(Great) Sales People Are Stars in a Downturn

17th December 2018

Whenever a downturn approaches, the sales and marketing departments of most organisations are soon on the chopping board.

Business leaders consider many of their activities peripheral – the company should hunker down and concentrate on delivering its core product. For certain marketing activities I can see their point, but when it comes to customer-facing sales people, this is where they will win or lose the war in the weeks and months ahead.

Recessions are when great sales people truly earn their keep.

They have taken the time to build up their customer relationships during the years of plenty, so when it comes time to make certain tough decisions, most clients will tend to trust them that little bit more. When sales are falling, the sales manager is an easy scapegoat, but if the customer knows that they are doing everything in their power to keep the relationship afloat, the hard times actually make things stronger.

The best salespeople in a downturn are those who are able to take the long-term view. Yes, there are many things that they can do to slow the haemorrhaging sales, but ultimately a recession will be a time for damage reduction and consolidation rather than growth. They won’t have a chance of getting much bonus, but what they can do is retain the goodwill of their clients by bending over backwards to do everything that they can to keep the sales from grinding to a halt. Poor sales people hold their hands up in defeat and say “it’s a recession, what can you do?” Great sales people roll up their sleeves and say “we’re in trouble, let’s work out how to get through this.”

In a world of small margins, squeezing the most growth possible out of a downturn can mean returning as the indisputable market leader when growth does return. Lean and mean will win the day, and it is the sales teams who will help change those customer relationships into a model of efficiency.

Some of this attitude of excellence comes from experience, but as these tough times happen roughly once every decade, many mid-level sales managers won’t have experienced anything similar. In their case, it all comes down to personality. A sales manager with a can-do attitude and a preference for problem-solving will find their skills in demand when things start to get difficult. They may not have had to put their resilience and determination to the test previously, but that does not mean that they do not possess such attributes. When employers are recruiting ahead of a downturn, it is vital that they probe for examples in a candidate’s past when they have overcome difficulties and come through difficult situations. If a sales professional doesn’t have a certain degree of inner steel, they won’t last long.

As we soon head into 2018, the economic headwinds are not getting any calmer. Any client-facing organisation needs to take a good, hard look at their salesforce. Do they have enough sales superstars within their ranks? If not, maybe we can help them find some.