Tough Sales Management for Tough Economic Times

It doesn’t matter if the economy is bad around the world, around the country, around the block, or around your industry or market, managing for tough economic times means that some difficult decisions must be made, and you’re the person who has to make them.

Two Major Sales Management Challenges

I realize that there are a lot more than two major sales management challenges but, in tough economic times, two challenges stand out over the rest.

The first of these is how to maintain the overall morale and motivation of the sales team so that they continue to perform at as high a level as possible given the crummy market conditions.

The second challenge is how to fine-tune the team for optimum performance. Unfortunately, that fine-tuning can involve thinning out the sales herd by laying people off. Obviously, any downsizing of the sales team will have a huge impact on team morale and motivation.

Mismanaging in Tough Times

When economic times are tough, it’s time to review and retrench, not necessarily cut and slash. Companies that are headed or controlled by non-marketing type people (accountants, engineers, etc.) often use tight economic times to cut expenses. They cut programs, cut training, cut advertising, cut staff, and cut anything else that represents what they see is a cost to the company. This is a very short-sighted view.

For example, the problem with cutting advertising is that the company’s visibility in the marketplace diminishes, some people stop buying and, as a result, revenue drops even further. So now the powers at the top, seeing less revenue, make even more cuts, and the downward spiral goes on.

When the cost cutting gets to reducing staff, sometimes the wrong people get cut. It’s very tempting to get rid of highly paid salespeople.

The Sales Arrow

It’s somehow easy to forget that the company’s salespeople are the tip of its sales arrow and, like any arrow, it’s only effective when it hits the target.

Let’s look at what makes up an arrow. The tip is supposed to penetrate the target, the shaft provides mass, and the feathers provide direction. So, if your salespeople are the tip of the arrow, then the company’s products and services are the arrow’s shaft and the feathers on the end represent management.

As a sales manager, you need to keep the tip of the arrow as sharp as possible.

Sharpen the Arrow

Tough economic times are often the best time to sharpen the sales arrow. While investing in outside sales training and motivational meetings may be out of the question, don’t rule it out. It might make the difference.

Check out my e-book on “Livening Up Your Sales Meetings” for some tips on dealing with bad news and some low-cost/no-cost training ideas.

Fine-Tune the Team

One of the toughest decisions a sales manager has to make is parting company with people he/she knows and likes. Deciding who goes and who stays is a gut-wrenching experience for even the most seasoned sales manager.

This is not the time to use a last-in/first-out approach. And it’s certainly not the time to play favourites. If you’re going to reduce the number of people on your team, you want to make sure you’re keeping the performers and those who have the potential to quickly develop into performers.

For some ideas on what you can do to determine who stays and who goes, read my article on “Rank and Yank – Fine Tuning Your Sales Team.”

Desperate Times

When you fall onto desperate economic times, whether global or local, it’s usually the time for desperate measures and, apart from closing the doors on the business, putting people on the street is one of the things you have to consider.

The key is knowing which people to keep and then supporting them with all you’ve got while you weather the storm.

Walking the Thin Line

As a sales manager you often walk the thin line between upper management and your sales team. It is equally important for you to represent the needs of your team to upper management as it is to carry upper management’s message down to the team.

It’s critical for your team to see you as their champion, particularly in tough times. It’s also critical that upper management sees that you are being proactive in being a part of whatever solution is required to weather the economic storm.

As the team’s champion, you need to be prepared for cuts that will cripple your team’s ability to operate effectively. Cutting advertising or other marketing programs that remove the source of sales leads might be typical of something worth fighting for.

You also need to be prepared to cut members from the team if need be.

Bottom Line

If you see tough times ahead, plan now and be prepared to make those tough decisions that will be needed if you expect to come out the other side.

If you can stay ahead of the curve, even though the curve is heading down, you’ll be in a better position to take advantage of the situation when the sales curve is on an upward trend once again.