No Excuses: How to Successfully Forecast in 2021

How To Successfully Forecast in 2021

This is a Guest blog post by sales leadership expert Chris Tully. This is the second of a two-part series on “Preparing for 2021.” Thanks for reading and please “Like” and Subscribe! Thank you!

Don’t Let 2020 Become an Excuse: How to Successfully Forecast in 2021

Before we dive in, welcome to Part II of our two-part blog series about 2021 Sales Budgeting. If you missed Part I about how to appropriately establish your sales budget for next year, take a moment and read it first: Don’t Let 2020 Become an Excuse: Three Steps to Prepare for 2021

Now that you are all caught up on the three steps needed to create achievable 2021 revenue targets, the next step will be to develop a reforecasting model for next year. I am sure many people will approach forecasting with hesitation, but one thing that owners and sales leaders need to keep in mind is whatever their 2021 business plan, budget, and sales forecast looks like now, they are likely to look completely different by the end of 2021. In other words, the key to a successful navigation in 2021 will be adaptability.

It is likely there will be volatility in the market as the economy gets settled into the “new normal.” Your team will need to understand changes in demand as they occur so you are able to react and keep an accurate forecast. Part of that is understanding what your customers’ plans are by having your sales team engage with them more frequently. The other part is having a strong forecasting and adjusting process to capture the changing trends.

A sales forecast is the foundation for updating your profit projection which then allows you to recognize if investment plans can be carried out or if they need to be pulled back to balance the budget. The forecast is a critical leading indicator of your business’ overall revenue health and the guiding line for where it is heading. If you think just “winging it” will work since there are so many unknowns in how the market will play out next year, you are wrong. If a business is committed to success and striving to come out on top, they cannot function without a well-planned, and frequently reviewed and adjusted forecast.

Here are three guiding principles to help you develop an effective reforecasting and adjusting process:

Reforecasting Frequency

A business forecast in any year, not just in the midst of a pandemic, should be viewed as a living, breathing mechanism. There are things that affect it throughout the year that need to be evaluated. Given the market disruption over the past 8-months, at a minimum, owners and sales leaders need to revisit and rebuild their full year 2021 budget on a quarterly basis. This quarterly cadence means that after 2021 Q1 closes, a new full-year forecast should be created. This should be done again after month six and again after month nine.

This would result in having your original forecast that was used to build your initial budget, plus three reforecasting cycles. While this may seem like a lot to do, one thing that 2020 should have instilled in owners is to expect the unexpected and be prepared to appropriately react to market conditions and remain flexible in their plan.

NOTE: It is critical to be constantly monitoring your Sales Pipeline throughout the year, not just quarterly. While we’re recommending that a reforecast of your entire business waits until the end of each quarter, the Sales Pipeline requires ongoing focus to provide day-to-day sales visibility. This will also be helpful given that an accurate Sales Pipeline needs to be readily available to feed into the quarterly reforecasting process.

The 20,000-Foot View

While a quarterly review and reforecast is absolutely necessary, you will want to keep your original budget created in Q4 2020 as a point of reference and comparison as you reforecast throughout the new year. The original plan provides a “big picture” or “20,000-Foot View” for the year, giving you visibility into potential gaps in meeting your profit number during the quarterly reforecasting cycles.

In the event your sales are slower to ramp-up than projected, you may need to examine how you are positioning your resources, what you are doing for marketing, your head count, pending investments, etc. to reach your end of year profit goal. On the flipside, if your revenue recovery is being achieved more quickly than anticipated, you may positioned to make investments within your budget sooner to fuel momentum versus waiting to act.

Isolating Gaps through Team Accountability

Once you get through Q1 of the new year and produced the first reforecast, take a step back to inspect its reliability. This becomes difficult if your Sales Team is not tightly aligned to your sales process, or they are not trained properly on how to navigate it. The key to ensuring accurate reforecasting starts with accountability at the salesperson level. With a solid process that is fully understood and good controls that provide key areas of measurement, the sales team is equipped to record their results in your CRM. This will ensure an accurate and achievable reforecast is created while also helping you identify and isolate gaps to guide your sales team and business toward end of the year goal achievement.

Ask yourself…

  • Do I have a systematic way of generating certainty in the reforecast by taking YTD results and coupling them with future pipeline that I have confidence in?
  • Do I have a robust process and methodology to forecast?
  • How accurate have I been previously in achieving my forecast based on what my sales team has given me?
  • Do I have the ability to look into the pipeline and review deal probabilities to verify they look reasonable and not padded?

If you have gaps in your ability to accurately reforecast

your business, STOP and request a consultation call!

Leveraging an experienced Outsourced VP of Sales may be the

answer to help build this heightened level of sales infrastructure.

While 2020 has dealt businesses a host of obstacles to overcome, owners should not let the uncertainty affect 2021 planning. Yes, there are many factors that will need to play into how next year is planned and forecasted but this level of diligence should be the same approach taken in prior years to ensure accurate projections. Given all of the outside factors playing into sales, creating a systematic approach to reforecasting and adjusting will ensure profit goals are met while also isolating sales performance issues early on so original revenue targets can also be realized. Flexibility, the ability to have a bird’s eye view of your sales performance, and team accountability are the keys to making next year a success.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

No Excuses: Three Steps to Prepare for 2021

Don't Let 2020 Become an Excuse: 3 Steps to Prepare for 2021

This is a Guest blog post from sales leadership guru Chris Tully. This is Part 1 of a two part series on Preparing for 2021. Please “Like” and Subscribe! Thanks!

Don’t Let 2020 Become an Excuse: Three Steps to Prepare for 2021

With a sense of uncertainty hanging in the air, Owners and Sales Leaders are reluctant or have even become paralyzed when it comes to developing their 2021 sales budgets. It is a completely logical reaction given all that has happened in 2020, but it is already Q4 and it’s now or never to plan for next year. The important thing is to not let the uncertainty of 2020 become an excuse or crutch for not creating your 2021 sales budget with anything but a strong, attainable plan.


The key to successful planning lies in tapping into all the bumps in the road that you encountered in 2020 and working backwards. There is no doubt that we have learned a lot this year – about our businesses, about market behaviors, how to crisis plan, and about how to refocus sales efforts. All of that information needs to be strategically used to develop your sales budgeting and road map for 2021.   Most of us will likely want to be in a different place at the end of 2021 versus where we are currently as 2020 winds down. But the question is: How do you get there?

We are sharing three steps to help you isolate the pieces to this equation and how they need to play into forming your 2021 sales forecast.  

STEP 1: Take inventory of your strengths. Before you begin generating your 2021 sales budget, ask yourself what you know, and what you don’t know (even that is important to account for!) Ask yourself:

  • Do you have a high degree of predictability and comfort-level with how you are going to finish top-line revenue in 2020?
  • Are your current forecasts performing within 20% of projected numbers?
  • Do you have a forecast methodology that you trust?

If you answered “yes” to the above, make sure the remainder of your2020 sales plan is mapped out and proceed to Step 2. Congratulations on having clarity into your current situation because that is your starting point for 2021 planning! If you answered “no”, STOP and request a consultation call! If you do not have confidence with where your current plan will finish or a clear path to achieve its goals, you cannot have confidence in building a reliable plan for 2021. Don’t worry if you answered no – you’re not alone. 2020 has been filled with anomalies that even the best planning could not have accounted for. In fact, about 89% of owners and sales leaders struggle with setting effective sales goals and quotas under normal circumstances, let alone under the market conditions that this year has tossed our way. Sales Assessment Statistics-1

STEP 2: Identify the considerations that need to be layered onto revenue trending that revealed itself in Q4 2020. It is important to really understand and pinpoint all of the changing market aspects that will continue playing into your sales results in 2021, as well as the anomalies that happened throughout the year, to come up with an attainable 2021 sales budget.

You’ll want to designate your accounts or markets into three categories for 2021 based on the shifts you saw in the market as a result of COVID-19, and map them out accordingly.

RETAIN  Accounts or markets that have organic demand and buying habits are already trending back toward normalcy in the last quarter of 2020.

TRANSFORM – These are accounts or markets that experienced demand vanish in 2020. Under this category, you will need to completely shift to serving all new markets in 2021.

HYBRID – This is a combination of Retain and Transform – accounts or market in this group have contracted but are still active. However, to make up what is dissolved during 2020, you will need to subsidize with new markets in 2021.

For your “Retain” or “Hybrid” accounts or markets, Owners and Sales Leaders must ask themselves if they can expect buyers behavior to mirror what they saw in 2019 or will it be more like what they are seeing as business is trending back toward a “new normal” in late 2020? Whichever the case, you’ll want to apply the proper revenue pattern to your sales budget for 2021.  Other things to consider in your projections are new product and service offerings. What new expenses or resources will be needed to make this new offering a success? Owners must also pay attention to macroeconomic trends that have the potential to heavily impact select industries or even dissolve them over time. If you are unsure how to develop a layered model that accountsfor these variables, STOP and let’s have a conversation.

STEP 3: Set the sales team loose to go after a quota they believe can be achieved. You’re in the home stretch! Now that you established your 2021 sales budget, it’s time to formulate quotas to achieve the number. Ultimately, the business world knows 2021 will be another year of unknowns, so the objective is to gear up your sales team to climb the next rock going into 2022. Ask yourself…

  • Are you certain you have the right balance in your comp plan to incentivize your sales team while also allowing for appropriate company profitability?
  • Have you traditionally been good at setting Quotas that have been consistently attained? If not, you will frustrate your salespeople with overly aggressive growth goals without having clarity on how attainable they are. Sales turn-over is not a risk you want to take as you rebuild your revenue path.

The real prize will be successfully positioning yourself differently by this time next year. 2022 will be the time when record breaking sales will be realistic, and a time when prepared companies can leap-frog their competition!

Make sure to watch for my next blog on Reforecasting and Adjusting in 2021. This will be critical in 2021 as we navigate changing market dynamics.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How B2B Buyer Behavior Has Changed

This is a Guest blog post by Chris Tully. Some great info and stats below regarding the changing nature of B2B purchasing. Thanks for reading and please subscribe!

How B2B Buyer Behavior Has Changed

I’ve always believed that at the heart of it, business buyers are just consumers with different priorities and a bigger checkbook.

Businesses now shop for suppliers like we shop as consumers: digitally. That behavior is increasingly the norm. These pandemic months of sheltering in place have only accelerated changes in B2B buyer behavior.

Comfort in socially-distanced shopping was already here way before the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the demise of brick-and-mortar stores that didn’t keep up with the times (seller beware). Digital shopping:

  • Transcends business-hours time barriers
  • Allows for wide product search and research before point-of-purchase
  • Provides instant give-and-take help chats, and
  • Leads to instant purchase gratification.

What’s not to like?

Consumer digital shopping

Let’s take the auto industry example of consumer digital shopping outlined in a McKinsey report:

  • Digital is the number one information and customer influencing channel. A huge 70% of vehicle buyers start their journey digitally.
  • Digital has given rise to very well educated customers. They do their research online before they purchase.
  • Digital car sales are a matter of fulfilling prerequisites and of creating a value proposition.

The transition to fully online sales is inevitable (see the www.carvana.com model for an example in action). Digital car buying is turning the existing dealer model upside down.

Business digital shopping

For business buyers, B2B buyer decision-making is largely driven by their learned consumer behavior. As recently as 10 years ago, says a Forrester study, “Vendors held the power of commerce by controlling information. But the business consumer, digitally savvy and self-directed, is now in control.”

  • 92% of B2B purchases start with search.
  • 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online on their own, up from 53% in 2015.
  • 60% of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information.
  • 75% of B2B buyers use social networks to learn about different vendors.
  • 62% of B2B buyers say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list — based solely on digital content.

Now more than ever, business marketing and sales decision-making means figuring out how to attract and keep a buyer online. I’ve seen statistics that say nearly 40 percent of clients move on if your digital platform doesn’t perform well.

How you present your company digitally is hugely important: you can either represent your excellence or create a huge credibility sink.

Think of your website as your first sales call

  • Your website needs to speak well for you in engagement, content, and performance.
  • Your demand generation strategy needs to match up to buyers’ behavior – if 92% of B2B purchases start with search, then you need to control the message in search results.
  • If your value proposition isn’t clear on your site, you will lose credibility. And since buyers don’t really want to speak to a sales rep, you could lose the buyer entirely.

Know how your prospects shop

Get the right answers to the questions below to precisely define your target client. Then apply them to your site. SEO should result in sustained lead flow.

  • Where do they look for you?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What keywords drive the type of leads that you want?
  • How do you show up on searches? Is your website optimized for SEO success?
  • What are you telling buyers that is meaningful and relevant? Why do they care?
  • What is your call to action?

Plan how to respond to a solid online lead

The more complex and expensive your offering, the sooner you will want a sales person involved in client interaction.

  • Who responds first, an email bot or a real person?
  • What’s the objective of the first interaction?
  • Where does the first interaction take place (email, telephone, virtual meeting)?
  • How are you going to monitor progress?

Recognize the buyer behavior evolution

Buyer behavior has been evolving for more than 25 years, since the first secure retail transaction over the Web in 1994. Both the Amazon.com online shopping site and eBay launched in 1995.

Most B2B decision makers have been virtual shoppers for quite some time.

2017 Frost & Sullivan study asserts that B2B online buying will continue to evolve to be more like B2C: “Customers expect things to be online and intuitive, desiring a self-service model with personalized and targeted B2B sales accessible from anywhere at any time.”

It’s probably time to recognize that your sales strategy has to match the way your B2B buyer wants to buy.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Leading a Sales Team out of a Slump

This is a guest blog post from Chris Tully.

Leading Your Sales Team Out of a Slump

Leading Your Sales Team Out of a Slump

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a sales slump can, and will likely happen to every business at some point. One minute, your company sales are cruising along, only to be hit by stagnating or plummeting revenue. These speedbumps in growth can be caused by a variety of reasons, but business owners and sales leaders need to be able to recognize early warning signs and commit to the right steps to get back on the path to success. Too often, there is pressure to do more, when instead the approach should be on doing the right things better.

Current business conditions have brought many new obstacles and distractions which have salespeople’s heads spinning as they try to determine effective next steps. The new sales landscape has also made holding salespeople accountable challenging for owners and sales leaders.

If this sounds familiar, it is time to usher your salespeople into a new normal that will make them stronger and more resilient performers. The first step is for company leaders to get a pulse on the conditions the salespeople are navigating within. Just as important is to take note of your team’s mindset by gauging their confidence level and readiness to engage in a new landscape. Leveraging a senior sales consultant is a worthwhile consideration for such an important evaluation to ensure an effective recovery plan can be developed. It’s natural that your sales reps will need to regain their self-confidence by seeing new approaches modeled. Providing them with a resource that has a proven track record navigating changing market conditions, will expedite their ability to transform their sales approach.

Leadership

In the meantime, here are three practical things you can implement immediately to help your sales team reclaim their balance.

1. Incorporate Activity Reporting

If your sales team is struggling, daily check-ins for a period of time can create a way for your salespeople to share a high-level review of their day including successes as well as difficulties. Avoid turning this into micromanagement by encouraging use of technology to simplify the process. Activity reports can be done with a voice recording, video or chat tool. Drop them a call, voicemail or email every few days after reviewing their daily reports to share feedback, encouragement, and ideas. The goal of daily activity reporting is to bring focus to the fundamental sales activities needed to grow results and to spot early signs of trouble, lack of alignment or to collaborate to get them “un-stuck”.

Based on individual progress, work up to a weekly report cadence once you can tell the salesperson is on the right track with activity consistency, positive mindset, and renewed clarity on how to navigate. This report can dive in deeper on client activity, sales numbers, difficulties, and goals for the upcoming week. And again, make sure you are responding to the weekly reports to engage with your team. Owners and sales leaders should consider taking the information from the reports to summarize in a weekly message to the sales team. Recognize individual successes, help set goals, give encouragement, and address issues from a leadership role to maintain an open line of communication with the sales team while also fostering the spirit of teamwork.

2. Shift from Time Management to Productivity Management

We cannot manage time, but we CAN manage our actions.   It may seem elementary, but it’s time to revisit the basics of prioritization with your sales team. Without basic best-practice guidelines in place during turbulent times, even a top performer can get derailed!

Walk through the basics of calendar blocking for prospecting time, ending every day with creating a plan for the following day, and protecting time by grouping together meetings and non-selling activities. Let your team know where you want them spending their time and focus throughout the day.

While it sounds simple, productivity is generally a difficult skill for salespeople to master due to how their brains are commonly wired. This is exacerbated given the multitude of tasks to be accomplished each day. With a little guidance, you can lead your team to not think about “multi-tasking” for portions of their day. Instead, by them giving undivided attention and focus to the sales tasks at hand, they will have the clarity to achieve success and complete all necessary customer objectives more effectively.

 3. Virtually Moving Ahead

Like it or not, virtual meetings will continue long after the pandemic is behind us, so it is essential to ensure your team is acclimated to engaging with customers in this format. Start by determining if your team is prepared, knowledgeable, and comfortable with adapting their sales approach, including embracing the technology needed to efficiently lead and run meetings. Don’t take their stated confidence for granted. Consider virtual meeting training as the “new normal” format to support the likelihood that virtual selling will continue for some time, maybe forever in certain industries. Learn virtual best-practices and use these tools to differentiate your company from your competitors. 

Even though the goals of virtual and in-person meetings are the same, you will likely need to partner with the sales team to create new approaches and tactics for virtual meetings. Sales teams need to adapt their approach to prospecting, building rapport, uncovering needs and gaining buy-in, as all of these facets of the buy/sell relationship are different in a virtual environment. As the leader, it is your role to ensure the team has access to proper technology, and easy to use digital versions of all documents. Schedule and lead training sessions using role-plays through your video platform to evaluate and improve sales performance. Your company’s digital selling experience demonstrates your company’s professionalism and will influence the customer opinion and buying decision.

While no business owner or sales team leader wants to experience a sales slump, it’s bound to happen. The key to getting out of the slump quickly will be dependent on the company leaders recognizing the warning signs and partnering with the sales team to create a path forward. Even starting with the three simple changes we mentioned above, consider it the first step up toward recovery. With salespeople anxious about job security and other personal challenges, given the current conditions businesses are experiencing, supervisors who push and seek to control may only amplify the stress. These times call for owners and leaders to shift their focus from pressing for performance to supporting their people and leading the way to provide a sense of direction.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How to Use CRM to Add Value to Your Sales Team

This is a Guest Blog Post by Chris Tully.

Your customer relationship management (CRM) software system is filled with details about the people and companies most important to your business. But are you using CRM to add value to your sales team?

If you haven’t set up a CRM system to actively monitor and effectively track the steps your sales team takes with business opportunities, then you’re both walking around with your eyes closed. You can’t see what the sales team is doing – and neither can they.

If It’s Not in CRM It Didn’t Happen

About one-third of small to mid-sized businesses I encounter don’t have a CRM system. They are still managing the business on email and spreadsheets. About half of the remaining businesses have purchased CRM software but haven’t fully implemented it. Still others use their CRM for marketing or customer service, but not sales – missing the value of integrating the functions.

In my opinion, if sales activities are not visible in CRM they didn’t actually happen. I’d go so far as to say that if your sales team closed a deal that was not in CRM, hold back the commission. That may sound draconian, but I believe you’d only have to do that once to make the point.

Sales CRM is highly effective for the money. You and your team have the ability to see leads as they are captured, follow the progression of contact and communication through your sales stages, and easily record results. This allows the sales leader to be a more effective coach, gives immediate visibility to results, and provides some insurance if one of your salespeople leaves.

In the bigger picture, capturing all stages of the sales cycle allows you and the team to analyze what works best and recreate the most successful steps – continually refining and improving your sales effectiveness and growing your business.

CRM Guides the Sales Path

Clearly defining sales stages is valuable for your team. For example, Salesforce CRM software allows you to customize the objectives of each stage, enabling a sort of “guided path” to follow. Within the software, there are a series of questions that have to be answered positively before someone can progress. Seeing the hurdles that have to be cleared to reach those objectives can only help your sales force improve.

A good CRM helps the team better quantify sales leads. They can build a qualification score to see how strong each lead is (or becomes) by assigning points as the deal progresses. For example, is a compelling event driving the customer’s decision on the deal? Is an economic ROI stated or implied? Has the decision maker gotten involved in the evaluation of your proposal? All of this allows you as a leader to monitor progress and assess effectiveness.

The more disciplined your sales team is in following an effective, repeatable process and quantifying deals against the rubric you set up, the better they will be as salespeople and the more you’ll increase your company’s sales.

CRM Engagement Is Key to Adding Value

In order for your sales team to embrace CRM, the system has to:

  • Be easy to use
  • Add value by supporting and guiding the sales process
  • Be the “ground truth” of all sales reporting to and by company leadership

Promote engagement by taking two giant steps to successful CRM implementation: get used to asking questions of your sales team that can only be answered by referring back to the CRM, and make your CRM the source for all sales reporting in the company.

You’ll be able to quickly customize reports to illustrate specific sales performance indicators, and visually represent the team’s up-to-the-moment performance in the key metrics you choose to display on your dashboard.

Choosing a CRM System

There are at least 10 good cloud-based CRM systems out there that can meet the needs of most sales teams. There are also sites to help you decide which system to choose. Final choice will be your personal preference, but from my perspective you can’t go wrong with SalesforceHubSpot, or Pipedrive.

Selection and implementation are important. However, engagement is what will make or break CRM effectiveness. The single most important quality of a CRM system is that it adds value to your sales team – it should make their work easier, and help them be more successful.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

This is a Guest blog post by Chris Tully.

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

In this seventh month of social distancing, client communications seem ever more remote – less accessible and a bit aloof as well as physically distant. How in the world can your sales force stay on top of their game and meet their goals? Now is the time to reassess your sales team’s online skills, and teach them how to create highly effective virtual client interactions.

Recent research about how sales have changed during COVID-19 tells us that sales teams need to adopt new skills in addition to adapting the old ones. It’s similar to losing one of our five senses – when we can’t see clients’ body language during a virtual meeting, for example, our other sales-senses have to learn to pick up on different cues.

When you are making a virtual presentation to clients in a group setting, remember:
• People have shorter attention spans
• Key decision makers often go missing
• Attendees are more reluctant to say what they’re really thinking, so you could get blindsided in follow up.

You definitely don’t want to wing it! Here are some guidelines to follow, based on Gartner’s Framework to Enable Effective Virtual Selling. These will make your client interactions more engaging and highly effective.

Pre-Meeting Planning

Iron out your rough spots. Most people’s presentations have one section that generates a lot of questions or sparks debate, maybe because it isn’t crystal clear. Role-play with sales team members acting out the client’s part until you’re satisfied you can address all concerns.

Make sure the stakeholders will be there.
 When you’re giving a pitch your all, you want the decision makers to be there! Check ahead of time to ensure all the stakeholders will be present during the webcast. If not, find out the designated proxy so you know whom to focus on.

Share your agenda of expectations.
 Give a meeting agenda to your contact ahead of time of three or four items indicating what you want to accomplish and what questions you anticipate from them. This laser-focuses your audience.

If you’re in a situation where the client also is meeting with your competitors, these focus points will make you stand out as a company that won’t waste their time.

You’ll be prepared for a very productive virtual meeting!

Client Presentations

Before the Meeting

Limit your meeting to 45 minutes, including the time for open discussion. Clients often schedule meetings back to back, on the hour, and often schedule you on the same day as your competitors. One thing I’ve learned over my career is how appreciative they are when you give them some down time!

Commit to starting the meeting 15 minutes after the hour, or ending 15 minutes early. Sharpen your presentation to 20-30 minutes and end the discussion a little early. Remember, less is more.

Insist on key players in attendance.
 You’ve already checked on the key decision-maker’s presence or proxy in your pre-planning. What if you log onto the meeting and they’re not there? You can ask if they want to reschedule – if the absence is last minute, they just might want to.

If it’s professional and polite to continue, then make sure to follow up directly with the person who missed your presentation to share your materials and your ideas.

Have your material up and ready to share.
 Make your presentation interactive by engaging your audience with questions. Encourage collaboration by using electronic white boards if you think that will help people better understand the concepts (particularly if it isn’t the audience’s main area of expertise).

Don’t be afraid to bring in “experts” via live link or a recorded testimonial – the more tools of engagement you use the better, as long as the content is relevant and not for theatrics.

During the Meeting

Test for understanding as you go. Using live polling if you can to get quick feedback or see what your audience is thinking – it works really well if you’re presenting to a large group logging in from multiple devices.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other platforms have a polling feature. This is a great engagement tool that lets you find out if people are tracking what you’re saying.

Call on audience members. 
When you get objections (expected from your pre-call rehearsal), pull out potential support by calling on specific individuals to share their perspective.

For example, “Tom, you had some thoughts when we talked last week – can you share your perspective?” This can backfire, but you should be smart enough to know who to call on and how to address any negativity.

Get consensus on next steps.
 Have specific next steps in your presentation and get agreement on these before you end the meeting or revise them to suit the situation. Email those next steps along with a proposed timeline to all in attendance following the meeting.

Immediately After the Meeting

Debrief with the decision maker. Ask the most senior client rep to stay for a debrief at the end of your presentation (“Could you hang out with me for a couple of minutes to clarify a few of things?”). Since you’ve kept your meeting short, you have a good chance that person will have time for you.

Email your “leave-behind” of the presentation after the meeting. Many clients will ask for a handout ahead of time, but don’t do it. You want them to listen to your emphasis and elaboration, not follow along on the handout and perhaps miss the point. Emailing the material after the meeting also gives you a chance for an extra touch point with clients.

Follow Up

Within 24 hours after your presentation, do these three things:

Thank the client for the meeting in an email.
 Include a recap of your key points and the agreed upon next steps.

Confirm the next meeting date.
 Also confirm who will be attending and the objectives for the meeting.

Include a specific call to action to continue their engagement with you.
 An example might be to, “Please complete a 1-3 question survey about our discussion.”

100 percent of your sales team’s time is trying to influence others or engaging with someone trying to influence them.
Your job as a leader is helping them get good at handling both of these roles with a focused, genuine manner. Then they will be able to create and participate in virtual client interactions that are highly effective, as well as productive for your company.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”