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How to secure sales budgets in the covid-19 era


This article is part of the Gong Labs series, where I publish findings from our data research team. We analyze sales conversations and deals using AI, then share the results to help you win more deals. Follow me to read upcoming research.

COVID-19 has shaken up every aspect of our lives over the past few weeks. 

And sales conversations are not immune. 

The Corona Virus has been mentioned in 34% of Gong’s own sales calls in the past four weeks: 

* Includes sales development, new business, and post-sales teams

As a result, there’s been an increase in the uncertain language on those calls (7.1%):

Sellers everywhere are hearing uneasiness in the form of a few specific phrases: current circumstances, turbulent times, uncertainty, economy, current events, crazy situation.

And this shift happened rapidly. 

The result? 

Buyers are waiting to spend because they don’t fully understand how COVID-19 will impact their business yet.

This is — however unfortunate — the new selling landscape that we must accept. 

As sellers, it’s critical that we move quickly from being reactive to proactive. 

How exactly will you navigate these delicate conversations and give your pipeline a fighting chance? 

I’ve compiled a list of successful tactics to keep deals moving forward and secure budget.

But before you can deliver a compelling talk track to secure budget for your deal (and I have one for you below), you need to understand how CFOs view purchases right now.

Tip #1 – Think Like a CFO

Budget is a known factor in getting any deal done – especially during the end of the month and quarter. 

Previously, savvy sales pros could overcome a budget freeze to land a deal.

But a “virus-caused-economic-slowdown” budget freeze? Never been done.

Today’s selling landscape is unique because the budget objection itself has changed.

I sat down with Gong’s CFO, Tim Riitters, to better understand how budget holders are managing purchasing decisions. 

Here’s what is getting approved: Purchases with quantifiable ROI, because every dollar matters right now.

“Before COVID-19, Growth CFOs spent much of their time approving technologies and investments focused on growing the business. While still important, with the new environment we are living in, we are now focusing significant amounts of our time on ways to save money, improve productivity, and mitigate risk. 

The best way to get a deal done today is to prove how you’re going to help increase remote productivity, enhance visibility into their business, and/or increase agility. You have to come prepared to show how a specific investment will indeed save the company hard dollars. The bar for measurable and rapid Return on Investment is much higher than it was before.” -Tim Riitters, CFO @ Gong

Takeaway: Focus on cost savings when positioning your offering. That’s what will grab (and keep) a budget manager’s attention today.

The cherry on top is framing how your cost savings tie into the new remote workforce.  

Stories of growing sales, saving a couple of hours per week, etc., are at high risk of getting a stamp of disapproval. Now more than ever, you need to present what Tim called “measurable and rapid return.” Make it easy for buyers to see the fiscal impact of your offering.

(Note: You might be familiar with Gong’s previous report on the use of ROI in sales conversations. That report focuses on how to build a business case, and today’s post is how to secure budget during an economic downshift). 

Next, CFOs are looking for visibility as they transition their companies to a remote environment. They can’t get a sense of what’s happening on teams as easily as they used to, and that’s making them (understandably) nervous.

The remote environment reduces the visibility leaders have into their business, and that, in turn, introduces more risks. And CFOs want to mitigate risk wherever and whenever possible during these uncertain times.

Anything that’s considered a ‘nice-to-have’ is out the door. If you can’t clearly demonstrate your offering’s ROI, you’re going to be labeled as a non-necessity. 

Now that you know what your budget approver is thinking, you’re ready to sell empathetically and effectively in our new world.

*Want your deal to get the green-light? Download this free CFO Letter Template. It’s a 3-step process designed to get a “Yes” from budget holders.

Tip #2 – ALWAYS Lead With Empathy 

(I promised myself no all-caps in this post, but this one is worth it.) 

Yes, your deal, your pipeline, and your quota are very important and top-of-mind. 

But when we’re in survival mode, our focus shifts from doing right by our buyer to an inward “I gotta get this deal done.”

That can lead to self-centered talk tracks and action plans.

Resist those at all costs. 

Your buyers aren’t in the mindset of buying – they’re assessing impact and scrambling to make a plan. 

Make sure you start every conversation by acknowledging the elephant in the room. This demonstrates empathy and acumen. 

Ignoring their uncertainty will only backfire and demonstrate that your focus is in the wrong place. You’ll lose trust — and your deal — faster than you can select “Closed Lost” in your CRM. 

“When you speak with prospects, try to walk in their shoes. Ask them directly ‘What are you feeling?’ and ‘What are your thoughts on the changes happening at your organization?’ 

Empathy requires that you shift your perspective and attempt to feel what someone else is going through. In practice, that means using active listening techniques, not interrupting, asking for clarification, withholding judgement, and sharing the dialogue.” –Tatiana Feola, Manager, Sales Development @ Gong.


Tip #3 – Move the conversation from email to phone

Now that you have your most empathetic foot forward, let’s get down to brass tacks.

You’ve heard “never negotiate over email,” right?

It’s sound advice, and it applies now more than ever. Here’s why:

“This is an emotional time for people, and you’ll have more control over how you’re perceived over the phone. Tone is easily lost via email, empathy specifically. These are complicated conversations that deserve a human touch.” –Jameson Yung, VP Sales @ Gong

Here’s how to switch from email to phone: Suggest new ideas to make the conversation enticing.

  • Hey [Name], I have a couple of ideas to run past you. When can I catch you for 5-10 minutes today?
  • [Name] – There’s something I think will work to address your current challenges. Let’s chat.

This approach is intriguing to buyers because it promises new ideas and solutions during a time of uncertainty. And everyone is looking for concrete action plans right now. Notice you don’t list the ideas in the email. Save those for the direct conversation.

Can’t get your buyer back on the phone? Here’s another tip that works for late-stage deals: Leverage your mutual time investment.

  • “I know we’ve both put a lot of time into this. Can we spend 15 minutes on the phone to wrap this up the right way?”

No one likes losing an investment, especially personal time and energy. People are more likely to keep investing to get their desired outcome than give up altogether.

Once you get the call, here’s how to secure their budget.

Tip#4 – Prep your champion to secure budget

What was certain last week may not be true today. 

That includes budget allocation, even if it’s your champion’s own budget.

Your best move is to ask about potential spending changes proactively. Don’t wait until later to find out it’s an issue. 

As the sales legend, John Barrows, says:

“One of my favorite techniques for handling objections is the ‘preemptive strike’ where you use the objection before they do.  

For instance, with the ‘budget freeze’ objection, you could say something like ‘I know you’re probably on lockdown or budget freeze like the rest of my clients, which is why I wanted to talk with you, because we’re finding now is a great time to take a step back and review existing solutions to see if there are better options available,’ so when this turns around, they can make more educated decisions.  

Don’t fight the objection, run with it and find an option that is viable for where we are right now.” -John Barrows, CEO @ JBS Training

If your client confirms that their budget is tighter than before, don’t worry. I have a plan you can use today.

Steal This Talk Track 

You need your champion to acknowledge that they WILL get internal pressure to justify why this purchase is a must right now. Thankfully, you’ve got their back and can prep them for that conversation.

Step 1: Get your champion to frame the problem

Your champion has to think like their CFO. If they can, they’ll bring decision makers on board by presenting the business problem rationally and answering a few important questions:

  1. What exactly is the problem at hand? 
  2. What negative business impact does it cause? 
  3. What’s the outcome of doing nothing?

Give them the tools they need to create genuine urgency inside their organization. In today’s world, pricing and pressure tactics are futile.

Step 2: Align your solution with their current state

To get your deal approved, you must tie your solution to the state in which their business currently operates. 

That requires a clear value prop centered around how your offering helps them save. 

Your champion can do so by effectively answering: 

  • How exactly will your solution solve this problem?
  • Is this solution going to save the company money?
  • If so, how much? 

Step 3: Prepare your champion to hear “no”

Your buyer gets ONE shot at a “yes” for this decision. There’s no room for error, or doubt will creep in and your deal will get punted until who-knows-when. 

To avoid that, do a friendly stress test with your champion. Here’s a sample of what you might say:

“I’m your CFO, and I just said no. Now what?”

If your buyer can’t rebut that, then revisit steps 1 and 2 above. Rinse and repeat until your champion is confident in their talk track and ready for CFO approval. 

Seem like a lot? 

It is

Simply put, deals are going to take more work. 

Our new reality demands that you secure budget directly from the CFO. 

At this point, assume nothing. Have this budget-conscious conversation with every single deal in your pipeline.

CFO-Proof Your Deal with This Template 

If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Ok, sweet, but where do I start?”

Good question. Here’s your answer: 

We created a CFO Letter Template to ensure your deal has the best chance of getting approved.

It’s a step-by-step guide to help you remove buyer uncertainty and position your solution as the win they need right now

Download your CFO Letter Template here

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