People

Tech sales teams brace for missed quotas in the time of coronavirus

Sales is at the heart of the tech industry, and teams are anxious. They're preparing for down quarters and even layoffs, but they're also getting creative.

Tech sales teams brace for missed quotas in the time of coronavirus

In one survey of 134 top B2B sales leaders on Bravado, a social network for sales people, 87% said they expected coronavirus to affect their first quarter forecast.

Photo: PeopleImages via Getty Images

Outreach CEO Manny Medina had been waiting a year for a meeting with the CMO of one of the largest customers of his sales software. The Seattle-based CEO was mentally preparing for the trip, making plans about how he would Lysol the plane and everything in between, when he got a note last week from the company that they had shut their doors to visitors. His meeting would have to be virtual.

"You have to prepare differently. I have to prepare like I'm Tony Robbins about to change people's lives. I'm not going to get another shot at this meeting," Medina said. "I'm going to give it a lot of energy, I'm going to be hyper-present, and I'm going to make the best of this time. I'm going to have to adapt to the online world, but I think that person's going to get a better show."

Medina's experience isn't an outlier. Having to shift sales plans on the fly is the new normal as the spread of coronavirus and the subsequent market plunge cause upheaval. Company conferences have been canceled across the board. Sales reps who are used to pitching out in the field are being told to stay home and pick up the phone. Public companies are entirely withdrawing their financial guidance for the year, and sales people are worried about hitting their quotas.


Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.


"My first quarter is already blown," said an enterprise account director for a training company, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about financials. "I am worried. I'd been looking at a new house, a new car, and I've put those things on hold."

He's not alone. In one survey of 134 top B2B sales leaders on Bravado, a social network for sales people, 87% said they expected coronavirus to affect their first quarter forecast. Worse, it could lead to layoffs: 12% said their teams were already considering trimming staff. Some already have. "Everyone's talking about conference cancellations, but I think that's overblown," said Bravado's CEO Sahil Mansuri. The bigger concern, according to Mansuri's survey, is that decision-makers have stopped responding, and now deals are getting pushed.

Many deals that were supposed to close this quarter are on hold as companies freeze on new contracts through the end of April. The account director's biggest concern is that the economy will become paralyzed by fear. "If we all stop, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said.

Even so, the account director said he feels "cautiously optimistic" about the future and what it will mean for his company. Already, the company is introducing new virtual trainings, which is a higher-margin business. "I view it as a tremendous opportunity for us to learn how to be more resilient," the director said.

And it's not all the bad news you would expect. "You might think because of coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions in place that the last thing organizations would be thinking about is corporate travel management, but it's quite the opposite," corporate management software TripActions Chief Revenue Officer Carlos Delatorre said in an email.

His sales team, now doing most of their calls on Zoom, has found that a lot of companies are realizing they need TripActions now more than ever. They want a better way to track where and when employees are scheduled to travel and how to keep them out of harm's way. TripActions has changed its demos to focus on features like a live traveler map so companies can see in a snapshot who is traveling where and also a way to measure the financial impact of their now unused airline credits.

Cockroach Labs VP of Marketing Jim Walker has taken a similar stance: The fear is real, but there are opportunities to get creative. Cockroach Labs, a cloud database startup, had previously relied heavily on conferences to do a lot of its top-of-the-funnel sales generation. The company's gimmick was that instead of handing out socks or other conference swag, for every time the team scanned people's conference badges to get their emails, they would donate $3 to charity.

Then, all of the conferences were canceled or moved entirely online.

"There is absolutely a palpable concern amongst everybody in terms of what it's going to do for the immediate quarter and our quotas," Walker said. His company recently had its midquarter check-in and, so far, the business is where it needs to be. His teammates are even having better luck getting some meetings to happen right now. "But the long-term pipeline, I think, is where there's a larger concern," he said.

To try to re-create some of its normal leads from conferences, Cockroach Labs shifted to doing "virtual badge scans" where anyone can sign in on the company's website — giving their names, email, company and title — and the company will donate $3 to Women Who Code. If prospects agree to a meeting after that virtual scan, then the company plans to donate an extra $50, Walker said. The money Cockroach Labs had originally earmarked for conference travel and costs is now being redirected toward different sales avenues and advertising.

"I think this moment in time is going to have an indelible effect on how creative we are as teams of marketers and salespeople," Walker said.

A lot of it is simply adjusting to doing business online. One account manager for a biotech firm, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity, shifted to posting more on LinkedIn and sending Doodles to make it easier for their clients or sales prospects to set up meetings.

A self-described "prospecting junkie," the account manager once loved meeting face-to-face for any kind of introduction. Now unable to travel, the manager switched to doing his meetings by phone or Skype. "The amount of value I put in an initial face-to-face meeting, I'm adjusting," he said. Still, he "crushed" his first-quarter sales and doesn't think coronavirus should be used as a crutch to not make quota.

Related:

"There's a reality that there's a number to hit," he said. "Using anything as an excuse, it's exactly that: an excuse."

While teams have typically been divided between internal sales, which is handling the phone calls, and outside sales, which is pitching clients out in the field, executives Protocol spoke with said the coronavirus spread could push teams to adapt a much more hybrid approach in the future.

Medina, the Outreach CEO, said the executives he has talked to who have a good inside sales motion are feeling much better than the companies that rely more on in-person meetings. "Those CEOs are asking their finance teams to re forecast the entire year, assuming that every deal pushes out by a month or two months or three months, etc.," he said.

As the meetings shift to the phone and video, he thinks sales teams will eventually emerge stronger. He's already felt it when it comes to preparing for his own calls, like the videoconference with the CMO. "I'm gonna show up stronger, I'm gonna be overcompensating [for] the fact that I'm not there, present," he said. "We're all trying to figure out how to work in this online virtual world."

And for those who don't?

"This cycle is gonna wash out all the non tech-savvy ones, the ones that rely on bar mitzvahs and the golf course to close a deal," Medina said.

Can we bring malls into the metaverse?

Soon you might buy digital sneakers to wear on your digital date in a digital world.

Combined with the hype around digital goods and cryptocurrency, companies and futurists are starting to imagine what shopping in the metaverse might look like.

Photo illustration: Mark Abramson/Bloomberg via Getty Images; The Fabricant; Protocol

Click banner image for more Shopping Week coverage

Before the internet, the mall was the spot for watching movies, hanging out, listening to music, finding love — and an embodiment of all-American consumerism. "The shopping center was Amazon, it was Facebook, it was Tinder, it was Spotify, it was Netflix," said retail futurist Doug Stephens. "It was the gathering point in the community."

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2026, the shortage of engineers in the U.S. will exceed 1.2 million, while 545,000 software developers will have left the market by that time. Meanwhile, business is becoming increasingly more digital-first, and teams need the tools in place to keep distributed teams aligned and able to respond quickly to changing business needs. That means businesses need to build powerful workplace applications without relying on developers.

In fact, according to Gartner, by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies and, by 2023, there will be at least four times as many active citizen developers as professional developers at large enterprises. We're on the cusp of a big shift in how businesses operate and how organization wide innovation happens.

Keep Reading Show less
Andrew Ofstad
As Airtable’s co-founder, Andrew spearheads Airtable’s long-term product bets and represents the voice of the customer in major product decisions. After co-founding the company, he helped scale Airtable’s original product and engineering teams. He previously led the redesign of Google's flagship Maps product, and before that was a product manager for Android.

Can we bring malls into the metaverse?

Soon you might buy digital sneakers to wear on your digital date in a digital world.

Combined with the hype around digital goods and cryptocurrency, companies and futurists are starting to imagine what shopping in the metaverse might look like.

Photo illustration: Mark Abramson/Bloomberg via Getty Images; The Fabricant; Protocol

Click banner image for more Shopping Week coverage

Before the internet, the mall was the spot for watching movies, hanging out, listening to music, finding love — and an embodiment of all-American consumerism. "The shopping center was Amazon, it was Facebook, it was Tinder, it was Spotify, it was Netflix," said retail futurist Doug Stephens. "It was the gathering point in the community."

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

It’s still too hard to give crypto this holiday

Here's how the industry Scrooged itself out of a big opportunity.

If only giving bitcoin were this simple.

Photo illustration: gpointstudio/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

Click banner image for more Shopping Week coverage

Crypto took huge steps toward the mainstream this year. Bitcoin soared in value, Coinbase went public and VCs poured even more money into the industry. In case consumers didn't get the message, they'll surely notice when the Staples Center turns into Crypto.com Arena next month and FTX airs its first Super Bowl ad in February.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

It’s time to rethink Black Friday

The pandemic didn't end Black Friday, but it'll never look the same again.

We can expect Black Friday to stick around but lose relevance as retailers effectively dilute its meaning and purpose.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Click banner image for more Shopping Week coverage

"I'm selling meditation, so I shouldn't be stressed," said Charlie Rousset, the co-founder of sleep and relaxation gadget-maker Morphée. But even deep breathing can't help Rousset feel less on edge this Black Friday.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Latest Stories