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I recently had the chance to speak to Andrea Sugden, a C-level executive I have known for over 20 years, on the SoundLeadership Circle, about the importance of driving sales leadership during unprecedented times.

We discussed the strategic importance for leaders, along with how the sales process has changed this year and how companies have been forced to adapt, learn on the fly, and take advantage of new and creative opportunities.

It reminded me of another time in my career when I had to drive sales leadership during a really tough and unexpected time during the great oil crash of 2014, and I think this might have relevance to today’s situation.

Back in 2014, I led a subsidiary of a large multinational organization and as part of our portfolio of business, we operated a large and successful engineering practice that operated in the energy sector. With little warning, the price of oil fell dramatically, and we lost over 60% of our revenue in this business line. Additionally, during this same time frame, our margin within our remaining sales, began to erode also. We were promptly asked to come to the table by our clients to help them survive this very challenging situation.

The most difficult thing about this experience was not knowing how far the price of oil was going to fall, when the situation would end, and whether it would ever return to normal (which it never did) — similar to where we are today with Covid-19.  A particularly challenging situation was having to face very difficult client discussions which at times became tense and ripe with conflict. Some client relationships that had taken years to nurture and upon which successful partnerships were built, quickly disintegrated into very transactional survival relationships. This created a sense of destabilization as the ground shifted below us.

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Add to this the tremendous leadership challenges for both myself and my team which became necessary to keep us motivated and positive in the face of great adversity. Which brings us to this year, no other quite like it. There have been many times since early March, and now into the fall, when leaders have had to stay positive and stay focused on sales strategies under very challenging circumstances.

During unprecedented times, it takes leadership at all levels in the organization to get us back on track with a focus on sales. In 2014, it was a team effort that got us through, along with some new creative ideas and many of tactics hold true today. Here are some ways you can keep driving the sales process forward this year:

  1. Keep the conversation going with your clients even if the conversations are difficult or when there is no current need.
  2. If one or two business lines are weaker, look to leverage or advance more quickly alternate lines of business.
  3. Be ready to take advantage of new sales opportunities created by the crisis. Identify services, products or bricks and mortar that can be utilized in a new way.
  4. Take a greater personal role in leading sales. Be the example for others to follow.
  5. Engage your team in creative brainstorming on emerging markets.
  6. Ensure your sales team has any new tools & training they need to succeed. Think about the future talent fit for the organization and hire accordingly.
  7. Support, encourage and celebrate the sales professionals in your organization in spite of changing times. Also celebrate and thank your clients too. While client events may be harder to arrange there are still ways to connect and thank your clients.

Now is not the time for retreat but rather for learning, advancement and growth.