Growth Frameworks

Leaning into Sales Growth When Uncertainty Looms

In today's increasingly complex operating environment, sales leaders must consider how best to adapt, plan and prioritize their team’s focus and activity – and how to lean into growth.

The turbulence of the last few years has tested business leaders across industries, and uncertainty only continues with rising interest rates, increasing inflation, geopolitical concerns, persistent supply chain disruptions and a more fluid workforce. While no business can plan for every eventuality, sales leaders must consider how best to adapt, plan and prioritize their team’s focus and activity. We believe now is the time for revenue organizations to find opportunities to scale, fueling growth with both productivity and efficiency gains. We recommend revenue leaders plan growth with a three-step process:

1. Be Informed
Understand Your Customers

It can take months or years to earn a customer, but you can lose one in an instant. Often, the motivations that drove a customer’s initial engagement with your brand may not be relevant today. To get an updated, more accurate read on the health of your sales channel, start by considering the needs and wants of customers in the current climate.

In today’s environment, customers may be looking for ways to reduce costs and improve operating efficiency. Sales teams may hear terms like “committees” and “vendor consolidation” more often, and as wallets get tighter, sales cycles can become longer and deal sizes can shrink. In our experience, good revenue operations teams will track these metrics and others – such as time-to-respond, time-to-resolution or other customer service KPIs – in real-time, but great teams understand the importance of triangulating these data with specific anecdotes from their sales teams.

Consider ways to extend your knowledge and your customer engagement beyond how a customer is using your product or service. To this end, we encourage sales leaders to support their team in building a comprehensive understanding of their customers.  Does your sales team know how your customers evaluate the ROI of your solutions? Is your team able to identify or anticipate signals that will help predict behavioral shifts? Asking your customers questions such as “How has your day-to-day changed in the last three months?” can reveal deeper insights that may impact your partnership. While metrics can help identify the symptoms, qualitative feedback from the frontlines of your salesforce will help you to tailor-fit the right solution for the situation.

2. Prioritize Your Strategies
There Can Only Be So Many Big Rocks

We’ve always loved the example of trying to fit big rocks, pebbles and sand into an empty jar as a metaphor for strategic prioritization. You can only fit a finite number of big rocks in your jar; once filled, you can then make additional room for smaller pebbles and find still more space for grains of sand. Likewise, your sales strategy should consider your team’s capacity to absorb any new, big ideas and their ability to consistently execute the smaller tasks required to keep the jar filled.

With this metaphor in mind, we often recommend that sales leaders begin by measuring performance across each business segment to help identify areas for improvement and prioritize those segments (e.g., channels, products, regions) that have the potential to provide outsized growth. Then, pressure test the performance of each segment under a variety of conditions to understand the potential impact on your company’s performance and consider ways to add flexibility to your strategy amidst changing or uncertain conditions. We often see leaders developing “if / then” statements to help outline a hypothetical situation and, more importantly, uncover a potential result.

3. Act with Purpose
Rely on Insights and Information

We recently surveyed sales leaders across 30+ growth companies and learned that, while most expected their businesses to remain resilient in 2022, many are preparing for choppier waters in 2023. While we cannot predict the future, we encourage leaders to deepen their customer relationships, plan and prioritize key strategies and – importantly – proceed with some caution in the upcoming quarters.

Understand and commit to your customers. It is important to know qualitatively and quantitatively what success with your product or service means to your customers. Those customers that are unable to quantify success may need coaching from your team to bring them along for the journey. Finding mutual success factors and outcomes will help build a long-lasting partnership and reduce the risk of competitive threats.

Plan for customers’ budgets and behaviors to change. While many leaders will continue to invest in their business, they may get more selective and strategic about their spend. What changes can you make proactively to align your products and services to your customers’ evolving strategies? Is your sales team equipped to effectively communicate those changes to your customers and prospects?

Create visibility into your key segments and channels. Build an understanding of the levers and expected outcomes for each customer segment and sales channel. Consider the opportunities and risks associated with each; compare the potential benefits and opportunity costs of focusing on fewer, bigger “rocks” versus adding more “pebbles” to fill the gaps. Serious scenario planning can help your team build the conviction required to reallocate resources when needed, focusing on the segments that are working and steering away from those that are not.

Sales teams are often applauded in times of rapid growth and scrutinized when cycles are slow and demand wanes. Our pandemic experiences and subsequent economic uncertainty shined a bright light on the importance of being able to respond to the unexpected. Leaders that continually seek to develop a deeper understanding of their customers, create more clarity around the “big rocks” and equip their teams to understand and adjust priorities will build agility in their business – helping create more predictability, even in a more turbulent, less predictable environment.

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Cae Keys

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The content herein reflects the views of Summit Partners and is intended for executives and operators considering partnering with Summit Partners. For a complete list of Summit investments, please click here.

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