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2020 Retrospective: How trust helped overcome uncertainty

The company had just come off a record-setting fourth quarter in January 2020. We’d recently switched to a new fiscal calendar which started in February 2020, just in time to onboard several leadership positions. Retired United States Navy Seal and endurance athlete David Goggins spoke at our annual Sales Kickoff (SKO) and our team left Boston, inspired to chase revenue goals. 

And then March happened. The city of Boston cancelled the St. Patrick’s Day parade and local establishments closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. To make matters worse, Tom Brady announced that he would leave New England for free agency. 

As an organization, we entered March 2020 hoping to build upon the success of the previous fiscal year. When “stay at home orders” changed our plans, our executive leadership moved quickly to adapt. Our CEO Doug Winter championed our top priority: protect the Seismic family and navigate the new landscape without layoffs. Here’s a look at how we weathered this year’s challenges together.

Motivating and mobilizing a remote sales team

When we transitioned to remote work, our sales team had a distinct advantage. Our field sellers were accustomed to working from their home offices between traveling to meet with customers and prospects. This wasn’t the case for each of the teams within our sales organization. Before the pandemic, most of our business development representatives (BDR) worked in the office, and the transition to remote was unique for each team member. Some of our younger BDRs worked from their parents’ homes, while others in cities shared apartments with roommates. Insufficient work space or limited internet bandwidth posed challenges. So, before we could pursue our targets, we first needed to ensure that every team member had the resources to be productive at home, wherever home was. 

We also needed to account for the in-office experience our team was accustomed to. Overnight, BDRs that typically worked from the office had lost the positive elements of office culture: brainstorming with teammates, playing ping-pong to decompress, and going out after work with friends. They were left with  the challenging aspects of their role: rejection, cold-calling, and relying more heavily on self-motivation. 

We’ve always celebrated individual and team performance, but recognition took on new meaning in a fully-digital world. Given the circumstances, it was important to celebrate victories—big and small— because we understood the common challenges of selling in a digital-first world. We introduced additional competitions and incentives to build engagement and togetherness. However, the best incentive remains encouraging our team to leave early on Friday afternoons. 

Understanding when to ease off the gas

Under normal circumstances, it’s challenging to sell enterprise software. It’s even harder to do so in a global pandemic. Through research and content, the modern buyer is more educated than they’ve ever been. While content enables buyers to make informed decisions, personal interactions help buyers build trust with software providers. Without in-person meetings, you lose the opportunity to make small talk before a meeting or grab lunch with a prospect. These gestures speak volumes when building a long-term relationship with a prospect.

Now, relationships have to be built through digital communication. Messaging is adjusted to be even more considerate of the moment. Building a digital relationship is less about making a hard sell and more about guiding, educating, and building trust through content and virtual meetings. Our road warriors turned digital warriors compensated for the loss of in-person engagements by picking up on digital cues. Data isn’t the same as body language, but it conveys interest when prospects interact with content. An act as simple as turning on cameras during meetings allows for eye contact and more direct communication. 

Our physically-distant, shared experience allowed us to be more understanding. Without in-person interaction, we aimed to be more mindful of everyone’s unique experience. “Zoom fatigue” is real and, at times, patience was low for our team, customers, and prospects. Some of our customers work in the travel and airline industry which were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We’ve been fortunate to build stronger relationships by appreciating that everyone’s situation is unique and that some people’s experiences might be harder than we realize. 

The importance of trust

In times of crisis, you can never underestimate the value of great leadership. When we founded Seismic in 2010, I served as our first BDR and, over time, we’ve promoted homegrown talent who manage our sales organization today. Throughout their time at Seismic, our sales managers have built strong relationships with their teams that are rooted in trust. 

This trust was critical to our success as we transitioned to remote work. Given the uncertainty of a full-digital team, micromanagement is a natural inclination. With trust, however, you understand that even the youngest BDRs need space for autonomy. By giving team members the latitude to discover what works best for their style of remote work, you reduce stress and build stronger relationships. BDRs have a difficult role in normal circumstances, and our team has rebounded and continues to beat their goals. So, we’ve learned the importance of hiring great talent, getting out of the way, and trusting that they’ll do the right thing. 

As I look toward 2021, I’m hopeful. Our team has demonstrated resilience and has grown closer together, despite being apart physically. With a vaccine in sight, it’s more important than ever to stay the course. If you’ve set lofty goals, continue to pursue your commitments. But, also continue to be understanding of your team, customers, prospects, and—most importantly—yourself. If you need a day to breathe, take it. And when you’re restored and ready to go online, come back ready to go. 

Ed Calnan
Ed Calnan
Chief Revenue Officer, Seismic
Ed is the co-founder and CRO of Seismic, where he leads the company’s go-to-market efforts.