There are many attributes to a great sales leader, but there is one more critical than most. They can imagine and anticipate how the future may unfold, and then prepare and act accordingly. Their ability and willingness to act with purpose and agility in thinking makes them perfect to lead in turbulent times. I think the current epidemic qualifies and will be looked back on as a watershed moment in corporate sales.
The Road Ahead
As we inch close to “opening the economy again,” sales leaders will have many things to weigh. I’ll leave the big issues to others to solve, but there is one that has been on my mind for days. After reading Donald G. McNeil Jr.’s piece in the New York Times, The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead, these sentences stuck with me:
Imagine an America divided into two classes: those who have recovered from infection with the coronavirus and presumably have some immunity to it; and those who are still vulnerable.
“It will be a frightening schism,” Dr. David Nabarro, a World Health Organization special envoy on Covid-19, predicted. “Those with antibodies will be able to travel and work, and the rest will be discriminated against.”
Assume you are the VP of sales, leading a team of top-notch professionals selling enterprise-level software. Your solution touches every crucial part of your clients’ businesses. This a high-touch, intimate sale involving many people form both organizations. There is as much selling taking place in the boardroom as there is around the dinner table during the days your team spends on site.
Several large deals have been on hold but are now ready to reengage. One prospect is particularly keen to make their selection and move to implementation ASAP. They want to take advantage of opportunities in the next new normal.
You want this deal to make up for Covid-related declines, so you decide to send your AAA team. It is led by Jane, a permanent fixture at President’s Club, and is staffed with Andrew, your secret weapon disguised as a Sales Engineer.
Now you hit your first snag. It seems that Jane is not IMMI and will have to be on a separate flight. But Andrew is IMMI, so he can fly six to a row, each row. Jane has to sit in the back, one passenger per row, seated at alternate windows.
Her ticket is $2,200, vs. $435 for Andrew. Then there are separate hotels, one for Certified IMMI’s, the other for non-IMMI folk.
You can deal with such complications, but then the prospect’s IT director informs you that only Certified IMMI’s are allowed at headquarters. That’s just the beginning.
Let’s push ahead to another scenario. Say you are interviewing for an open sales position, and two good candidates emerge. Sarah is a capable rep, lots of promise, trainable, and open to learning.
Pat is a bit more advanced, has a similar personality, but a warmer smile and more socially attuned … a must-have in this type of sale. But Sarah is an IMMI, and Pat is not.
Is North America ready for a caste system based on immunity status? Beyond the sales arena, are you ready to be treated differently because you have never caught the bug? Ready or not, it is coming.
As we sit here today many countries are forcing people entering the country to isolate in government hotels. Do you think the emerging caste mindset will change once the curve is declining? In the video below, a CNN producer shares how she was taken to state isolation because her friend was found to be exposed.
Can you imagine if they come and get Jane the night before the big presentation, just because a kid at the pizza takeout place got sick?
The preceding scenarios are just a few of many possibilities. As you look across your leadership team, you can see how a mix of IMMIs and non-IMMIs will bring new challenges. HR folks are going to be busy updating their discrimination and harassment policies. Training will have to be updated to reflect the new social distancing policy they drafted in their basements.
It will be interesting to watch how people act on and control their inner feelings (and demons). How do we satisfy these varying and, at times, conflicting interests?
Everyone sets out trying to be humane and wants to balance everyone’s interests. But there will come a day of reckoning in the not-too-distant future. It may be Q4, (which is contract renewal season and all), or at the end of Q1 next year. We will be tested. Can we balance our fiduciary duties to shareholders while maintaining the we-are-all-in-it-together spirit which has been so abundant at the height of the pandemic? If the last 10 years are an indication, sadly, I am not sure.