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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.


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"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.

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"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.

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