As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies of all sizes have been forced to adjust on the fly to maintain stability within their organization.
With the business landscape changing overnight, sales departments and sales professionals are among the most affected.
To better understand the impact of the pandemic on the sales industry, we sent out a 38-question survey to nearly 472 sales organizations in a wide variety of industries.
What We Discovered
Let’s start by taking a look at the industries in which the respondents work. While more than half (52%) are from internet and software services (aka SaaS), there was also a good amount from commercial & professional services, consulting, media, technology hardware & equipment, and others.
Note: 61% of respondents were from the United States, followed by 7% from Canada, 5% from the United Kingdom, and 3% from India.
What roles are represented? The majority are sales representatives or VP/C-level (66%) but include a range of roles across the sales organization.
Additionally, respondents come from small, mid-sized, and enterprise orgs, though most represent smaller companies, with as many as 250 employees.
COVID-19 has forced tens of millions of people to work from home, with 38% of respondents noting that their sales team was not remote before the pandemic. 31% said that their sales team was partially remote before the pandemic, with another 31% noting they were fully remote.
Even more telling is the fact that 93% said their sales team is now fully remote, with only 5% responding they are partially remote and 2% saying they continue to work from the office.
With the unemployment rate at historic highs, workers in every industry have a reason for concern.
Of our respondents, only 4% said they have lost their job as a result of the pandemic.
However, when asked, “What percentage of your sales team has been let go as a result of the pandemic?” it’s clear that all organizations are responding differently, depending on their industry or situation.
Out of all 472 responses, 342 said they have lost NO sales staff due to the pandemic (that’s 72%).
16.7% of total respondents said less than 30% of their sales teams were let go as a result of the pandemic.
There was another grouping of companies (5.2%) that said they lost from 41% to 50% of their sales team.
Also, more than a third (37%) of the salespeople we surveyed said they are fearful of losing their job. Among this group, sales development professionals (46%) are most fearful of job loss, followed by sales managers (44%), account executives (39%), and customer success representatives (33%).
Outbound Prospecting Is Changing
Outbound prospecting remains a top strategy for the salespeople we surveyed. We asked the question, “If outbound prospecting was part of your sales process before the pandemic, are you still performing outbound prospecting?”
81% responded yes, with only 12% exploring other outreach avenues.
Adding to this, 91% said they’ve changed the messaging they use. For example, more than half of respondents are focusing on different value propositions and personalizing messages more than before.
Cold calling has long been a preferred method of outbound prospecting, but its effectiveness has dropped off for some.
41% noted a decreased connect rate, with only 19% experiencing an increase or no change at all.
Cold email response rates have decreased for 42% of respondents, with 30% noting no change and 15% experiencing an increase.
Leads and Meetings are Hard to Come By
For sales professionals, there’s nothing more important than keeping a steady flow of leads in the pipeline. But this has become increasingly more difficult during the pandemic.
57% of salespeople surveyed are generating fewer leads, with 20% seeing no change and only 13% experiencing an increase.
Among those who have increased leads, only 11–20% are seeing a boost of 15%. Half of these respondents only have a 10% boost.
The number of leads has dropped an average of 20%. As many as half of these respondents are seeing a 60% decrease in leads. Another third now have 80% fewer leads.
Booked meetings are even harder to come by than leads, with 68% of respondents experiencing a decrease.
For those who are scheduling fewer meetings, it’s been a hard hit. Half of respondents have 60% fewer meetings in the books, with an average of a 30% decrease.
A few lucky industries are booking more meetings, but it’s nothing to write home about. The average increase is just 8%, with the majority of this group seeing a 9% boost in meetings.
Okay, that’s meetings held. What about the opportunity conversion rate?
A small percentage of reps are seeing an increase here, but the average is an unimpressive 2%.
The vast majority of reps are seeing a decrease — by an average of 15%. For about half, the opportunity rate has dropped 30%.
When it comes to sales, the bottom line is the close. As you might guess, the majority of reps have seen a decrease in the close rate. In fact, the majority of respondents (as many as 80%) are closing approximately 30% fewer deals.
Some industries are experiencing an increase in closes, especially if they’ve been able to reposition their products or have products that are needed to weather the crisis effectively. While most of this group are only seeing a 1% boost in their close rate, about a fifth have had a 10% increase.
Quotas and Target Metrics
Despite the downturn, many salespeople aren’t getting much relief in regards to their individual quota/target metric.
59% of the salespeople we surveyed are still responsible for the same quota. This is in comparison to only 28% with a decrease.
Tips for Keeping a Strong Pipeline During the Pandemic
We asked salespeople to share their advice on maintaining and growing a strong pipeline during the pandemic. Here are some of the top responses:
Backtracking to previous conversations where timing wasn’t right. Reconnecting with these prospects at this time to have a non-sales conversation has actually opened two opportunities.
Building relationships, being there as a resource for help / bouncing ideas, and building a community of people going through the same problems.
Moving very quickly to change the focus — from new campaigns targetting industries we would not have invested much in to identifying potential new angles to opening discussions.
Added bottom-of-funnel virtual events and content that has nothing to do with our company! Focused entirely on complimenting our software solution.
LinkedIn chat is saving my life. Cold calls have a higher connection rate but still people say no. By chatting with people online and asking for internal referrals, I’m booking meetings. Also, talking to people who engaged with our company before.
Recognizing Q2 is going to be difficult and trying to build for Q3.
Focusing on our existing customers to maintain strong NPS. As well as focused on our existing pipeline to get deals done with them still.
More prospecting by Account Managers. Active Sales Sprints with content from business development teams for AM’s to execute with.
Being empathetic to current circumstances. Build the pipeline now and maintain relationships. If it’s not a deal it’ll be a deal in a few months.
Interviews with local business leaders. This keeps engagement with prospects and also gives an in-depth look at what is going on not only within certain industries, but within those specific organizations.
For most salespeople, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their approach overnight. From the way they communicate to their messaging, nothing is the same as it was four months ago.
With the help of the tips above, you can adjust your sales strategy to help get you through this difficult time.
What are your thoughts on the data above? Do you have any other tips to share with salespeople who are feeling their way through the pandemic?