The word entrepreneur is a French word essentially meaning, risk undertaker. Entrepreneurs create opportunities in situations where resources may seem scarce to others. During an inevitable economic slowdown, leadership is understandably frustrated by insufficient growth and apprehension, pessimism, and uncertainty are bound to prevail. But the concept of ‘Business Cycles,’ as taught in Economics, may be out of place, more often than not. A slowing economy is no justification for low sales as people are still buying and selling. What’s surprising is that there are a few businesses that continue to grow through slowdowns as well. To put things in context, a Prime Database report indicates 73 rating upgrades (yes, positive augury for those companies!) right at the time when headlines and sentiments are impacted by the 167 downgrades in companies’ financial ratings.
The key is to keep the sales organization and the multiple sub-teams engaged and motivated, even during times of adverse press headlines and the seemingly overarching pessimism. How does one do that? The near notorious ‘daily focus’ on the topline numbers and sales conversions is quite unavoidable in any logical sales organization and the constituent teams, be it times good or bad. Hence, during times of weakness in the market, smart sales managers and leaders broaden the focus and energies to cover other critical aspects of the sales culture. This requires getting the basics right - say, identifying micro segments in the market, recognition, team building, capabilities advancement and personal development, and other factors as relevant to the specific team. However, it’s important to customize this effort for best results - If you know what motivates any one individual person, you can focus on drawing that motivation out on a regular basis. Effectively, the organization can maintain its positive and results-driven attitude on a daily basis - a ‘super strength’ particularly in times of pessimism.
A key refrain - ‘Nobody seems to be buying!’
There are fundamental differences between the time of slow sales and recession. So, instead of being caught in the downturn mentality, you must look at it as an opportunity to ask yourself some vital questions. For instance; is your business big enough to get impacted, or can we find more customers to add? Are you missing out on clients who would have considered buying nevertheless? Well, this is the time to align everyone in the sales organization with the ‘recession sales win strategy’ (prudent to develop one if it doesn’t exist yet!). Here’s where, often times, it's the prerogative and the undoubted responsibility of sales managers to make sure their team maintains the winning approach and attitude. This is validated by hard data too - as per research by a leading multinational organisation on Top-Performing Sales Organization, 55% of Top Performers agree that managers are effective at creating and sustaining maximum selling energy, compared to only 32% of the rest. Having a true focus on value for buyers (and when we say true, we mean that everyone says they focus on value, but in reality some do and some don’t), correlates highly to seller motivation. In our field work, perhaps nothing is as demotivating to sellers as needing to hit quota and selling as much as possible regardless of whether it adds value to buyers. Vibrant sales organizations have value at the core.
The health of your pipeline and getting your team re-organized for it
A sign of difficult times for the sales team is the often dreaded excuse - “This year’s budget is already frozen; however, they would be happy to consider you in the next financial year.” This is a clarion call for leaders and managers to evaluate their pipeline with objectivity. Updating it regularly and calling a spade a spade is a good idea. Closely tied to your pipeline planning is getting the internal teams organized to capture the market. Are there learnings from the past that establish the way forward? Any past patterns of internal constraints that limited sales wins? Can we iron out frequently encountered problem areas between or within teams? In short, is the sales organization ready to attack the market in the most effective and efficient way? Can we enhance the sum of the parts of the various teams for more effective synergies? Just a little extra effort can prove to be a significant increase in value. Instead of viewing the recession as a sales problem, see it as a time of strategic opportunity, when investments of time and energy can result in significant long-term gains.
Continuous skills and capacity building - time to walk the talk
The real test for any sales organization is when the odds are stacked against it. This test can separate the more capable organization from the less capable ones. For, in such times, sharp sales skills become a necessity and not just a virtue.
However, ironically, building capability is often the first thing that leaders and managers do away with when faced with adverse circumstances. As highlighted earlier, slowdowns are opportunities to build significant long term gains. The right perspective is critical - sales training is not an event, it is an ongoing process to improve skills, knowledge and results of the complete sales organization. As validated by the Top-Performing Sales Organization research, the top companies prioritize and actively work to maximize the time sales managers spend coaching their teams versus other activities. This research also highlights that ‘Elite companies’ prioritize improving sales force effectiveness twice as much as the Rest of the companies.
In summary, slowdowns can help sharpen the long term capabilities of sales teams
Times of slowdown need not mean lost revenues and importantly, lost sales energies, with the right ‘recession sales strategy’ and calibrated capacity building. Times of pessimism in the industry can be smartly utilized to develop the winning sales organization that can suitably navigate tepid times, as well as be ready to capitalize on the eventual ‘upcycle’.
Henry Ford said, 'Worry kills more people than work. That's because more people worry than work.' So quit worrying, start working, keep going, and you’ll soon be whistling down the wind.