Let’s not sugarcoat the situation. Even at the beginning of the year, signs were pointing towards a time of economic recession, and that was before COVID-19 came along and dealt the global economy the most superlative kick-em-while-they’re-down blow we might ever have witnessed.
A period of recession looks inevitable and, along with countless other repercussions, it means that life is going to get a lot harder for sales executives out there. These forlorn figures will be tasked with selling their companies’ products and services to organizations that are likely to be in a budget-cutting kind of mood.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s evidence that, if approached correctly, smart and well-organized salespeople and sales teams can succeed not despite a period of belt-tightening but because of it.
In his 1980 book, Free To Choose, Nobel prize-winning economist and author Milton Friedman asserted that periods of bust are exactly what sow the seeds for the subsequent booms, as recessions squeeze the excess out of the market and create opportunities for the companies who survive.
We take a look at four strategies for getting the most out of your sales team and setting them up for success, even when the chips are down.
1: Find and hire great people, then train them
Unless you’re recruiting for the SpaceX sales team, this isn’t rocket science. When there are vacancies to fill, many companies rush through the hiring process in the mistaken belief that having someone in the role is better than having nobody. However, finding and hiring the right people is the first and arguably most crucial step to creating a great team of any kind – but especially a sales team.
Now could be a great time to invest in growing your sales team. While it’s sad to see so many companies going under, many talented and hardworking salespeople are suddenly on the job market. Look past their previous company’s lack of success and you could pick up some real diamonds.
However, the job doesn’t stop with recruitment, and even underperforming sales teams can become all-star squads if they’re managed well and given the right training. Incredibly, more than half of all salespeople lack necessary sales skills and 58 percent are unable to answer buyers’ questions effectively. Companies that do train their sales teams tend to focus only on the onboarding process with the result that, after 90 days in the role, sales executives have forgotten almost all the content.
The upside of consistent learning and development is undeniable. One report suggests that sales training increases individuals’ performance by 20 percent. According to the same report, high-performing sales teams are twice as likely to have received ongoing training as their low-performing counterparts.
Learning new skills and approaches becomes even more decisive at times of upheaval or accelerated change.
2: Prepare your sales team for the next normal
It’s a cliché, but those who embrace the uncertainty of change tend to be the ones who emerge stronger. Few periods have been as uncertain as the age of Corona.
Time spent face-to-face is the lifeblood of most sales organizations, be that through client meetings, presentations or events. The recent pandemic didn’t so much rip up that playbook as burn it completely and scatter the ashes into a hurricane.
According to Doodle’s research study, Growing Client Loyalty Remotely, 59 percent of US employees believe that shifting to online-only meetings has made it more challenging to engage with clients. Meanwhile, 23 percent are fearful that online meetings will lead to fewer interactions with clients.
Quality training and effective management can help to shift perspectives. For example, with competitors struggling and potential clients spending less time in meetings, this could be the ideal time to start building new relationships.
Our research revealed that only 34 percent of professionals make more of an effort to prepare for virtual meetings than in-person meetings. At the same time, 46 percent of the surveyed employees provide clients with the opportunity to schedule meetings outside of regular working hours to accommodate their schedules better. Opportunities abound for the sales teams who are willing to go the extra mile to create extraordinary online experiences at clients’ convenience.
Given the importance of the online sales pitch – a state-of-play that’s likely to extend beyond the Coronavirus pandemic – sales teams would do well to take an athlete’s approach to their presentations, recording, rewatching and analyzing their performance for areas of improvement.
There’s also the potential for improving and streamlining your entire sales process. It can sometimes take weeks to schedule a date and time when all the client’s key stakeholders are available for a sales call. Intelligently integrating technology, such as a secure scheduling platform, can make that process painless for the client and save tens of hours for the sales executive.
3: Build trust with and within the sales team
If a high-quality sales executive is hard to find, an exceptional sales team manager is like gold dust. Typically, it’s a role filled by the most experienced or most alpha salesperson on the team, but that person is rarely, if ever, the best manager. Great managers build trust with their team and create a shared group dynamic in which members feel like part of a bigger whole.
What can a good sales manager do to build that trust?
- Regular one-on-ones: The days of the lone wolf sales rep are long behind us, mercifully. Scheduling frequent time with all sales professionals indicates that their role and their progression is vital to the company and provides a sense of support that is vital for achieving success.
- High emotional intelligence: No two salespeople are the same. A good manager will spend time understanding team members, how they like to be managed, and their professional goals. Some sales organizations go as far as allowing sales teams to pick their own rewards, from extra days off to a meal at a restaurant with their spouse.
- Build a team: A successful sales team is more than a group of individuals. While each employee may have their own professional goals and preferred approach, there must also be shared team objectives and a common culture. Managers who communicate and role model the company’s broader purpose help create winning cultures.
- Remove barriers to success: Beyond organizing regular training and upskilling, one crucial facet of a manager’s role is discovering anything that’s hindering their team’s performance, from internal processes that are no longer fit for purpose, to implementing tools and technologies that can maximize efficiency.
- Provide clear goals: Those goals should go beyond monthly or annual sales figures; salespeople should be provided with daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals that are discussed openly and honestly. Just as important is that those goals are not used as a stick to beat sales teams with, but as the foundation for detailed feedback and recognition, and the basis for effective improvement plans.
4: Get sales closer to the rest of the company
It’s an irony of business that when the economy is booming and a company is performing, they’re least likely to look for a new solution or service. Why fix something that isn’t broken? If your product or service can save clients money or increase efficiencies, economic downturns could be the ideal time to get out there and sell your solution.
Cementing the relationship between sales and marketing can be even more important at these times. Sales can act as marketing’s earpiece, helping them identify how economic changes are impacting the problems clients are facing. Equally, marketers have data reams at their fingertips that could boost sales teams’ approaches and pitches.
The same goes for the customer success team who can help sales identify which clients enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with your business. Upselling previous or existing clients has been shown to bolster revenues even more than new business, which can be time-consuming and costly to close.
Finally, relationships have always been at the heart of sales, but the Coronavirus pandemic has seen a global cultural movement towards more homely and old-fashioned values. There may be fewer potential clients out there, but there are likely fewer competitors too. Use that space to treat potential clients and existing clients like individuals and develop personal relationships that build trust. Become a trusted advisor and set up calls to discuss their specific problems and challenges individually with each stakeholder within a client’s business. Show clients that you care about their company almost as much as they do, and maybe they’ll trust you with a small part of it.
To get more insights into how the shift to online-only meetings is affecting customer trust, engagement and loyalty, download our research study “Growing Client Loyalty Remotely.”
If inefficient and outdated scheduling processes are impeding your ability to meet your customers’ needs, then a scheduling technology platform may be right for you. Get in touch with us and we’ll help you fix that problem.