To effectively lead organisations through a successful recovery, chief sales officers (CSOs) must make proactive and methodical adjustments to their sales strategy planning approach for the years ahead, according to Gartner.

“CSOs who assume that current conditions are a good reflection of the ‘new normal’, and believe these conditions are attractive for various reasons, are putting their organizations at great risk,” says Steve Herz, senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice. “Pandemic disruption has changed customer needs and preferences in complex ways, raising the chances that the strategic plans CSOs make won’t match markets six or 12 months from today.

“On the other hand, CSOs who appreciate and plan around lingering market uncertainty can create competitive advantages for their teams.

“This moment in the pandemic represents a window of opportunity for CSOs to strengthen their market position as they update their sales strategy and tactics,” Herz adds.

To mitigate current problems and evolve innovations developed during the pandemic into permanent capabilities that create competitive advantage, CSOs should consider the following eight steps:

* Identify how the pandemic has changed customers’ go-to-market strategies and buying journeys – As CSOs plan for the second half of 2021 and look beyond into 2022, they must lead a disciplined, vigilant and measured approach to reassessing and mapping changes to customers’ buying needs. It will be crucial to deliberately govern the decision-making process to enable agility but avoid premature decisions based on unstable customer needs.

* Evaluate the go-to-market strategy to reflect new realities in the workforce, operations and finances – Above and beyond changes to their customers’ needs, CSOs must carefully reassess the fundamental assumptions underpinning the design of their own sales forces. Rebalancing virtual and live sellers is just one small element of a larger set of changes to consider.

* Consider how leadership decisions depend upon the needs and impact the results of internal colleagues – To lay the groundwork for effective decision-making, sales leaders need to re-establish a shared, cohesive point of view on the priorities and limits of the sales organisation. They must consider communication channels that may have been disrupted during the pandemic and whether or not they need to be repaired or adapted to meet new needs.

* Identify the right sequence and timing of steps to bring the sales organisation to a common “new normal” – Changes to the sales force should follow a standard logical sequence in most cases, with many decisions depending on details of “predecessor” choices. For example, CSOs should focus on the core go-to-market strategy before changes to roles are considered. Likewise, valuation of customer and prospect accounts must precede role-by-role reassessment of headcount requirements.

* Formalise and codify risk management processes established during the pandemic that can be leveraged post-pandemic – CSOs who developed new risk-management and decision-governance processes to deal with the Covid-19 crisis should continue using them to guide commercial operations. In the longer term, risk management is a capability that must be standardised and elevated in importance as a component of any modern sales organisation.

* Validate and update all sales planning and decision-making assumptions, calculations and benchmarks that have potentially changed – CSOs must remember that not all assumptions are equally important to the operations of the sales organization, and some important benchmarks require attention less urgently than others. For example, if the customer’s buying journey has changed in the post-pandemic world, and new sales activities have been introduced, assumptions used in forecasting must be revisited.

* Evaluate the sales enablement team for agility to respond to buyer and seller needs that are constantly in flux – CSOs and their sales enablement leaders can accelerate post-pandemic success by anticipating both the short term and long-term changes that may impact them. For example, short-term change may be to sales processes that are likely to roll through the sales organisation and beyond. The long-term change may be to the sales enablement function, many linked to technology advances which would have occurred irrespective of, but accelerated by, the Covid-19 pandemic.

* Ensure a robust process for identifying, sharing and potentially standardising innovations that sellers develop to solve new problems – CSOs and their sales enablement leaders must recognize that effectively supporting the sales force requires a top-down, end-to-end view of the challenges sellers are facing. But the power of a top-down executive perspective does not lessen the potential impact of a motivated seller using raw creativity to close a deal. Sales organisations that can learn and document lessons from successful sellers and then export them to the rest of the sales team will be more responsive to customer needs.