The Empty Pipeline

With a global pandemic upon us, what is your sales strategy?

With a global pandemic upon us, what is your sales strategy?

Right now, you are probably thinking a lot about the pandemic. With the concern growing, more people are taking to digital channels to dispense advice. We are in a world where now everyone seems to be a work from home guru or an expert home bread baker.

I have also seen a significant uptick in sales guidance. Much of this content is of the rah-rah, just push harder variety. Having worked through the ’87 Crash, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, and the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, I can unequivocally state this type of advice is hot garbage.

The reality is that unless you are in a company powering the work from home economy or medical devices, 2020 is going to be a lousy year. You are going to hear more “no’s”, your pipeline will shrivel up, and your take home pay is going to get hammered. Working “harder” is not going to cut it.

“Have patience to walk with short steps until you have wings to fly.”
— Saint Francis de Sales

Taking the “work harder” approach never really works anyway in sales. It only appears to work in good times because with enough swings, eventually you get a hit. Your hit rate might suck, but you brute forced your way to get a few prospects to pay attention.

During a black swan, the tactics used in the good old days do not work. Every company is in survival mode and the supply/demand curve goes haywire. If you produce facemasks, you can’t keep up with business. If you sell recruiting software, not so much. If the product is not helping in survival mode, selling in this environment is exceedingly difficult.

With the prospects of having an empty pipeline then, what can you do? You need to change the goals to change the mindset. Let me share what I mean by sharing my first months at Stack Overflow.

When I joined, it was to help launch a new product for engineering teams. There was a beta customer, a PowerPoint deck, a bunch of inbound leads, and not much else. After several weeks of working through the leads and initial opportunities that stalled, I was faced with nothing in the pipeline.

I was staring down the reality of a big number to hit and pulling in nothing for the year. I was nauseous. How was I going to make up millions in revenue with only nine months to go and no pipeline?

Instead I switched the goal. I changed the goal from the huge target to just closing one deal. This lowered my anxiety and allowed me to focus on executing rapid experiments to reevaluate the message, the target companies, the personas, and the qualifiers to find a repeatable strategy.

What I did specifically is something I will share over the next several newsletters. I had to change tactics from the volume game and to an agile, hyper-targeted strategy. The key to this working was adjusting the goal so that my mind could focus on the tactics required to reach the more attainable goal.

Successful salespeople play the long game. They are not focused on now, but on the steps that will lead to bigger downstream success. I missed the big goal that first year, but I got the first deal two months later, then another deal one month after, and several more of increasing contract size by year end. This led to my crushing my number the following year to such an extent that the company pivoted strategy to shift resources to our group.

We are in a scary and unpredictable time. If you tunnel vision on the near-term and panic, you will fall into the trap of pushing volume and looking desperate. Take a pause, adjust the goal, refocus efforts, and shift your mindset away from the overwhelming gulf to something more achievable.

I realize though that given the uncertainty we are facing that you may need help, have questions, or simply need to talk. I have therefore opened up my calendar for the next month to take 15 minute calls with anyone in the Enterprise Sales Forum community, you can sign up here starting tomorrow (Friday) from 8 AM to 2 PM EDT.

Be well, stay safe, and focus on what you can do to succeed!

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