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Issue 23. March 21, 2020

Powering through: What to do


This is your first socially distanced, work-from-home issue of Driven.

It won’t be your last.

How did your past week go?

I’m sure you experienced challenges. Certainly some anxiety as the week wore on.

Embarrassing and frustrating moments, like the dog barking. Or a kid yelling in the background during a business call.

What were your pleasant surprises? Your accomplishments?

Your moments of joy or contentment, however small?

Was it the sunlight slanting through your window? Fun with your cat or dog?

Did anyone reach a milestone at home, when you were there to share it? A birthday? First steps?

Yeah. We all need more of that.

Expect more upbeat, practical ideas in future issues of Driven

Now that our new reality has everyone’s full attention, Driven is shifting gears.

This and future issues won’t dwell on the unprecedented challenges we all face.

No more hand-wringing about scary things that might happen.

You get plenty of downer news from nearly every other media channel you follow.

So here you’ll read about useful, practical things you can do now to get through this.

Things that make you and those around you feel good about who you are and what you’re achieving.

Things that inspire us to do and to be our best.

Look for shorter articles, with more variety and depth

This past week I developed 6 articles I’d planned to share with you today. But I ran out of space with just one.

So next week I’ll try yet another experiment.

You’ll find a broader variety of shorter articles in your inbox next Saturday.

Some will link to blog posts on a new Driven website. You’ll find more depth there if you choose to click through.

This seems a good way to maintain the right balance of brevity, variety, scope, and depth. It should help Driven deliver more value for less effort on your part.

Haven’t I promised some of these changes in the past?

Yes. That was before Covid-19 shredded my plans.

I know it would be better to make these changes first, then tell you about them in the next issue.

But I’m committing them to you now. Absolutely.

If you don’t see the changes I’ve promised for next Saturday, it’ll be because I haven’t sent the issue. I’ll be too ashamed to face you.

If you don’t like the changes, tell me. We’ll switch back to what works best for you.

Don’t expect answers here, just ideas

You’re smart and optimistic. You’re a leader and a doer.

I don’t presume to tell you what to do. You’re a much better judge of what you need.

I have no best ideas or best practices for what to do now. Nor does anyone else.

I’m here to share with humility things your peers have said they’re thinking. And to offer a few ideas of my own.

In this week’s issue…

You’ll find a list of umpteen things you can do now to get through the next few weeks. I’ve numbered 12 in the text, but you’ll find many more.

Reading time

Your reading time this week is about 15 minutes. That if you read every word at an average of 200 words per minute.

It’s shorter if you skim and scan.


How savvy revenue leaders can power through the next few weeks

The coronavirus puts us all in a situation none of us has ever seen.

No one knows what to expect or what to do. Everyone is clueless, though some are always more so than others.

This article tries to help you, as a revenue leader in a B2B enterprise SaaS company, count yourself among the less clueless.

It suggests more than a dozen positive things you can do now to navigate through the fog.

And maybe to come out ahead of your competitors.

How is today different?

Plenty of epidemics have occurred in the past. And some of us have worked through multiple recessions.

But not since 1918 has the world experienced a global pandemic of such severity.

And never before have we seen such certainty of a global recession occurring at the same time as a pandemic.

Nor has such a dramatic economic reversal happened so fast.

What can we learn from the recent past?

For all that’s unprecedented, our current situation shares similarities with others we’ve experienced before.

In the United States, the 2008-2009 financial crises comes to mind. And so do the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Which of those lessons might we apply now?

This article shares some ideas. It’s a roundup from multiple sources.

Most of the ideas here come from a recent online video conversation between 2 CEOs. Both led their B2B SaaS companies through the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

One participant is Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight. They’re a SaaS company that sells enterprise solutions for managing Customer Success teams.

The other is Jason Lemkin, founder of SaaStr and co-founder and former CEO of EchoSign. Adobe acquired them in 2011 and now operates them as Adobe Sign. Lemkin also runs a venture fund for SaaS.

For your reading efficiency, I’ve summarized and reorganized the video comments here. I’ve also added my own thoughts. And I’ve included unattributed ideas I collected this week from comments on LinkedIn.

What you might do now

Some of the following ideas are obvious. If you find them so, please don’t take offense. Just take them as reminders.

1. Check your burn rate and revenue-growth forecast.

If your burn and revenue-growth rates were okay 2 weeks ago, adjust them for the new situation. You’ll find a way forward.

Be calm and alert. Re-forecast your revenue.

If your burn rate is too high for your expected revenue growth, start planning this week to cut costs where you’ll do the least damage.

This idea comes from Lemkin, with full agreement by Mehta.

2. Update your scenario planning.

Check your current sources of revenue, by industry segment and account size.

If you generate revenue from international sources, project your revenue by geography.

Estimate your revenue at risk. That’s recurring revenue you might lose.

Do so by industry segment, account size, geography, and usage rates.

Check revenue at risk by industry segment.

Few segments are likely to come out of this crisis unscathed. But some will suffer more than others.

Travel, events, hospitality, brick-and-mortar retail, restaurants, and live-audience arts or entertainment are already on the ropes.

Some segments, including telecommunications, health care, and grocery and pharmacy retailing, will fare much better.

Some may even grow.

Check revenue at risk by account size.

Check your renewal dates and contract amounts by customer size.

In 2008-2009, Mehta and Lemkin found that enterprise accounts were more likely to stay on their current course than small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs).

They said it was because bigger companies are slower to adapt than smaller ones. They’re also less likely to face cash-flow challenges.

SMBs, in contrast, are faster to pull the plug on new or ongoing business. On the bright side, they’re also faster to take action when the clouds clear.

Check revenue at risk by usage rates.

Check current usage rates. See which accounts are increasing their reliance on your systems. Those are probably solid customers.

More important, check those whose usage levels are flat or declining.

Identify accounts you must keep.

Put a red flag near any where usage is flat or declining.

Use reliable news sources.

Don’t kid yourself. Fox News has been unreliable and even misleading in their reporting on the coronavirus. They’ve been a PR vehicle for the White House.

They downplayed the fast-growing public threat until this past week.

The future of your business may depend on getting accurate news.

Television news offers sound bites without enough context. That’s why I prefer print and online media.

You may not agree with the editorial slant of The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, the Washington PostThe New Yorker, or The Economist.

No news organization is perfect, and all are biased to varying degrees.

Even so, these 5 publications offer some of the most reliable reporting in the English language.

They check their facts carefully. And if they get something wrong, they correct it.

Project at least 3 scenarios.

Make a best-case, most likely case, and worst-case scenario.

Your worst-case scenario is not a place to play Pollyanna.

Don’t try to ignore the Bogey man here.

Orders to stay at home could continue for as long as 6 months. That means through July or August.

A physician in Atlanta told me she’s been told to expect peak hospital loads in May.

That’s the peak, not the tail.

Depending on the shape of the infection curve, the tail could extend a month or more beyond the peak.

New outbreaks could force extended quarantine orders, deepening economic damage.

Take a deep breath before checking the latest economic news.

Friday’s Washington Post says the U.S. Department of Labor will probably report soon that 3 million Americans have filed first-time claims for unemployment.

That’s more than 4 times the historic high set in the recession of 1982.

Reporters and analysts are using the word catasrophic to describe the economy.

An economist at JP Morgan Chase thinks unemployment could surge from its current 3.5% to as high as 20%.

That’s just 5 points short of the worst U.S. unemployment rate ever, in 1932 during the Great Depression.

Economists at major financial institutions say that in the next 3 months the U.S. economy will shrink by 14% to 30% annualized.

Estimate your funding needs and timelines.

Project your revenue, operating expenses, and funding sources under each scenario.

If you expect to need more funding to keep operating, the government may offer low-interest loans and other forms of relief. But it also may not.

Mehta and Lemkin caution you not to be overly optimistic.

They suggest you assume it will take twice as long to secure private equity or venture funding compared to early February. Also expect half as much money as you would have gotten then.

3. Stay calm.

Don’t let fear or panic force your hand.

Remember, times like these forge great leaders.

Accept that the coming months will be hard. They will also be disorienting.

Acknowledge that no one has the answers.

Communicate your expectations to your team. They want and need your guidance.

Some observers are saying wartime offers the best analogy for our current situation.

I don’t like the war imagery. This is unlike war in many respects. But some similarities are striking.

Military and business strategists sometimes refer to “the fog of war.”

It’s a metaphor for the need to act decisively in ambiguous situations.

Today is like wartime in that things are changing constantly. The stakes are high. And we must often act fast, on incomplete or conflicting information.

We have no choice but to keep moving and to adapt.

Your stakeholders—especially employees and investors—need your assurance and confidence.

This will pass. The health crisis may be over in 3 to 6 months. The economic damage will take longer to fix.

Take things a day at a time.

4. Call your customers.

Don’t email them. Pick up the phone and try to talk to them.

They may not have time to speak with you now.

If not, leave a message. Ask how they’re doing and how you might help.

They’ll appreciate that you reached out to share your concern and interest.

5. Protect your renewals. Focus on upsells.

Your competitors may try to displace you in important accounts.

They may suggest your customers pare or merge SaaS applications to simplify operations and reduce cost.

Such moves could elbow you out.

Do it to them before they do it to you. Make them play defense.

Take extra care of your customers.

It’s much easier to keep generating revenue from current customers than to try to close new logos.

For accounts whose usage is flat or declining, have your Customer Success team reach out. See how they can help your customers achieve more value through your systems.

6. Have your salespeople focus on things they can achieve.

Most prospects will not be eager to spend money with you now.

It’s probably not a good time to push to advance deals stuck in your sales funnel or pipeline.

But it can be a great time to add more opportunities to the top of your funnel.

People may be more willing to invest time to talk to you now.

Working from home puts them in a new situation. Their crazy schedule has opened up a bit.

They’re traveling less. They may welcome a change of pace, a chance to swap views of what’s happening.

Encourage your salespeople to test their prospects’ willingness to engage now.

This could be a great time for in-depth discovery conversations. Your sales team can set things up to move forward when things stabilize.

7. Shut down automated prospecting templates and cadences.

Prospects are likely to find automated prospecting campaigns offensive and irritating. Moreso now than ever.

Robotic behavior is likely to seem inappropriate, insensitive, intrusive, exploitative, and tone deaf.

In enterprise sales, you don’t have a huge number of target accounts. You can afford to burn any bridges through carelessness.

Tell your SDRs to stop using templates.

Give them better guidance.

Have them continue prospecting. But help them get real with people.

Train them to have quality conversations. Stop expecting them to book a number of demos or meetings that you set before the crisis.

Don’t let your SDRs send any emails that appear to profit from the coronavirus. Give them clear and firm guidance.

8. Review your marketing materials.

Messages you prepared before this crisis may seem inappropriate or even offensive now.

Review the language, tone, and imagery of all your marketing materials.

For example, avoid language and graphics that suggest “getting close.”

Pay special attention to automated campaigns and email messages. They may continue to go out without your knowledge.

Check the keywords for which your pay-per-click ads appear. Also check the wording of the ads themselves.

For people who post to social media on your company’s behalf, keep them on a short leash. As with your SDRs, give them clear, firm guidance.

Make sure they don’t ride on the coattails of negative news to try to draw attention to your brand.

9. Listen on social media.

Track what’s on peoples’ minds by listening in on LinkedIn and Facebook conversations.

Normally, I try to spend as little time as possible on either channel.

But both have been great sources of insight on how people are thinking now.

Facebook, which I dislike for personal use, has many private industry-specific groups you can request to join. They’re great places follow unguarded conversations.

Don’t delegate all your listening to a social media specialist. Do some for yourself.

Schedule a few minutes a day. Limit your time so you don’t get stuck there.

10. Sharpen your sales and value messaging.

This is a good time to review the value you offer your customers, and how you state it.

Arm your sales team with the best value messaging you can put in their hands.

Think of your ideal customers. Can your salespeople answer this question consistently for them?

“Why should I buy this product from you rather than using an alternative?”

Can your sellers answer the question in a way your ideal customer truly values now?

11. Reassign people as may be needed.

In a crisis like this, roles, titles, and job descriptions should go out the window.

It’s all hands on deck for whatever your business may need now.

Try moving people from non-essential work to operations that are mission critical..

Direct your marketers work more closely with your sales team, and vice-versa.

Have them cooperate in targeting accounts. Explore new ways to add good leads to the top of your funnel.

Have them improve your lead nurturing.

If your Customer Success team needs help with customer retention, redirect salespeople whose deals with new logos have stalled.

Turn your hunters into temporary farmers.

Offer spiffs.

Use immediate bonuses to encourage your sales team to work on renewals and upsells.

Spiffs are more flexible and easier to implement than changes to annual comp plans, Mehta says.

If you must reset sales quotas, try to do so only once a year. Wait until you have enough data to be confident in setting your new revenue forecast.

12. Stay close to employees working from home.

Show gratitude to everyone who helps keep your company running.

Find thoughtful, interesting and fun ways to thank people. Recognize all groups of employees, not just the most visible ones.

Make sure your people know you’re still working hard.

Show them that your personal work hasn’t slowed down.

By setting such an example, you suggest you expect everyone to stay on track.

Yes, things have changed. Productivity will be lower. Family and health have taken center stage.

But no one should think it’s time to slack off.

Invite communications, insights, ideas, and contributions from everyone.

Don’t limit this invitation to your “inner circle management team.” Extemd ot tp everyone.

When you’re navigating in a heavy fog, you need all your senses. Make it clear to employees that they’re your eyes and ears.

Hold a short daily standup session on Zoom.

Or communicate through Slack to check in with everyone.

Invite active, impromptu participation from all.

Mehta says he holds a brief standup meeting with Gainsay’s 750 employees on the morning of each work day.

Help maintain your employees’ spirits and sense of purpose.

Keep work-from-home employees connected to your company and their peers.

Run an Ask Me Anything other impromptu session from your smartphone. Do it while you’re walking around your neighborhood.

A walk gives you exercise and energizes you. If offers a change of pace and environment for viewers.

Show that it’s still a beautiful world out there.

Do things that are fun or unexpected.

Organize online happy hours.

Schedule a “show and tell” where employees can introduce their pets or their kids, or they can show their home workspace.

Be transparent about your numbers and trends.

Let people know what your runway looks like now. Share the what-if scenarios you’ve modeled.

Tell them what you’re thinking and how you’re making decisions.

Keep things in perspective.

Yes, things are hard. And they will get worse.

But in retrospect, we may see these as our finest hours. That depends on what we do now.

Despite our real challenges and legitimate fears, you and I are still the most fortunate 1% of homo sapiens who have ever lived. That’s literally true, going back 50,000 years to the origins of what scientists call our ”modern” species.


“What It Was Like in’ 08-‘ 09. And we got through that just fine.” SaaStr YouTube video interview. March 17, 2020.


Whew. That was another big week.

Things are harrowing now, but we’ll get through.

They’ll get much better before long.

Have a great week,

Dave Vranicar

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Driven is a free weekly email for time-strapped revenue leaders in business-to-business SaaS companies.

Its goal is to keep you informed about a broad range of topics related to revenue growth.

We scan the horizon for insights and ideas from sources you may otherwise miss.

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