Recession Sales Management

No, this article isn’t about how to manage a recession. Recessions seem to manage themselves quite well without our involvement. I want to look at what changes we need to make in our approach to sales management during recessionary or otherwise difficult times.

Unless you’ve just fallen off the sales management turnip truck, you’ve probably been through a number of recessions already. Business slows down, customers get evasive or elusive, salespeople get whiny, upper management gets edgy, and management migraines increase.

Many managers rise to the occasion by cutting advertising, slashing sales meetings, eliminating sales (and other) training, and adopting a hunker-down attitude in the hopes that the bad times will turn good again without their being too involved in the process.

Others become galvanized into total inactivity, evoking a divine marketing plan (praying for sales), and making themselves unavailable to help their salespeople through the crisis.

Of course I know you aren’t one of those managers. You have the same problem, but you’re probably actively seeking some universal truths and techniques that you can put into place whenever a recession comes along. If so, this article is for you.

First an irreconcilable truth: There will always be recessions. They’ll come and go, but you can bet even money that you’ll see and manage your way through several before you retire.

So what can you do? Here are some proven ideas that work.

Annual Meetings

Don’t cancel your annual sales meeting. Hold two of them. That’s right, increase the frequency but lower the cost of your meetings. Recessions are when people need to be together for mutual support, not left to their own devices.

Instead of holding a big-buck annual blowout, consider two smaller, less expensive affairs. Instead of holding a meeting at some exotic resort, consider a local hotel that’s willing to give you a good deal to fill their meeting rooms and restaurant. Remember, when business is down, so is staff morale and these meetings can go a long way towards keeping morale out of the hopper.

Mini Meetings

Selling, particularly B2B outside sales, can be extremely lonely and your salespeople may be feeling neglected by the marketplace, their customers, and possibly by the company itself. Help keep their spirits up with short, frequent meetings.

Short, weekly meetings are ideal. Bi-weekly meetings also work well. And if you are not holding at least one mini meeting a month, you’re neglecting your people. So don’t be surprised if they start wandering off to a company that shows more appreciation.

Mini meetings should be just that"”mini. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish with a structured 30- to 45-minute meeting. Don’t let it become an inquisition by you or a whining session by the salespeople. Use the meeting to emphasize whatever positives there are and reinforce in the salespeople’s minds that both the company and they have weathered this type of storm before and can do so again, particularly if they continue to work together.

Team Meetings

Ensure that your mini meetings are participatory team meetings. By that I mean attendees have an opportunity to talk with one another and not just to the person at the front of the room.

I’m not suggesting that these meetings become social free-for-alls. They should be a vehicle for the free flow of information and ideas in all directions, not just from the top down. It’s the sales manager’s job to be a moderator, not a dictator.

This conversational free flow will also uncover complaints and concerns. As long as the meeting doesn’t degenerate into a bitching session, let your people vent. Unvented aggravations, like pent-up steam, can cause a lot of damage when it finally explodes. The meeting is your safety valve.

If people do vent, don’t become defensive.   In most cases, you don’t have to respond to the situation, you just need to listen and acknowledge it.

One-on-One Meetings

Also take the time to meet with each individual as an individual. Help your salespeople stay focused. It’s easy for them to lose sight of potential opportunities during a recession. Selling is still a game of numbers and you can help your people make their numbers by helping them find their numbers. This is the time for you to put on your mentoring cap and lead the way.

Be Accessible

Some sales managers seem to disappear when times get bad. Don’t you be like that. Be there to help, not chide. Reinforce your salespeople’s value to the company. Be accessible. Be supportive. Be a leader.

The Bottom Line

You may not be able to manage the recession but if you manage your people, you’ll manage through the recession.

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