Sales and Customer Success Strategy During a Downturn

Economic downturns bring out challenges that not all businesses are prepared for. While each company is uniquely impacted by global events, it’s the customer-facing teams that often take the hardest blow. It can be tricky to manage customer relationships during uncertain times, but it’s no reason to slow down. 

Strengthening your company’s customer success strategy is crucial during a downturn. Here’s a guide to help you retain customers and navigate new customer acquisition during an economic crisis. 

1) Redefine your lead scoring and prioritization of prospects 

Evaluate companies based on industry and financial health and tailor your outreach messaging according to which group they belong:

  • COVID strong, strong financials

Companies that belong to industries that aren’t as impacted by the economic decline like those in Telemedicine, eCommerce, virtual collaboration software, and digital education. Prioritize these companies for prospecting. Offer discounts on long term contracts or bundle discounts. Try to increase opportunity size and get upfront cash.

  • COVID strong, poor financials

These companies aren’t as affected by the downturn as the rest but are cautious about spending during this time. You can still reach out to these prospects but you must proceed with caution. Establish a connection and nurture relationships for potential opportunities. You can lead with price discounts and free trials. You might be able to get some deals done even if they’re smaller and less profitable. Consider allowing them to push invoices.

  • COVID weak, strong financials

These companies belong to industries greatly affected by the downturn but still has good financial health. These include public companies with strong cash positions and recently funded startups. Reach out to these prospects with caution. Lead with advice and free services. Try to get deals done by offering prepayment discounts. 

  • COVID weak, poor financials

These are companies experiencing the worst contractions in economic activity without cash cushions. Avoid prospecting to businesses under this group but continue to check-in on personal relationships and offer resources and support. 

COVID Response and Financials Chart

2) Align sales guidance to COVID response segments

Sales guidance must be centered around maintaining and growing relationships in the midst of disruptions. What separates top brands from the rest is understanding emotional engagement and using it to meet their customer’s needs. 

Classifying customers and prospects based on COVID response segments allows you to tailor your outreach messaging and ensure you are providing value to them. 

A. Active Customers

Speak to active customers and learn about the other priorities they have right now that your team can help with. Find ways to be helpful even if it’s not your job. Work with sales and customer success to identify topics that customers may be thinking about in this environment.  Create Webinars or high-value content around these topics which they can join for free.

B. Previous Customers

Check-in on previous customers with thoughtful emails and text messages that do not mention business. Ask if there’s anything you can help with. Offer up the free resources you’ve created for cold outreach and existing customers.

C. New Customers

Focus on prospects who are in a strong position economically and avoid bothering those struggling. Review all cold outreach, marketing materials, and provide detailed guidance on how to engage new prospects. Work with product & marketing to create free resources for customers to use and engage with your brand.

Sample templates for email outreach

Sample templates for external messaging

3) Focus on productive revenue levers 

Once you establish your sales guidance for communicating with customers and prospects, you need to focus on how to accumulate more revenue. This will not be easy during an economic downturn but good planning and execution always help.  

Maximize Install Base Revenue

Pull forward renewals and use this crisis to offer thoughtful discounting. For example, proactively offer a new 15-month contract for the price of 12 months with a delayed invoice for 2 months. Have sales proactively reach out and offer trials to other solutions or services. If you want to drive engagement and can afford it, provide X months free to lead with empathy and value.

Improve Success Metrics & Usage

Expand QBR program to additional customer cohorts if you have excess capacity on the Customer Success / Account Management teams. Pilot new features and MVP products that can be given away as a free trial in the short term and build engagement and enhance your brand. Pair back on expensive R&D initiatives and focus your product & engineering team on fixing customer reported bugs, improving UX, and onboarding/sign up workflows.

4) Update sales plans and adjust individual contributor goals 

For individual contributors, you will likely need to adjust their goals to align with organizational survival vs. individual incentives

Unchanged goals may incentivize behaviors that hurt the corporate brand and customer experience. Employees should be prepared to make personal concessions for the benefit of the team overall.

Revenue and activity metrics may need to be downward adjusted. You could potentially introduce other types of interim metrics that align with your customer engagement and nurturing strategies.

Adjusted goals for individual contributors

Wrapping Up

Selling in times of an economic downturn is a challenge. The survival of your business depends on how fast your sales team can change gears and adapt to the new normal. Things may be slow right now but it’s not going to stay this way. Keep the hustle and gear up for the next chapter. 

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Jordan Wan

Founder & CEO of CloserIQ. Previously Sales Strategy & Management @ZocDoc, Head of Analytics @PayPerks and Trading Strategist @Bridgewater Associates. MIT Bachelor’s & Master’s in Computer Science. CFA Charterholder.