The pandemic of 2020 and the resulting shutdown of the vast majority of the US economy have had a major impact on how we live and how we work. But how has it affected how we sell?
One of the hottest parts of the US economy for a while now has been the technology sector, with SaaS (software-as-a-service) being a significant and growing portion of that pie. As the leader of a sales organization that offers B2B appointment setting and SDR outsourcing for the SaaS industry, I believed that examining the health of SaaS during and after the “COVID shutdown” gives us some insight as to how the US will come out of this unprecedented downturn.
To study this, we surveyed 755 B2B SaaS professionals who are part of the sales process at their companies in the final days of May and early June. We also conducted 25 interviews with B2B SaaS sales leaders to get a better understanding of what they are experiencing within their own organizations. While we covered a number of areas in our study, one area that felt particularly noteworthy to me were our observations about sales professionals’ outlook for sales in the second half of 2020.
Despite the massive blow to the economy, the SaaS professionals in our study were largely positive about the second half of the year. In fact, over one in four respondents (25.7%) reported a very positive outlook, with another 36.8% having a positive outlook. In fact, the ratio of those reporting a very positive or positive outlook to those with a very negative or negative outlook was nearly 4:1. There are a number of potential factors that could explain these figures. One is simply the positive and confident nature of many within the sales profession. Another is the relative health of SaaS companies in relation to other industries: they were hot going into the pandemic, so anticipation of a rebound, for many professionals, is relatively logical. Finally, many SaaS products support digital transformation and facilitate remote work, which buyers seem to agree is a necessary expense in the post-COVID world.
When we asked professionals how the crisis had affected their pipeline, the results were interesting. For the average respondent, deal size did go up more than it went down, but the margin was small (three percentage points). The most common answer was that deal size remained neutral despite the COVID crisis. As to how the crisis impacted the pipeline overall, the difference between “gone up” and “went down” is less than one percent. That said, we observed a major difference in the number of opportunities that the typical SaaS professional is experiencing. 26.4% have seen their number of opportunities go up, but 36.6% have seen their number of opportunities go down. This data suggests that investing in the right sales team – the kind of individuals who can generate appointments and opportunities in a downturn – could be more important than ever.
When asked which of the following affected their ability to sell, respondents had some answers which may be surprising. Despite many respondents implying that working remotely was a net positive, 49.3% indicated that working remotely has impacted their ability to sell. The lesson here is clear: sales professionals might often prefer to work from home, but it’s still an adjustment. Companies need to partner with their sales teams to make the jump to remote work a comfortable, productive experience.
While the adjustment to working from home was heavily cited, prospect budget cuts were cited most frequently as a factor in affecting respondents’ ability to sell, at 56%. Next came working remotely, followed by internal budget cuts (43.2%), internal layoffs across respondents’ organization (29.7%), and internal layoffs in respondents’ department (28.6%). Perhaps surprisingly, only 16.6% of respondents cited childcare/home schooling as a factor affecting their ability to sell.
When asked in what ways the shutdown had impacted how they go about selling, 51% of respondents indicated they had changed their channels of communication – i.e. more phone, less webinars, more social, etc.). 32.6% had shifted some of their schedule to the weekend hours to accommodate for childcare, and similar considerations, with 31.8% shifting their schedules towards early mornings and/or evenings. 29.8% have added more selling hours, perhaps spurred on by the uncertainty of the times. While 18.3% reported not changing the way in which they sell, 20% reported that they had actually subtracted selling hours, with 4.6% no longer selling in any capacity.
Ultimately our study helped us better understand how to support our clients as we enter a long-term new normal. We might want to return to February 2020, but there’s no time machine at our disposal. We expect COVID to have created lasting changes to how we sell. It may be a sobering thought, sure, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed.