As the global coronavirus pandemic rises, chief sales officers (CSOs) and senior sales leaders must prepare their organizations to manage risk and take fast action, according to Gartner, Inc. New research from the research and advisory company shows that sales organizations need a plan built around both tactical and strategic best practices. By extending risk management planning beyond the sales organization to include the customer ecosystem and the supply chain, the salesforce will be positioned to outperform competitors when the crisis passes.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is the latest reminder that sales organizations have unique challenges that arise during large-scale disruptions to business,” says Steve Herz, senior director analyst in Gartner’s Sales Practice. “Handled appropriately, such crises—whether health pandemics, natural disasters or other uncontrollable acts—represent tremendous downside risks, but also long-term opportunities.”

Maria Boulden, vice president and executive partner for the Gartner Sales Practice, adds, “Global disease pandemics like COVID-19 threaten more than internal commercial activities, so sales leaders must scope their planning efforts for such disruptions beyond the sales organization.”

Gartner recommends CSOs and sales leaders focus their planning on three key objectives to address the risks associated with the coronavirus outbreak. The first is to prepare for risks to the sales organization, customers and the supply chain. Internally, sales leaders need to communicate the importance of keeping the sales organization safe, and proactively manage sales compensation plans and quotas. Externally, sales leaders need to prepare for softening of demand and longer sales cycles, and plan for the inevitable order cancellations. Equally important in many industries are the risks to the supply chain and available inventory, as many sales are not considered complete until the product or service is delivered to the customer.

They should also plan for rapid, precise execution. Gartner recommends sales leaders create rules for response governance and efficient decision-making that are relevant to the unique challenges the sales organization will face. During a crisis, consistent messaging, transparency and communication discipline are indispensable to help instill confidence and reinforce new governance processes. Sales leaders must also create metrics to track sales activities, to identify new issues and to track whether emergency policies and priorities are being adhered to.

And finally, they should strengthen the sales organization’s competitive position before and after the crisis. While taking action to reduce the immediate impact of coronavirus disruptions, CSOs must also understand how their choices can strengthen the salesforce’s competitive position when the crisis subsides. Priority No. 1 should be investing in customer relationships and channel partnerships. To do this, sales leaders should look to increase and reward loyal customer and channel partnerships, and help equip customers, channel partners and suppliers to succeed during the crisis. In addition, sales leaders can make choices about managing internal disruption that strengthen the sales culture and protect team morale during such crises. Gartner notes that how CSOs lead now will set the tone and pace for a powerful and career-making experience for everyone in the sales function.