6 ways to build pipeline and drive revenue performance in a downturn

COVID-19 has changed virtually every aspect of our business lives, from marketing and HR to engineering and product. But one big thing on everyone’s radar is sales: How do you build pipeline and drive revenue performance in a down market?

We’ve gone from a booming economy to one that’s incredibly fragile. Companies have had to make layoffs, reel in their budgets, and allocate their spend to must-haves only. If you’re a technology provider and on the vendor side, you must determine the best ways to build pipeline and maintain revenue performance in order to stay afloat. For some in the workforce, this is the first downturn they’ve experienced, so these are uncharted waters.

I had a chance to discuss this with Operator Collective Founder & Partner Mallun Yen, who grew enterprise revenue from the ground up to $300M at her venture-backed startup, and Brex Chief Customer Officer Roli Saxena, who ran a $250M revenue division at LinkedIn. Together we shared 6 things revenue leaders who’ve been through multiple downturns are doing to build pipeline and drive revenue performance, even in a pandemic and economic recession. Spoiler alert: Anchoring on customer success and value is critical.

1) Start with your existing customers

Customer retention is always paramount, but never more so than right now. Retention is key, not only to maintain current revenue, but also to enable future expansion revenue. So keeping customers in the boat is priority number one. Anchor them with value and trust.  

First, it’s critical to be in touch not only with your customers’ usage and adoption of your products, but also their perceived realized value. Are they getting measurable value from their spend with you? This is a crucial conversation, and your team must be clear on how to enable your customers to quantify value. 

Second, as different companies and sectors are impacted by the pandemic to different degrees, have empathy. Stay as flexible as you can as you discuss contracts and renewals. The priority is to keep customers in your franchise, and when you can offer a degree of flexibility in a moment of need, you may create a customer for life even as you take a short term downgrade.  Consider approaches such as extended trials, usage-based billing, payment terms, and product swapability. Partner with your finance team to ensure alignment on what’s possible, and then create a dialogue with your customers. This dialogue and flexibility will go a long way to strengthening the trust with your customer base and ensuring customers for the long term.

2) Align your value prop to areas of customer need 

Budgets have been slashed, leaving most companies spending only what they qualify as must-have purchases. The list of must-haves has likely changed since January. Companies are in pursuit of lower TCO and higher ROI from their technology investments, so be prepared to speak to how your product or service delivers on those fronts. “Why now?” is a critical question your sales team must seek to understand from customer engagements. What problem does it solve right now? Does your offering “make the cut” as companies re-evaluate projects and budgets?

As you define your value proposition, be sure to anchor on your customer success approach. How will you help customers adopt and realize value from your technology quickly? 

3) Create champions and advocates

Every account needs a champion – a prospect or current user on the inside who knows and loves your product, and is willing to advocate for you and make the case to purchase or renew. The right champion is empowered and has influence across the organization.

Creating champions is more difficult in a virtual environment. It’s much harder to get a read on a level of commitment in a virtual meeting versus an in person one. Plus, your champion’s organization may be in flux, which means their influence may have diminished. 

Two recommendations for navigating this challenge in the downturn are to 1) create multiple champions, and 2) strive for executive alignment early in your sales cycle. To create multiple champions, perhaps you focus on a “technical champion” who will advocate for your product capabilities, as well as a “business champion” who will speak for your solution’s impact on the business. And as you pursue executive alignment, the good news is that executives are in many cases easier to access in our virtual world and may have an increased interest in striking up a relationship with a new partner or around a new solution investment.

4) Redefine “high propensity” 

The pandemic and macro-economic environment have impacted various regions, industries, and companies in unique ways. Take the time to revisit assumptions around where your high propensity segments, accounts, and use cases lie. High propensity to buy is simply about determining the likelihood of a customer buying something – but has that changed given today’s environment? 

Sit back and reevaluate for a moment. Are your Marketing and Sales programs focused sufficiently on those areas? You may want to adjust sales rep territories and re-align resources accordingly.

5) Track an updated set of leading indicators

Your business-as-usual set of metrics may not be sufficient, so consider giving them a refresh. As all selling teams become “inside sales teams” – and as customer engagement is now all virtual – what are the leading indicators you can track to ensure productivity, effectiveness, customer engagement, and customer success?

It’s important to track your team metrics, but also activity type – and to take in both objective and subjective data about what activity types are most effective right now. For example, is your outbound email marketing working? Are your remote demos effective?  

In addition to standard pipeline creation metrics, measuring pipeline progression is as important as ever, so that you have visibility as to whether opportunities are taking longer at any particular stage, which may be a reflection of customer resources or priority. For example, is it taking longer to achieve the technical win, perhaps because there are more stakeholders on the customer side to engage? Is the procurement process taking longer, as customers are required to collect additional approvals? This is important information to take into account as you forecast the business.

On the post-sales side, customer adoption and value are key. If you offer a SaaS solution, working with your customers proactively to understand where they are in their adoption journey and helping them advance is critical. Understand the outcomes your customers strive for, and make sure to measure your team’s success against those customer goals.

6)  Celebrate successes

These unprecedented times have created stress and anxiety for all, on personal and professional levels. Professional success in a down environment is harder than ever to achieve, and therefore celebrating success, too, is more important than ever. In fact, I strongly recommend celebrating the micro-successes – such as a small new “land” win, a note of positive customer feedback, a training certification completed, a key customer go-live, or a cross-functional project delivered. Finding smaller successes to celebrate more frequently and with generous attribution across a broad team of people where possible is a wonderful opportunity in this environment.

As go-to-market leaders, it’s critical that we create an environment for our teams where they have confidence that they can be successful and know they are valued. Success begets success, and your team’s confidence and success will carry over into how they show up for customers and be a positive influence.

More information on selling in a down market 

Driving pipeline and revenue is challenging right now and requires adjustments to strategy and tactics. Yet perhaps it also presents an opportunity to re-anchor on the evergreen guiding principles of trust, value, and customer success.  

For more strategies on how to sell in a downturn, watch our full Challenge Series webinar. It offers many more insights on ways you can maximize your sales cycle in a down market.

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