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By Will Milano

This past year laid bare some critical underlying selling skills and cracks in their sales pipeline that sales leaders were able to ignore or avoid while focusing on more immediate concerns. There’s no putting it off anymore. The good news is, we just went through a crash course in transformation — and there’s plenty to learn from it.

Now that 2020 is in the rear view mirror, most of us are ready to bid good riddance to an incredibly tumultuous year and do our best to forget it. But before you barrel ahead into 2021 and look for signs of returning to the “good old days,” sales leaders and their teams have a lot to learn from 2020. In fact, your success in 2021 depends on it.

After all, if you’re looking for a return to “normal,” you’re out of luck. If anything, the events of last year only accelerated many of the changes that were already starting to happen with the sales process, buying preferences and in the way salespeople interact with clients and prospects. It’s also clear that the shift to a remote sales model isn’t just a temporary fix. Research from HubSpot shows that 68% of sales leaders plan to implement a hybrid or fully remote sales model in 2021.

New Sales Pipeline Strategy

Meanwhile, there’s lost ground to make up. With 40% of sales leaders saying they missed their revenue targets in 2020 (and a much higher percentage of individual salespeople missing them), we need to approach our sales strategy in 2021 with a clear-eyed view of what’s working and what’s not. That means reflecting on the good, the bad and the ugly of 2020 and sharpening our focus on the selling skills, techniques, mindsets and attitudes that will drive the greatest value going forward.

This past year laid bare some critical underlying selling skills and cracks in their sales pipeline that sales leaders were able to ignore or avoid while focusing on more immediate concerns. There’s no putting it off anymore. The good news is, we just went through a crash course in transformation — and there’s plenty to learn from it.

Selling Skills and Techniques To Maintain Your Sales Pipeline

If you’re a sales leader, make a plan to devote some of your coaching time to discussing with your salespeople the lessons of 2020 and how they will apply those to grow their book of business and reach their goals in 2021. Here are some key areas to look at:

Sales Rep Time Management

Where the salesperson’s time was spent — and why? When a rep is struggling, one of the things sales leaders tend to focus on is their level of activity: Did they do the things they needed to do to find, nurture and close the deal. This misses a key element, though. A person’s behaviors are driven by their inner values, thoughts and beliefs. As a result, low (or low value) activity levels and avoidance behaviors are almost always a symptom of something else that’s interfering with their success.

The disruptions of traditional sales processes last year caused many salespeople to question their abilities and even their view of selling. Encourage your salespeople to be honest with themselves about their inner dialogue and how it manifested into activities and results in 2020, and focus your coaching on helping them overcome these limiting beliefs. Once they have a clear and honest picture of what 2020 looked like, they can use a “Start-Stop-Continue” approach to determine what they need to start, stop and do more of to be that much better in 2021.

Prospecting To Keep The Pipeline Full

We often see jagged-line success from salespeople who win deals and then ignore prospecting. In this day and age, you can’t just sit back and wait for the phone to ring. An “always on” approach, regardless of how much you’re selling at any one time, is the only way to remain successful and consistently perform at high levels.

But prospecting is a long game, and many salespeople are looking for the quick hit or the easy route (which doesn’t exist). It’s time for your salespeople to get real: Have them candidly reflect on their approach to prospecting by answering questions such as:
● What was your email-to-phone-calls ratio in 2020? Are you strictly using email because it’s easier to hide behind and churn out activity? When was the last time you actually mailed something to a prospect?
● Are you committing time to leveraging social media to grow your personal brand, add value to your connections and stay consistently visible? As little as 15-20 minutes a week on social media can yield returns. You can’t just have a LinkedIn profile anymore. You have to actively and regularly be visible, add value, and engage with people.
● How effective is your prospecting mix and approach? Use the equation of # of opportunities/# of touches to evaluate your “prospecting efficiency score” in 2020. It’s important to review the quality of the touches, not just the quantity, and get others’ opinions as well. Every prospecting touch must answer for the recipient: (a) why am I special to you, (b) why are you contacting me, (c) who are you, and (d) what do you want me to do?

Expanding Professional Relationships

A large majority (79%) of companies surveyed in a recent study said that up to six people are now involved in the B2B purchasing process, while 44% of the companies said they have formal buying groups or committees that review purchases. Current and future business is at risk if a salesperson is relying on one contact and hoping they’ll do the internal selling for them.

In today’s buying environment, salespeople need to expand the number of relationships they have with decision-makers and influencers, both in prospect accounts and with existing customers. This is a proactive tactic to win larger deals, and it’s also a defensive one to help ensure the continuation of existing client relationships when an “internal champion” inevitably moves on.

Expanding relationships isn’t necessarily just about selling skills and techniques, though. For many, it requires a shift in mindset: It’s creating value before you’re ever asked. It’s taking the long view instead of looking at nurturing only through the lens of whether any one activity directly leads to a deal or not.

Evaluating Last Year’s Sales Lessons To Set This Years Goals

To set tangible goals, salespeople need to be able to answer key metrics questions — for themselves, not just for you. Part of your role, though, is coaching them to make these questions part of their sales mindset and approach:
● How many opportunities did I create in 2020?
● How many touch points did each opportunity require?
● What was my average deal size?
● What was my win rate (overall and by deal size)?
● Where in my pipeline did deals tend to stall?

These kinds of questions often lead to new insights. They’re essential to understanding strengths, opportunities for improvement, where you’ve been and where you’re headed. For example, many salespeople will discover that they don’t actually need more opportunities — they need to increase their win rate.

Maintaining Your Sales Pipeline

We’re all ready for a fresh start this year. Fortunately, we have a lot of fertile ground to build on from last year’s experiences. Don’t waste all that knowledge and insight! Take the time to work with your salespeople on reflecting and adjusting in these areas.

Set the stage for a strong sales year ahead!

About the Author
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Will Milano

Vice President of Marketing

Will has driven brand and content marketing strategies for leading professional services companies for two decades including 13 years’ experience...
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