Despite the huge challenges the Covid crisis has brought for sales operations across the UK, the roll-out of a vaccine and lifting of nationwide lockdown restrictions has given everyone reason to look towards a brighter future.
In the final quarter of what has been a turbulent year, we engaged with a panel of twenty of our most active manufacturing, wholesale and distribution clients – operating across multiple sectors, to find out how they were feeling at the end of a remarkable 12 months.
Cautiously confident for the year ahead
Despite the relentless challenges of 2020, an impressive three-quarters of our panel said they were moderately confident. What’s more, this sentiment was mirrored when we asked them to think about 2021, with seven in ten saying they were either moderately or very confident about both their sales prospects for the first quarter and the year as a whole.
Looking at expectations for year-on-year sales, while a quarter believes these will be static, half of our panel are confident in their prospects of modest growth, with a further quarter projecting sales growth in excess of 10% in 2021.
Adept at adapting
We know many businesses have had to develop and implement a host of practical measures to cope with operating in a crisis but our findings show they believe this has largely been effort well spent, with the majority of our panel (85%) confident of being able to cope with the implications of further lockdown restrictions in the future.
Looking at the individual changes they have adopted to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis, the most common measures have been increasing the number of product and service offerings and reducing operational costs, followed by increased technology adoption and ensuring greater connectivity between sales functions and the boardroom. Efforts to strengthen their supply chains and give greater focus to sales technology have also proven popular.
These strategies appear to be paying dividends, with a resounding 95% of respondents confirming they have secured new customers during the pandemic. Doing more with data also seems like a trend that will endure, with 85% of respondents confirming they either usually or always harness data to inform their wider sales strategy.
When it comes to prospects for the sales role within organisations post-Covid, there is broad consensus that change is afoot, with businesses looking to increased digitisation and further use of technology in the role, a redoubled focus on client relationships and greater impetus on achieving more with fewer resources. Interestingly, four in ten respondents also foresee changes in the way they conduct field sales.
Gearing up for recovery
Of course, 2021 is still fraught with uncertainties and unlikely to be anything like plain sailing for many, but we also know there is huge resilience among businesses too. Regardless of their focus or area of operation, capturing confidence will be key for all firms in the new economy. For now, it bodes well that an ‘onwards and upwards’ approach appears baked-in to many organisations’ way of thinking for the year ahead.