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What is your recession sales strategy? Published: Sunday, August 22, 2010 8:00 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, President & CEO

Do recessions sink all sales-boats equally?  Historically, recessions have a way of separating good sales forces from the rest, exposing weaknesses in selling and sales management fundamentals that weren’t obvious in the easier times.  Market share and profitability fall faster and farther at those companies whose sales resources have lost their agility.  However, successful companies use recessions as a challenge to identify and optimize their selling opportunities.

Over the past decade, selling has become more customer-centric.  Buyers who once just valued product knowledge now expect sales representatives to have done the research necessary to learn their companies’ business problems, formulate bundled product/service solutions that enhance their customers’ profit-making formulas, and also be able to quantify the value of proposed recommendations. So, what should a company do to increase its odds of emerging a winner?  Companies that make intelligent investments in their sales capabilities are likely to find themselves exiting the recession stronger than when they entered.

Companies should identify and engage those sales managers who will be strong, visible and effective sponsors of the company’s efforts to improve its selling capability. Conduct a performance assessment of each sales person. Each one should be assessed from the perspectives of how he/she will adapt to the changes being made and critically, also influence others on the sales team. Active supporters will be needed. Passive supporters must be converted.  Opponents should be marginalized. Pay special attention to the company’s top performing salespeople during implementation and throughout the recession.  These are the individuals you cannot afford to lose, either due to the anxieties associated with change or competitors’ initiatives.

Dust off your customer segmentation, CRM and financial databases and verify the identity of valuable current customers and attractive prospects.  Research the targets.  Identify the changing needs of current customers and respond with solutions that both demonstrate your significant contribution to their success and differentiate you from your competitors. Implement a swat team strategy that pairs product/service experts with proven sales activity wizards (e.g., need identifiers, closers).  Match the teams against winnable, high-value prospective customers.

Use a fresh look at customer segmentation and sales force sizing as occasions to rebalance territories.  In particular, recognize the sales force’s revised capacity and competency mix and the number of important customers and prospects requiring close attention.  During the recession, customer knowledge gained through customer relationships will be important to the development of solutions that create competitive distinction.  Relationships also provide a degree of “stickiness” that checks customer turnover.  Creativity will be needed to correlate sales workload and account/territory potential in order to execute the best-in-front and swat team strategies, while minimizing the disruption of existing salesperson/customer relationships.

Assign a group of high-level cross-functional resources the task of reviewing and giving feedback on the game plans for selling into assigned accounts and the structure of product/service solutions offered.  This will ensure: 1) customers’ needs have been identified and addressed, 2) differentiating facts have been articulated in sales presentations/proposals, and 3) the sales process is validated. This group should also be responsible for conducting win/loss post mortems, whose purpose is to learn what went well, what didn’t and why in specific sales competitions.  The findings should then be turned into lessons learned, suggestions for improvements, and dos/don’ts for future new business situations that are distributed to all sales force members. 

Salespeople make decisions every day about what selling activities are important, on whom to call, and what products to sell.  Whether their decisions are right or wrong, they determine how your sales assets are tactically allocated.  Don’t leave it to chance that your salespeople are spending sufficient time with important current customers and prospects.  Expect managers to drive results. Sales managers should guide the action plans of salespeople by using every opportunity to communicate sales priorities and strategies. No sales force member should wonder what is expected of him or her.

Companies that out-perform in this recession will focus on growing revenue, not just protecting it.  They will achieve this by: 1) upgrading sales resources, 2) aligning salespeople with the right customers, 3) ensuring sales processes are proven and followed, 4) using customer information for advantage, and 5) providing salespeople with the training and tools to succeed.  These strategies are directly targeted at winning business more predictably, reducing the cost of winning sales and improving sales productivity.  Smart sales teams actually view recessions as a strategic opportunity.  When all the news is dark, companies whose salespeople are energized and focused on clear strategies will not only survive this recession; they will be well positioned for better performance in the recovery.


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