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Sales Leaders Share Top Advice for Success in 2021

Sales team working on their new plans

Here's how to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead.

Looking back on 2020, a phrase continues to pop into my head: “You can’t step into the same river twice.” In the traditional meaning, it’s because the river is constantly in motion, changing as the water flows. But what if it’s actually us that has changed? 

2021 will share many of the same challenges of 2020. The difference is that this time, we’ll be ready, with a better idea of how to approach what’s coming. 

Sales in 2021 will be about acknowledging the human first.

Keri Brooke, salesforce

Jody Kohner, who leads enablement at Salesforce, recently told me: “You can’t get to the work, the productivity, and the innovation until you’ve acknowledged the human first — with all the emotional layers we’re living through.”

Sales in 2021 will be about acknowledging the human first. That can mean softening (and deepening) your metrics so you can balance closing with empathizing. It can also mean bringing in back-office systems that let you understand what your customers truly value.

My team and I spoke with top sales leaders around the world to learn about the success tactics they plan to use in 2021. Our State of Sales Report lays out the full details, but here are some top insights that resonated with me. I hope you’ll gain something from them, too.

Question everything you know about your customer

Do you know what your contacts are thinking? What their bosses are thinking? There are a lot of emotions floating around right now, and many of them are negative. It’s important to nail down the root cause of your customers’ concerns. Just because they’ve said something before doesn’t mean it’s true now.

We’ve had deals where everything goes smoothly, until we start talking to leaders beyond our primary contact. Suddenly, new objections emerge: Their financial position is in a different place or they’re thinking about their markets differently. 

Our reps are memorializing these conversations in Salesforce Anywhere, a collaboration tool that integrates with our entire sales process. We have Salesforce Anywhere docs attached to leads, accounts, and opportunities. This allows the entire team to leverage previous conversations and take strategic next steps.

– Mark Evans, Chief Marketing and Product Officer at Vision

Related: 5 Sales Strategies to Fuel Recovery and Revenue Growth

Embrace video voicemail

Virtual selling is here to stay, but how do you take it to the next level? How do you leverage tools to scale your sales processes, while also keeping it personal for your customers? One idea: video voicemail.

We’re planning on training our reps to record effective video outreach. These messages can help reps cut through the noise, while moving the sales process along — from making an initial introduction to giving a quick product demo. To scale this, we’re looking into platforms that can host these videos and make them easily shareable.

– Deidra Zarrella, Senior Director Sales Operations and Strategy at Staples

Related: 4 Sales Trends Changing the Way You Work in 2020

Customer success = your success

Sales and customer success should go hand in hand. The sale is the first big milestone, but ensuring long-term customer success will keep your pipeline full with expansion and net new customers. 

People love to support products when they love how a company treats them as a customer.

– Chris Fezza, Founder at Admin Within

Related: How To Make B2B Buying as Smooth as Shopping Online

Bring the back office into the deal earlier

The biggest thing we’re focusing on is getting operations involved at the very beginning of the sales process. Tactically that means getting legal, underwriting, actuarial, and client services into Salesforce so we can share a universal view of our customer.

This helps us identify and solve problems we might not have even noticed without operations. With so many people involved, it can be slow going at first, but ultimately we can get everything in place early on and put the foot on the gas when it counts.

– David Gore, Manager of CRM Program Administration at Assurant

Related: Profitable in a Pandemic? How This Advertising Firm Pulled off Growth

Sales ops pro provides support to team

Invest in sales operations

The first thing you think of when sales are slipping is to hire new sales people. Right now, that’s not going to be the slam dunk it once was. We need folks who can build systems and tools that make it easier to sell what’s right in front of us.

We’re leaning into Customer 360. Our customer data is already in the system. Now it’s about getting that information into the hands of our technicians, our field service reps who most often interact with those customers, but don’t formally hold sales responsibilities. We need people to build those connections.

– George Carrera III, Salesforce Manager at Mitsubishi Electric, Elevator/Escalator Division

Related: Sales Ops Might Be the Revenue Hero You Didn’t Know You Needed

Practice empathy for your employees

Many roles have evolved to now live in Salesforce. We need to make sure it’s as easy to use as consumer apps. With employees working from home and often managing competing responsibilities, a seamless experience across devices makes the transition to this new lifestyle less frustrating. 

Take time to look through managing page layouts, validation rules, record types, report folders, and filters. These are basic changes, but they can make a world of difference to someone who needs to quickly log a customer success call or update an opportunity before helping their child join a Zoom call.

– Matthew Solomon, Sales Operations Manager at Mainsail Partners

Related: How PayPal Is Focused on Helping During Crisis

Hire based on talent, not location

We learned in 2020 that productivity doesn’t slip just because we’re no longer in an office together. That’s led us to consider widening our recruiting net and potentially hiring people who don’t necessarily live where our current offices are, something we haven’t done in the past. We now have access to a whole new talent pool.

– Ashley Mattis, Senior Director, Sales Operations and Strategy at Groupon

Related: Trends in Sales Ops Report

Data is your best friend

Data helps you understand what’s happening and how it’s going to impact people.

jody kohner, Salesforce

Things are changing so fast. Data helps you understand what’s happening and how it’s going to impact people. It informs how you prioritize and resource important initiatives. It also makes sure you’re measuring results and getting the right return on investment.

For sales enablement, specifically, data comes in a lot of different forms. You can look at course completion to evaluate which training leads to the most uplift and productivity. You can compile information about roles and competencies to tailor learning paths to the individual. You can create a survey and use the answers to evaluate the well-being and health of your team. All this data gets you out of the qualitative and into a place where you can drive a more meaningful experience.

– Jody Kohner, Executive Vice President of Global Enablement

Related: State of Sales Report, new data shows how sales professionals are selling in a global crisis.

Sales pros in a 1-on-1 coaching session

Don’t abandon your coaching responsibilities

Just because we’re all remote doesn’t mean the first-line leader doesn’t have an opportunity to coach their account executives (AEs). AEs should know leaders have their back.

In a regular world you might think, “I won’t have time to see them this week; I’ll just grab that person in the hall.” Now, you have an opportunity to schedule a weekly virtual one-on-one to work on deals, career growth, and, frankly, mental health.

– Alicia Leach, Director of Sales Enablement at Salesforce

Related: 4 Ways AI Can Level Up Your Sales Coaching

Train your reps on providing value, not price

Anything that can be will be commoditized. Battling it out on price might get you some wins in the short term, but it will hurt you down the line. It’s important to train your reps to focus instead on how they can provide value. 

Many reps lack the fundamental business knowledge to do this. Somebody once told me ROI is what you need it to be. No! There are formulas to calculate these things.

To address this, we invested in FranklinCovey training to help reps practice having needs-based conversations. We also held internal training sessions with business leaders to help them understand where our solution stack gets its value from and why people care about it.

– Mark Evans, Chief Marketing and Product Officer at Vision

Related: 5 Sales Skills Every Rep Needs To Master Right Now

Minimize change (as much as possible)

Due to the amount of change we’ve dealt with personally and professionally this past year, people are reaching the brink of what they can take. Maintaining stability and being extremely clear and concise about quota goals, responsibilities, plan, and strategy will help reduce stress.

On my team, one thing that’s remained the same is the feeling of family. We have each other to get through all the crazy that’s happening in our world. That has been fantastic. 

– Rachel Shaub, Director of Sales Enablement Mid Market at Salesforce

Related: How To Create a Strong Sales Culture From Home

Skill Up Your Teams in the New Year

Plan the ultimate virtual sales kickoff that educates and energizes your team for the challenges ahead.

Keri Brooke SVP, Sales Cloud Marketing

Keri Brooke is the Senior Vice President of Sales Cloud Marketing. She has more than 20 years of experience in the enterprise software and cloud technology sector as a strategic thinker and leader. She came to Salesforce from a series of startups. She's led multiple product marketing teams, including Einstein Analytics and Quip.

More by Keri

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