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10 Strategies to Lead Sales Through Supply Chain Issues

By Dave Egloff | September 14, 2021 | 0 Comments

Sales Strategy and OperationsSales OperationsSales Strategy and Design

Have you ever heard a sales leader say, “no inventory, no problem”?  Of course not.  Selling requires inventory.  Yet, this is a significant challenge that many sales leaders face.  Admittedly, the solution to not having inventory is to have inventory.  Let’s assume that is being pursued or not in the sales leader’s span of control.  Everything else is either a coping mechanism or an alternative tactic to make the best of a difficult situation. 

Here are ten strategies that sales leaders should consider during periods of low inventory or fulfillment issues:

1 – Monitor At-Risk Customers

Sales leaders must continually monitor the health of customer relationships.  In a 2020 Gartner survey, only 42% of sales leaders indicated that they had such a program in place.  These programs serve as leading indicators of retention problems and will inform customer fulfillment priorities.

2– Prioritize Strategic Customers for Fulfillment

Without violating contractual obligations, sales leaders should stratify customers that require fulfillment.  Even a simple ranking of critical, high, medium, and low helps the supply chain and delivery team focus inventory and attention strategically.  Sellers will appreciate this work as they’ll be able to reduce the uncertainty within customer communications.

3 – Help Sellers Handle Difficult Questions and Messaging

Frontline managers should inventory and share with sales leaders an assessment of recurring issues and questions.  Leaders can then centralize a response team to quickly provide critical messaging.  These messages must:

  • Empathize with the customer
  • Set expectations on fulfillment
  • Reinforce the company’s value proposition

Where possible, sales leaders may be able to introduce or offer alternative and flexible arrangements (with the support of legal and finance).

4 – Improve Pipeline and Opportunity Management

While many sellers may feel otherwise, they must avoid developing a victim mindset or rely on self-serving tactics.  Sales leaders must ensure that sellers operate with greater transparency and accuracy for all opportunities in the pipeline.  Sometimes, enterprising sellers may push deals forward in the pipeline in an attempt to secure inventory.  These tactics backfire.  The supply chain must trust what they see in the pipeline.

5 – Revise Forecasting Methodologies

Sales leaders, working with their management team and sales operations, may need to revisit forecasting methodologies and develop leading indicators of demand.  Pre-pandemic, forecasting wasn’t seen as a strength.  Less than 50% of sales leaders indicated they had high confidence in sales forecasting accuracy.  During these times, the uncertainty is more profound.  Sales leaders must focus on shorter time horizons and examine patterns by customer segments.

6 – Shift Sales Development to Available Products and Services

For organizations that have a well-built sales development program, lead generation efforts must refocus on products and services that can be fulfilled.  Related to the forecasting revisions, once inventory and demand increase, sales development can slowly begin to ramp up to previous levels.

7 – Delay Filling Open Sales Headcount

Recently, I published a blog on The Greatest Sales Risk is the Great Resignation.  Undoubtedly, many sales leaders are facing issues with sellers leaving and open headcount.  Depending on the severity and duration of inventory issues, sales leaders may want to strategically stage hiring to help control demand and avoid frustrating new sellers.

8 – Redeploy Seller Capacity

Sellers, especially those focused on products with inventory issues, may have excess capacity that would have otherwise been focused on business development.  Understandably, most sales leaders work to avoid layoffs and furloughs.  However, these leaders must recognize that some sellers may have extra capacity to work on internal projects, content building, data hygiene efforts, etc.  Certainly, sellers should be selling but without inventory, it makes sense to redirect idle resources.

9 – Switch Compensation Metrics or Offer Quota Reductions

Most sales leaders recognize that revenue-based commissions are heavily linked to order fulfillment.  No inventory translates to delayed commissions.  During this “great resignation,” disengaged sellers will exacerbate attrition issues.  Sales leaders must work with finance, HR and sales operations to either:

  • Reduce sales quotas to reflect the inventory issues
  • Establish draws or guarantees to help seller cashflow
  • Replace revenue-based incentives with commitment-based alternatives
10 – Develop Scenario Planning

While always a good practice, scenario planning during times of uncertainty is a must.  What if inventory replenishes too slowly?  What if the business environment changes?  Sales leaders must avoid being reactive.  They should:

  • Define their risks and issues
  • Understand causal relationships
  • Model scenarios along with their impacts
  • Connect scenario planning to decision making

Sales leaders cannot sit idle and solely react to inventory issues.  They must get ahead of the issues by using these 10 strategies and tactics to resiliently cope with internal issues to sustain their commercial activities and function.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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