By Michael Caron
It’s hard to catch the news on the radio, TV or the web without being exposed to the disturbing economy. Another company laying off; investments plummeting; housing slumping. In the sales world, we have our own unique set of problems brought on by the worst recession in over 3 decades—dropping margins, sinking closing rates, customers not calling us back. What can we do? As sales leaders we clearly have two primary paths to choose from: 1) Wait for the economy to recover (and it will!) or 2) Increase our sales efficiency to help compensate for the downturn. Naturally, option 2 is preferable so the next question becomes “How?”
World famous business author, Tom Peters, has this to say about running a business in this time of disarray:
“Instant, mindless cutting of R&D or training or salesforce travel in the face of a downturn is often counterproductive-or, rather, downright stupid. Tough times are in fact golden opportunities to get the drop, and the longterm drop at that, on those who respond to bad news by panicky across-the-board slash and burn tactics and moves that de-motivate and alienate the workforce at exactly the wrong moment.”
The natural tendency of sales leaders is to “hunker down” and ride out the storm with their existing team and maybe even make some cuts. This leads to predictable bleeding and casualties.
A smarter, more profitable strategy is to invest in your team through creativity and skills development. Because the last recession was over a decade ago, many companies have some salespeople who have never sold in anything but “good times” and lack the skills to weather some rough water. In today’s environment, the number one priority is to connect better than ever to your existing customers. Get to understand their challenges and ensure that your sales force is very well trained in a consultative selling approach—that is, all focus should be on providing solutions to help the customer meet their specific challenges.
Sales leaders must think about their organization on the other side of the economic downturn. If you can equip your team with sharper skills so that they prospect better, use their time more carefully and close stronger, not only will it stack the odds in your favour in the short run but also pay heavy dividends once the storm has cleared. Sales leaders with foresight will also look to this period to recruit sales talent who might have been untouchable or unaffordable in high times.
We are all powerless to change the economy. How we react and focusing on what we can change will separate the sales leading organizations from ones that languish.
Prospect every day. Block some time in your calendar daily and devote it exclusively to making introductory calls to uncover new leads. Generally, you ought to be able to make 10-15 calls per hour on the phone and 5-7 per hour in person. If your personal goals require that you make 25 calls daily to hit your revenue objectives, it means you need to set aside two hours every day. A recent study by M.I.T. shows that the best time to make calls to prospects is at the beginning and at the end of the day but I recommend starting by blocking this time for first thing in the morning. That’s when you’re at your sharpest, and are least likely to have other issues or tasks competing for your time.