectively remotely, but keeping the motivation up is critical… we started to offer incentives for winning the most new business each week, such as a bottle of champagne or cash”.

Track, measure and monitor - KPIs Track

With so many unforeseen circumstances impacting performance, how do we even know what “good” looks like? Monitoring leading indicators such as pipeline and activity levels as well as lagging indicators has been imperative. As is monitoring them more closely, and with a higher frequency.

Chambers implemented Salesforce last year, which has made it easier to track KPIs now. Tim and his team have religiously been keeping track of retention, new business, conversion rate, and pipeline, on a weekly basis and baselining it both against last year and rolling week-on-week.

Maurice deemed their existing dashboards outdated and very quickly pushed for building a new dynamic one where he could track KPIs more effectively. “We were open and transparent with the team about what we want to track and it made them understand and be very cooperative. We did really notice we should have pushed on dashboarding prior to COVID,” Maurice says.

Remote selling is here to stay, for a while at least. Doubling down on the basics will always serve you well – coaching and training the team, setting up your management information for better decision making, and closer alignment with marketing are all moves that wont be regretted.