DON'T GIVE UP NOW. THINK. DO.
One wonders why managing Sales in a recession should be so different from good times but I guess things get a little more tense. Before we start on management tips, let's just touch on an audit because the sales crowd should have all the support that they need to do the job. And remember, it's never too late to get things right.
- Has the organisation got a specific strategy to survive and even grow in the recession and, if not, why not. Are you still singing the 'business as usual' hymn or is there some kind of vision. Are you thinking like an accountant, just slicing costs. Anybody can cut costs. You just need a knife. Financial sense is half the battle - the other half lies in vision. Vision, with the ability to turn noun into verb quickly.
- Is your brand strong enough to see off the advances of cost-cutting competitors and acquire business from limited new business opportunities?
- Whereas enquiries were plentiful before, is it seen as gold these days? Or are you still following the same old processes - put the enquiry into the system and a price pops out? Problem is that your software doesn't recognise the word "recession". Get a Multi-Disciplined Pricing Committee together and sweat every potential deal. Micro-manage everything in the business - leave nothing to chance.
- Have you given your sales team decent presentation material or are they out there running against the wind at a time when they need super-confidence? No problem in cutting marketing expense, but have you tried to find something less costly but MORE effective? If not, it's a good time to start.
- Does everybody in the business know their role in supporting Sales?
- Are you being proactive in terms of managing your business? If your only plan is that budgeted sales come in, then start praying very hard. Maybe it is just not realistic to expect that the budget will land as you planned 9 months ago. Maybe 60% or 70% of budget is more realistic. Where can you be more efficient? How is it that a company I know has experienced a sales decline of 30% but is experiencing recorded profits? Why is their sales team more motivated today than in the good old days?
In terms of actually managing the sales team, you might want to look at some of the following thoughts:
- As distasteful as it is for a salesperson, you are going to have to micro-manage. Yes, you want to know exactly who is being called on every day so that you can make sure that every minute of the day counts, you're getting your presence in the right channels or sectors, you get early warning on moves by competitors into key accounts etc - basically, making sure that your strategy is on track.
- The sales conference planned for Mauritius might be on the back burner, but do something interesting that doesn't have to cost a bomb.
- Be honest and transparent at all times. If it's getting to serious crunch time where you need to cut back on costs, give them an indication of where you are. If you do need to retrench, make sure you work closely with HR - you might have a bit of a problem because chances are that most of the sales team have not hit budget lately. Does the whole team go? On what basis are you going to retrench? Performance? Did you forget to re-budget?
- You need to be firm but at the same time retain confidence - your sales team did not invent the recession, it doesn't make them poor performers. In fact, somebody hitting 70% of budget just might be performing at their peak. Years ago, I nearly fired a salesperson but, on further investigation, found she had a 35% market share in a depressed area. Are your budgets realistic - you might be losing performers.
- Find the right words. Give the salesperson a reason to believe in themselves. Keep them moving forward, day by day, because "that deal" is just around the corner.
- Compassion. Chances are that your commission earners are under more financial strain than your company. Don't bring guilt into it - I know of a company that takes their sales jockeys into the factory and says: "If you don't perform, these people won't feed their children".
- As a Sales Manager, don't take things so personally. It's not about upper case Sales, it's all about lower case sales.
At this stage of the game, the Sales Manager is the central force of the business. Standing right next to him or her must be the CEO, as one. Standing next to the CEO must be the rest of the business. Out front is the sales team - their every move is planned and covered, with the Sales Manager and CEO making very sure that they enjoy the unreserved support of the business. Now is the time to develop a super fit Sales team and business overall.
Importantly, they are thinking hard. They are not thinking sales. They are thinking customers, thinking products, thinking pricing strategy, thinking material, thinking marketing, thinking channels, thinking brand, thinking production efficiencies. Thinking, like their life depended on finding solutions. You'll never be more alive than you are now. Don't give up now. Think. Do.