Covid-19 has forced us to make major changes to our approach and way of selling. Some changes are temporary, but still, a number of things have changed permanently

1. The use of digital media in sales 

The preference to buy and sell via digital media appears to have considerably increased.  We have noticed that salespeople in the field have been compelled to have their sales talks online due to the lockdown. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has required many enterprises to take a crash course in digitalisation and remote working. As a result, enterprises have gained new insights and the habits or expectations of customers have changed. A substantial majority of executives in B2B suspects that these changes will be permanent (see McKinsey covid-19 B2B decision-maker pulse).  

In this respect, 3 elements appear to be essential for the future: 

  • A B2B salesperson becomes a mini-marketeer who launches drip campaigns through various media, thus structurally increasing the number of touchpoints with the right balance between digital and human interaction.  
  • Obviously, salespeople have to learn how to interact through digital media. Preparation, agenda, the setting of objectives and the use of the right supporting material are key elements, in addition to technical dexterity.  
  • Again, aligning the actions with the customer’s buying cycle is an essential factor.  Salespeople need to know which type of interaction preferably takes place through which type of media, depending on the nature of the conversation and the new preferences. Does it concern an introduction, a brief exploratory talk, a more in-depth conversation or a negotiation? How many people are involved? Is it an individual or a group conversation? … 

2. Be relevant and avoid procrastination

We are faced with the most serious economic crisis since World War II. This means that many enterprises act conservatively due to the uncertainty, try to cut costs, postpone non-essential investments and focus on matters that are essential to safeguard their value chain.  Some enterprises, however, are looking forward and invest in order to transform and emerge stronger.  

This is the best way for salespeople to handle the situation:  

  • It’s of crucial importance to start from the customer’s current main concerns and acute needs and to determine the services or products that may provide a solution.  The rest becomes irrelevant and only gives rise to resistance on the part of buyers. You should therefore reconsider your customer value propositions.  
  • Confidence is the foundation of a strong business relationship. A self-serving approach and product pitches are therefore mercilessly (and rightly) punished.  
  • For a good understanding of the customer and facilitation of the purchase, establishing contacts with several people in the same enterprise is essential. Due to the larger number of contacts, salespeople are forced to interact remotely part of the time if they want to use their time in an optimal manner.  
  • Gain knowledge of the customer’s sector and the changes in that sector that may have a permanent impact. This way, you can use the market information to inspire the customer and work together to develop a vision for the near future and work out the way to realise this vision.  

3. What are the main pitfalls that may cause you to lose your competitive edge?

  • Assuming that what was true before the covid-19 outbreak will also be true after the restart. Start from a blank page and assume that the landscape, the way of working, the challenges, aspirations, expectations and priorities of customers and prospects have changed.  
  • Adapting too slowly to the new reality (while your competitors are taking the lead) 
  • Allowing everyday issues to control our time and failing to prevent salespeople from spending too much time on after-sales and the processing of urgent incoming requests.  
  • Failing to ensure that salespeople divide their time optimally and with purpose and develop the new skills that are currently required to fill their pipeline and optimise their chances of success.  
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In this article we will focus on commercial forecasting, i.e. we will look at unsigned orders and contracts. Sales forecasts are never easy. However, in uncertain times it’s no exaggeration to speak about “unpredictability”. This is certainly true if the following factors are combined:  

  • Project and/or recurring sales 
  • Direct and indirect sales, co-selling and working with agents 
  • Complexity of the deal (product mix, size,…) 
  • Buying cycle variety:  number of people involved – buying experience,… 
  • Length of the selling cycle 
  • Experience of salespeople and their management 
  • Composition of the territory, regions and product mix per salesperson 
  • Market share, brand awareness and competitive strengths  

A brief survey during our webinar has made it clear that when making their forecasts, enterprises mainly struggle with delays in making decisions and the reliability of data. This leads to all kinds of complex processes, Excel worksheets outside the scope of the CRM and uncertainties.  

Fortunately, there are ways to drastically reduce this unpredictability and at the same time enable management to undertake action in time and proactively. This is even more important in uncertain times.  

An “agile forecast” is best composed of:  

  • 3 parallel scenarios that allow an analysis of the frictions as well as timely decisions. These scenarios are typical: the worst possible result, the most realistic outcome and the scenario that is feasible with some luck.  
  • No targets and forecasts on the basis of the calendar year or the fiscal year. It’s preferable to work with a rolling forecast of four quarters. In other words, a new quarter is added after every quarter.  

The combination of proper visibility and accuracy and the continuous improvement of the quality of your sales require a number of conditions or criteria to be met:  

  • The same mechanism should be used, from the individual salesperson up to management level 
  • There must be a constant visibility of 4 quarters 
  • Several parallel scenarios (as mentioned above) 
  • Use buying phases as a process rather than the salesperson’s selling phases. This is crucial as a solution for the continued delay in the decision-making process. More information can be found in the blog and the webinar about (CTA to blog 2) 
  • The criteria for the calculation of the scenarios must be based on verifiable customer information. A typical example: Has the budget been approved and is it available?  

A forecast made in this manner has major permanent advantages:  

  • Better use of the selling time and support 
  • Maximum visibility, and the possibility to make adjustments in time…  
  • Less complexity thanks to the uniform process and way of working throughout the company and the avoidance of parallel work in CRM and Excel worksheets 
  • Continuous process that significantly simplifies the annual planning, while avoiding the complex quarterly business reviews (QBR).  
  • Uniform system that makes consolidation possible in spite of high diversity 

The coaching and developing of sales talent is a major secondary effect of this way of working. Good salespeople will use this system for self-coaching and thus achieve even better results.  

View the complete webinar for more detailed examples of this way of working. 

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Dealing with an unpredictable forecast

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