5 Smart Plays for Effective Sales Development During a Crisis, A Personal Journey

We were initially perplexed, I have to admit. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, my team and I at Demandbase were catapulted into unchartered territory. As a sales development leader, my gut reaction was to stick to the script and continue to do what I do best at the end of any quarter: push hard, get meetings, and finish strong. I continued to encourage my team to get after it, hit their daily goals, and exceed whatever number we put in front of them.

Then, one after another like rolling thunder, our signature face-to-face events—Outreach Unleash, SalesLoft Rainmaker, SaaStr, ABM Innovation Summit, and then TOPO—were being cancelled. And then, we were advised to work from home. At that point, admittedly, we were all scared of what the future would look like. Most certainly, it wasn’t going to be business as usual. But I kept pressing on, undeterred, thinking that’s what was needed for effective sales development.

Turning to Empathy

I quickly realized that we weren’t (and, if I’m being completely honest: I wasn’t) being sensitive enough to what our prospects, customers, and colleagues were dealing with. As a team, we were pushing too hard when we needed to pull back. Personally, I felt awful that I wasn’t listening to my team and what they were experiencing on the front lines. I needed to be able to pull team members aside. Get a better understanding of what they were going through. This turned out to be an incredibly beneficial exercise. Dealing with my team during this moment, which has felt like the worst of times, has motivated me to respond to them with more empathy going forward, during good times and bad.

We weren’t alone. Social media exploded with thousands of posts about the difficulties of prospecting and the challenges of doing sales development from home. Some questioned, Should we even be selling at all? While I can get behind the first two lamentations, the third was simply not an option. As our CMO Peter Isaacson put it in 7 Tips to Prepare for a New Reality, “We’re still on the hook for generating and delivering on pipe goals that may now seem impossible.”

With that in mind, our normal prospecting behavior would have to change, and we couldn’t just focus on numbers. We had to focus on people and our B2B marketing community—now more than ever. We had to make smart plays. The following are the actions we put into place in our sales development team. I hope these thoughts will be useful to you as we reframe our work days during this unprecedented time.

Making Smart Plays

Smart Play #1: Focus less on booking meetings and more on making deposits.

The first thing that the smartest sales development teams do in a crisis is to pivot away from booking meetings and, instead, offer to help. Sales coach extraordinaire Josh Braun calls this making deposits. I think we all need to start banking them. Taking a consultative approach, trying to engage with relevance, and providing support should our people need it are paramount during periods of economic uncertainty.

Smart Play #2: Soften calls to action, or eliminate them entirely.

For my team, failing to let go of calls to action would mean losing sight of the challenges our prospects and customers continue to face during the uncertainty of this crisis. So many leaders have had to freeze corporate budgets while saving jobs. I’m willing to bet that demonstrating an understanding of their current situations and offering to help in any way we can will forge better relationships with our customers down the line. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

Smart Play #3: Take it easy on the phones.

Especially to cold prospects. People have enough distractions in their days, with partners, kids, pets, roommates, etc. The last thing on their minds is a call from out of nowhere for a meeting. I encourage my team only to call people they know, or to carry out a call if it was already on the calendar. But we’ve pretty much eliminated cold-calling. In fact, I’ve heard from peers that connection rates over the phone were down anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. As we continue to monitor that number, it’s slipping at a 70 percent-and-above decline.

Smart Play #4: Adapt.

Along with cold-calling, in-person events and meetings are gone for the foreseeable future. It’s time to pivot to digital. At Demandbase, we’re seeing LinkedIn and email engagement skyrocket. By relying more heavily on digital channels, we allow our prospects to engage when it is convenient for them, not when it’s convenient for us.

Digital communication is going to be crucial as we plan for the months ahead inside the parameters created by the COVID-19 crisis. Shifting our focus to online channels, understanding how to best engage with prospects and customers, testing new strategies, and effectively tracking these digital signals will be imperative for sales and marketing success in the coming months. In times like these, we must adapt.

Smart Play #5: Be more human.

It’s been great to see a different side of people through Zoom. I don’t just mean the channel (although Zoom is blowing up), I mean how we’re interacting with each other, having empathy, and understanding weird situations. All of us are trying to come together to figure this thing out. I love seeing the ways teams and companies are rallying together with themed meetings, virtual happy hours, delivery lunches, fun Slack channels, team competitions, and fundraising activities.

At Demandbase, we’re keeping it light by digging into our closets to don our favorite costumes. But we’re also participating in charities, like our SDR March Madness Challenge and our contributions to United Way for everyone who gets ABM certified, as we do our small part to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been really special to see peers shift from caring solely about their numbers to caring more about each other. I hope we don’t lose sight of what’s most important when we get back to business as usual.

Demandbase team on a video call

At Demandbase, we’re finding fun ways to stay connected while we socially distance during COVID-19.

Doggedly Optimistic

While this global health crisis is not something many of us would have foreseen just a few months ago, it is the reality we are living with now. Rather than fear the challenges, let’s embrace them. And let’s get better at using the resources that are still available to sustain, not only our jobs and our businesses, but also our daily lives. I, for one, am heartened to witness how we strive to prevail during this time. I’m optimistic we will come out of this as better sellers, better marketers, and better human beings as we get through this together.

Vice President, Sales Development, Demandbase

I have been leading high-performing outbound Sales Development teams in the SaaS/martech space for over 10 years. My primary responsibilities are training, coaching, and mentoring Sales Development reps to become high performers that get promoted throughout the revenue organization, and developing a quality pipeline for Sales and operationalizing account-based selling. I believe that one of the most important functions of Sales Development is to be the bridge between Sales and Marketing, to help achieve both pipeline and revenue goals. Prior to joining Demandbase, I was a Demandbase Platform customer twice over, and I am a firm believer that going account-based is what drives success for both Marketing and Sales teams.